Loving Is Abc's New Soap Bubble, but Patricia Kalember Adds An Element of Her Own—brains

updated 07/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For soap fans, this is a week of anticipation—the premiere on ABC of another daytime drama from Queen of the Soaps Agnes Nixon, 55. Her All My Children is in its 13th season and her One Life to Live in its 15th. Each show draws 11 million viewers daily. The latest Nixon creation, Loving, promises to be a still hotter property. Not content with simple lust and adultery, the guiding light of Loving has added such contemporary dollops as delayed stress syndrome, AIDS and a college prostitution ring. At the center of this turgid activity is a TV anchorwoman called Merrill Vochek. On Sunday, June 26, in the 9-11 p.m. ET prime-time launching of the series, Vochek found herself involved with a married man and murder.

About 200 actresses auditioned for the role, which finally went to newcomer Patricia Kalember. When she was called for her third Loving audition, her reaction was impatience, and she recalls thinking, "Come on, guys. Can't you make up your minds?"

Many veteran New York actors would have auditioned 10 times over to be cast in a new Nixon serial. But Kalember, 26, did not know enough to be desperate. "I figured I could always sell my homemade pizza," she says with a laugh.

Such self-assurance, not to mention intelligence, may have given the 5'7½" green-eyed beauty the winning edge. "Patty has the quality that people look for in actual anchorwomen," says Nixon. "She has an inner grace and confidence that instills credibility. Viewers will think that she wouldn't lose her cool."

But since this is soap opera, Kalember will not spend all her time anchoring. During the scene in which she trysts with the married man (John Shearin) at a hunting lodge, she calls her newsroom to say she'll be out for the afternoon. Is that journalistic reality? "I do a lot of investigative reporting and newscasts on the show," Patty says, "but, since the title of the soap is Loving, my profession has to take a bit of a backseat."

Off camera the job's not nearly so romantic. Kalember has been spending 9-to-14-hour days on the Loving set. She sometimes walks the 50 blocks between the studio and the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband, Mark Torres, 28, a fellow actor who plays the valet in Broadway's Amadeus. She spends her evenings memorizing at least six pages of dialogue for the next day's taping. "I'm finding that less sleep is better," she says.

Born in Schenectady, N.Y., she grew up in Louisville, Ky. after her father, a product service manager for General Electric, moved the family there in 1968. A champion swimmer in high school, Patty originally planned a career in law. "You picture Perry Mason, and you think law is dramatic," she says. But her interest in another sort of acting was sparked by the role of Miss Adelaide in her senior class production of Guys and Dolls, which led to her studying drama at Indiana University.

She met Torres there while both were drama students, and when he won the Amadeus role in 1980 they decided to marry and move to New York. "My mom got the caterer and the cake and the wedding was held in my parents' backyard in Louisville," Patty says. "We were very arrogant when we got to Manhattan," Mark recalls. "We never considered the possibility of not getting work."

But Patty didn't rely on her looks alone. "There are so many gorgeous women," she says. "I figured I'd better count on my acting." Patty quickly won roles off Broadway and in regional theaters. Later TV commercials (Taster's Choice, Löwenbräu) sustained her through a six-month dry spell. "Unemployment is very depressing," she says. In 1981 she won a bit part on the NBC soap Texas, which led indirectly to the audition for Loving.

So far Patty and Mark are unaffected by her impending stardom. Their sixth-floor walk-up, shared with two stray cats, is hardly Malibu chic. And though her role in Loving is protected by a two-year contract, Patty maintains a healthy attitude toward her work. "My mother said, 'Now, you aren't going to get a big head over this, are you?' " Hardly. "Soap opera acting requires so much concentration," groans Patty. "If you can get a couple of good moments in an episode, you feel proud."

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