LATE ONE AUGUST NIGHT 1983 ON THE Manhattan set of ABC's newly created soap opera, Loving, leading man James Kiberd was engaged in a passionate kiss with beautiful blonde No. 17—the last contestant in the day's audition for his character's Ms. Right. "They're all fine except her," Kiberd told the producers after the actress left. "I don't like her."
Sound like a story line for a daytime drama? It soon became one. Despite Kiberd's protestations, Susan Keith was hired as Shana Sloane Vochek, the temperamental lawyer she plays today. (In 1985, though, Kiberd, now 37, left the show, and since 1989 has played cantankerous detective Trevor Dillon on ABC's All My Children.) For months when the camera taped, the couple kissed, but when it stopped, they glared. "I thought he was just like his character—blunt, a chauvinist pig and inarticulate," says Keith, 32. "He was mean to me for the longest time."
"You were mean to me too," shoots back James, nibbling cold cuts in the kitchen of their three-story restored Victorian house in Westchester County, on the Hudson River north of New York City.
But love, like organ music in the afternoon, overwhelmed the dissonance. In less than a year, the sniping had turned to after-hours heart-to-hearts, and before long the couple's on-air smooches were looking suspiciously sincere. "There was one scene at a fashion show," recalls Loving producer Barbara Duggan, "where he just grabbed her and kissed her, and everyone in the studio went, 'Whew!' "
In September 1985, during an emotional Loving goodbye scene, Kiberd ditched the scripted "Shana, I can't marry you." Instead, as the stunned crew looked on, he ad-libbed, "Susan, will you many me?" As the cameramen prepared to retape the scene, recalls Keith, "I started laughing. I mean, he didn't have a ring. No flowers. No kneepads." Replies Kiberd: "But my shoes were tied...and my zipper was up."
Friends questioned the union. Keith, from rural Crystal Lake, Ill., the daughter of a grocery-chain supervisor and a clerical worker, was a self-described "nice Midwestern girl"; Kiberd, son of an architect and a landscaper from Providence, was "a wild man," says Keith, known for "getting down on all fours in hallways and barking. People would take me aside and say, 'Are you sure about what you're doing?' "
Six years later, the answer, say both, remains an emphatic yes. "It's been heaven ever since," claims Kiberd. Well, OK—not ever since. "He leaves drawers open and runs red lights," complains Keith. "Turning red, honey," corrects her spouse. Playful banter aside, the couple's only source of real concern has been their difficulty having children. "I'm losing hope," says Susan, who last year had two pregnancies end in miscarriages. "Last night I saw an ad for EPT home pregnancy test. I put the blanket over my head." Adds Kiberd softly: "It's been very painful."
Yet between their soap lives and their own lives—curling up to watch Roseanne, touring art galleries and communing with their rottweiler, Omen, and their Siamese cat, Caliban—they have neither the time nor inclination to dwell on sadness. Nor, in Kiberd's case, on the rowdy life that used to be. "I never thought I could be faithful," says Kiberd, glancing tenderly at his wife, "but she's the doll of dolls."
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
MARIA EFTIMIADES in Westchester
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