For Cheers' Shelley Long, There's Now Lots to Roar About

updated 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

As Diane Chambers in the NBC sitcom Cheers, Shelley Long plays the barmaid-cum-nanny who weekly serves booze and sympathy to the working-class stiffs frequenting a neighborhood Boston tavern. In real life, 5'7½", 115-pound Shelley, 33, is sugary enough to make your teeth hurt. She channels her motherly instincts to a menagerie of stuffed teddy bears, chimpanzees, bunny rabbits and other furry critters that lend her L.A. home the atmosphere of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Shelley tends to banter with her brood with the same facility she exhibits in the saloon. "Mr. Tibbs, you got on camera!" she exclaims merrily to her favorite stuffed pet during a home photo session. "And Fang-Fang, didn't you look nice! Oh—look, Nigey has fallen over. Sit up, Nigey! Now that's nice." Shelley also proclaims she's a "caramel corn addict," and her color taste runs the spectrum from baby blue to baby pink.

Yet beneath Long's Kewpie doll exterior is a shrewd and calculating young woman hot in pursuit of show business success. She can turn instantly from baby talk with her stuffed animals to issuing crisp commands about schedules and meetings to her secretary. She's coy about her age (she has claimed to be both 25 and 28), not about her career. "She's a thoroughgoing professional, and that's excellent," says TV producer Bernie Kukoff, who worked with her before Cheers. "She knows what she wants to do and goes out and does it."

Until recently it looked like the low-rated Cheers might not be Long's ticket to lasting success. In fact, the show appeared to be nearing its last hurrah. Then NBC announced that it would renew the sitcom for next year and end this season with a two-part episode, "The Showdown" (concluding Thursday). In it, Sam Malone (Ted Danson), the reformed alcoholic Red Sox pitcher turned bar owner, and Diane confront their true feelings for each other. Shelley is pleased with the change. Up to now, she explains, "Diane has put her whole life into her brain. She's not in touch with her gut, so she can't fully enjoy life. That's something I've had to learn myself. I'm a lot gutsier. I love to see Diane get some street sense."

Shelley downplays her smarts. Born in Fort Wayne, Ind. to schoolteacher parents who "really wanted me to be a teacher," Long instead dropped out of Northwestern University after two years to become an actress and model. By her early 20s, she was writer, associate producer and co-host of a Chicago TV magazine show called Sorting It Out, winning three Emmys. At the same time she was a member of the famed Second City improvisational troupe. That led to a Hollywood variety special called That Thing on ABC—and in the late '70s to a permanent move to L.A., where she won guest spots in such shows as The Love Boat and Family. Her movies include A Small Circle of Friends, Caveman and Night Shift with Henry Winkler.

Shelley now shares a leafy cottage in affluent Brentwood with her stockbroker husband, Bruce Tyson, 30. They met on a blind date in 1979 after Bruce, playing a charity benefit roulette wheel, won a dinner for four. He invited a couple to join him, and they brought along Shelley. A scrapbook in the living room commemorates their October 1981 Santa Monica wedding and is embossed with the legend: "An Entyson Shellebration." Though the balloon, flower and stuffed animal decor gives their home the look of a pediatrician's waiting room, Shelley insists that starting a family is in the future. "This is a building time for both of us," she says. "My movie and TV career has real momentum. Right now Bruce and I take care of the child within each of us."

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