Ain't It Suite? Hotel's Shea Farrell Checks Out Life at the Top

updated 11/05/1984 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/05/1984 01:00AM

He's young. Handsome. Athletic. Blue-eyed. Well-educated. From a wealthy Eastern family. And here comes the icing on the beefcake—humble. For instance, after Shea Farrell got his audition for the role of guest-relations director Mark Danning in ABC's Hotel, he hired three acting coaches and told himself, "I don't care if they want me to do it as a black pregnant priest, they're going to get what they want." When the moment came for his face-to-face with producer Aaron Spelling, his approach was direct: "I said, 'Mr. Spelling, I really need this job. I need to pay for the acting lessons I took all weekend.' "

For Farrell, 27, being perfect hasn't gone to his head or his dark blond hair, which, yes, he does tint. Since his only previous professional experience was on the daytime soap Capitol, Farrell admits, "I don't think I was hired because I'm Laurence Olivier. Aesthetics were important." Nor does he harbor any grand illusions about Hotel. "None of us thinks this is Shakespeare."

With his cover-boy looks, the stocky former Lake Forest (Ill.) College football player has battled one persistent misconception: that he's gay. "A lot of people think I am," he says. "I'm not. If a guy came on to me, I'd just say, 'That's very flattering, but I'll stay on my side of the plate, thank you.' "

Growing up in Greenwich, Conn., Edward Leo Farrell III—he was nicknamed after his father's boss at W.R. Grace & Co.—enjoyed the accoutrements of privilege, including a Cape Cod summer house and prep school in Rhode Island. But, he says, "I was adamantly against being preppy." His father, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, assured that by shaving his son's head every Sunday morning until he was 14. Shea's three older sisters often ganged up on him. He once received an offer from them he couldn't refuse. "They promised me a pet rabbit if I let them put me in a First Communion dress and have my picture taken. I did, and I never got the rabbit. I've always been teed off about that because a deal's a deal."

After appearing in several plays at Lake Forest, he was an extra in Ordinary People, which was filmed nearby. That's when he decided on acting. Then came the hard part—telling his now retired father who is, says his son, somewhere "to the right of right." Dad wanted his son to work for Grace. To announce his choice, Shea composed a letter that said in part: "I realize that this doesn't tickle you...but to be honest with you, Dad, I don't really care." Now, Dad is proud of Shea "in spite of himself," says Farrell.

Farrell is much more traditional when it comes to his own home. He lives in a spacious two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood and is married to a former Miss Teenage Illinois, Ronda Pierson, 25. "I'm definitely not a feminist," he says. "I think women should take care of the household." Fortunately his wife seconds that motion. Now a sophomore at Pepperdine University, Ronda says, "I'm going to school with 18-year-olds who have my husband's poster over their beds."

Ronda and Shea don't agree on one thing: Richard Gere. Shea has an intense dislike for Gere's penchant for shedding his clothes in his movies. "Richard Gere pulls down his pants at the drop of a hat," he complains. Adds Ronda: "Sometimes I think Richard Gere is cute, and Shea just says, 'Aw! How can you think that? Don't even tell me that.' " Her husband has greater expectations for himself. When Shea Farrell checks out of Hotel, he says, "I hope to do more with my life than be a piece of meat." Did you hear that, Dad? Richard?

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