Teed Off Because His Career Isn't Up to Par, Ed Marinaro Thinks He's Got a Shot with a Steamy Tv Movie

updated 05/02/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A bloody shirt hangs on the den wall of Ed Marinaro's three-bedroom home in Hollywood Hills. Protected by a clear plastic frame, the shirt has two bullet holes, a police badge and a name-plate—that of Officer Joe Coffey, the role Marinaro played on Hill Street Blues for six seasons. Also in the frame is the original script for the character's fatal, final episode. On the floor nearby, propped against the wall, is a photo of Officer Lucy Bates (Betty Thomas) beside Coffey's motionless body.

Motionless might just about sum up Marinaro's career since he asked to be written out of Hill Street in 1985 to pursue other roles. The problem, he says, has been battling the stereotype—macho, swaggering, blue collar—that is so firmly attached to his well-muscled, 6'3" former pro football player's body. "TV puts you in a slot faster than anything else," says Marinaro, 38. "I'm so identifiable with Hill Street Blues that they don't want to use me, and yet they don't want me to play another cop. I've heard everything, and I don't know what's going on."

Not knowing what's going on is precisely Marinaro's problem in a controversial role he has managed to cop. In the CBS movie Sharing Richard, airing this Tuesday, he plays a recently divorced plastic surgeon who's simultaneously dating three women. He doesn't find out until the end that the trio (Eileen Davidson, Nancy Frangione and Hillary Bailey Smith) are actually best friends who've been using him all along. Filmed more than a year ago, but kept in the can because CBS felt the production didn't responsibly address the safe sex issue, Sharing Richard purports to depict the sorry prospects for singles in the late '80s. The emphasis is on the problems faced by women in finding attractive, eligible men with discernible vital signs.

But there is no emphasis on the problems presented by AIDS. "I asked about throwing something in," says actress Smith, who plays policewoman Margo Hughes on As the World Turns. "Just a shot of me throwing a condom in my bag or something—but it really isn't a promiscuous movie."

Producer Roni Weisberg believes her film implicitly advocates safe sex. "This is a very responsible character," she insists somewhat defensively, referring to Marinaro's Dr. Richard Bronowski. "A doctor who had been married for 10 years, you can assume he was careful. If he isn't practicing safe sex, then who is?"

Marinaro agrees. "They show what happens just before we go to bed and just after," he says. "Why not assume we're practicing safe sex in between?" What really seems strange to him is that he's in the movie at all. "It surprised me that I got the role," he admits. "In the past people have been reluctant to cast me as a professional."

Producer Weisberg was indeed hesitant to cast Marinaro, particularly since she had initially envisioned a shlubby Woody Allen type in the part—"a man you couldn't believe these women would be desperate to share," she says, "to show how pathetic things really are out there. When Ed walked in, I had this immediate perception of a jock who is probably a little bit of a cad and sexist. But he showed sensitivity and humor—a lot of things that I never thought he had."

On the other hand, maybe the role wasn't that much of a reach for the former star running back of the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Chicago Bears. "I've dated three women at the same time—more than three," says Marinaro. "But that was in the 70s."

Whether Sharing Richard wins a big share of the audience and meatier roles for Marinaro remains to be seen. "Some directors won't even see me for roles that I'm right for, let alone the ones that are a stretch," says the actor, who has done stints on Falcon Crest, My Sister Sam and Private Eye, as well as serving as a Miller High Life pitchman last year. "I think I'm going through an awkward age," he says. "I'm 38, but I don't look 38. I have some gray hairs. But I think if I had some more, I'd get more mature parts."

At the moment, Marinaro's personal life is as quiet as his professional one. In the last few months he has broken off a relationship with a woman he'd been seeing for two years. The parting was mutual, says the never-married Marinaro, and a relief to both of them. "I've been involved in a lot of relationships, and every time we'd break up I'd think, 'That wasn't the right person.' Now I realize it had nothing to do with the other person—it had to do with me. I'm just not ready to be in a relationship right now. I'm trying to learn how to like being by myself."

Marinaro isn't exactly twiddling his thumbs. He works out almost every day, skis, golfs, dotes on his '76 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and occasionally visits his parents in Absecon, N.J. Despite his home shrine, Marinaro has no regrets about leaving Hill Street, and despite his career gripes, he doesn't always sing the blues. "As an actor I'm making more money than I ever made as a football player," he says. "I'm still in the public eye and I still lead a charmed life."

But there are times when frustration cuts through his normally cool tone. After 10 years in Los Angeles, he's becoming disenchanted with the place. "If you put mice into little boxes where they couldn't communicate with the other mice, but could still move around without really rubbing up against one another, that would be life in L.A.," says Marinaro, looking for a moment like all of his 38 years.

—By Joanne Kaufman, with Kristina Johnson in Los Angeles

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