Murphy Brown's Faith Ford Loves Puttin' on the Ditz

updated 03/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

As usual, Faith Ford has something to say. Sitting in the Los Angeles apartment that she shares with an actress and a cat now in heat, she is talking about herself, her TV character, Corky Sherwood—Candice Bergen's rival on CBS' sleeper sitcom Murphy Brown—and whatever else pops into her head. Particularly the latter. "You know, sometimes I get so involved in what I'm doing that I forget there's real stuff going on in the world, like disasters," says Ford, 24, her Louisiana drawl dramatizing each syllable. "I didn't even know about that train wreck in London. My mother calls me all the time and says, 'Fay, you oughta have your fanny tanned!' "

Give the girl a break. As Corky, an air-headed former Miss America trying to be a TV correspondent, Faith has her hands full battling Bergen, the hard-bitten TV newswoman (and recovering alcoholic) Murphy Brown. Their clashes make for TV's most delicious bitchery since Mary Richards went head-to-head with happy homemaker Sue Ann Nivens. If anything can make Brown tumble off her post-Betty Ford wagon, it's the obsequious, ever-smiling Corky, a reporter whose investigations have included a look at pet spas and tragic tales of liposuction. This is a journalist who mispronounces Shi'ite and thinks Camus is a soap.

Just where Faith ends and Corky begins is a good question. According to her roommate, British actress Jane Leeves, "Faith is more worldly than Corky is." Observes Murphy Brown creator Diane English: "Faith is real bawdy and Corky is not. But Faith is like her in that she doesn't edit what comes out of her mouth. It goes straight from the brain right into the world."

Like Corky, Faith knows about being upstaged by another woman. Growing up in Pineville, La., where her dad, Charles, is an insurance agent and her mom, Pat, a schoolteacher, Faith was overshadowed by her older sister Suzonne, a popular honor-roll student. Though no academic slouch herself, "To keep the kids from thinking I was stuck-up, I'd put on this dumb act," she says. To get their attention, she developed a singular wardrobe. "I wore these red bloomer things with a bright red-and-white shirt and a perm in my hair with a lot of makeup, big earrings, white tights and red shoes," she says. "I looked like a candy cane. No wonder they thought I was strange." Always the lady, she couldn't get dates because she wouldn't go parking in the bayou. When caught in a potentially compromising situation, she'd talk incessantly so the guy couldn't proceed. "Those country boys thought I was just weird. Maybe that's why I didn't get asked to the senior prom. I asked three guys but they all refused."

Her wallflower days ended with high school. In 1982 she went north for a modeling convention in New York City. A success in the Ramp-and-Photogenic categories, Faith won the commercial competition by wearing a safari outfit and screaming jungle sounds. "Everyone else did glamorous shampoo ads," she says. Ford decided to move to New York, and she didn't let her early unemployment get in the way of having a good time. "My parents called and said, 'You've spent more in three months than your sister spent in two years of college.' " After college, Suzonne started a now-flourishing radio career in Nashville—and in 1983, Faith finally landed a role as One Life to Live's Muffy Critchwell, who suffered from New England lockjaw. "I didn't even know what New England lockjaw was," says Faith," but when I heard it, I knew—like Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island."

In 1985 she moved to L.A., where she got small roles on Cagney & Lacey and thirtysomething. When she met casting directors, "They tried to make me the California girl, but I am really a Southern belle and I don't tan easily," she says. She read for Corky last spring. Says English: "You know, so many of those ex-beauty queens are really clever underneath it all, and that's what Faith was like."

Besides Murphy Brown, the move west also brought Faith a fiancé. In acting class a year and a half ago, she met Robert Nottingham, 25. They were friends for seven months before their first date. Neither success nor the years have made Faith any faster than when she was in high school. Last Christmas she took Robert home to meet her family. "When he told me he was serious about me, I told him he'd have to ask for my hand from my dad because that's how we do it in the South." And she won't live with him before the wedding. "It sounds sugary and sweet, but that's how I've been taught about love and marriage," she says.

On the Murphy Brown set, Faith says Candice Bergen loves to give her a hard time—in jest. "She gave everyone a publication from the year they were born," says Faith. "She gave me a Modern Screen dated September 1964. Then she said, '1964? I was in college in 1964. What are you doing, telling me you were born in 1964?' " Says Bergen: "She's a wonderful comedienne and a terrific asset to the show." But perhaps Bergen should beware. "Don't be fooled by Faith," warns Ford's mom. "She's as sweet as sugar but as tough as nails."

—John Stark, and David Hutchings in Los Angeles

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