When Allyce Beasley showed up on the set of Stuart Little, the movie's cast and crew had a good idea of what they were getting: the '80s TV favorite so endearing as Agnes Dipesto, Moonlighting's rhyme-spouting receptionist. What they didn't realize was how much the small role as Aunt Beatrice meant to Beasley—who was secretly battling breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. "For all I knew, that was going to be the last thing I'd ever do," says the actress, 48, who told none of her coworkers that she had had a partial mastectomy just a week before the 1998 shoot. "I needed to work," she says. "I beg their forgiveness if they're shocked when they read this, but I wanted to be part of the party so bad."
And Beasley had no intention of leaving the party early, although her ordeal was just beginning. Last November, after she underwent chemotherapy and an aggressive experimental treatment known as a stem-cell transplant, doctors found no remaining evidence of cancer in her body. "It was very, very hard, but it's all worthwhile," she says. "Here I am, and I feel really good."
Not that the uncannily upbeat actress ever showed despair. Even during chemotherapy, Beasley—who carved a niche as a voice-over specialist after Moonlighting's 1989 demise—taped 20 radio ads and regularly trekked to auditions. "I never saw that woman frown," says Paul Germain, executive producer of the ABC cartoon Recess, on which Beasley plays a teacher.
She didn't put her personal life on hold either. In January 1999 she tied the knot with beau Jim Bosché, 39, a writer and collage artist. "I didn't want to visit her in the hospital as her 'boyfriend,' " says Bosché, who shares a Hollywood house with Allyce (rhymes with "police") and Andréa, 12, her son from a previous marriage to character actor Vincent Schiavelli. The trio made a pact to refer to Beasley's illness as "mashed potatoes" instead of the dread C word. Her approach, she says, was "to keep your life as normal as you can. It helps you pull through."
That sunny philosophy also applied on Moonlighting's famously tempestuous set. A self-described "flower child" turned fledgling actor, the Brooklyn-born daughter of a magazine cartoonist and an office manager made a splash with guest turns on now-classic episodes of Cheers (as Coach's daughter) and Taxi (as a blizzard-stranded cabbie who got steamy with star Andy Kaufman). Then, in 1985, she joined the Blue Moon Detective Agency as sweetly naive Ms. Dipesto, gal Friday to sleuths Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis
. The critically adored comedy-drama (now in reruns on cable's Bravo) shot into the Top 10—but squabbles between the two stars led to a chaotic collapse four years later. "It was so out of control," recalls Beasley. "They both wanted it to be over desperately."
Beasley, who notched two Emmy nominations, certainly didn't. She calls working on a hit show "the dream of my life." A single mom when it folded (her three-year marriage to Schiavelli ended in 1988), she never landed another sitcom slot, settling for voice-overs and occasional movie work.
Then came the diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer. Bosché, whom she met in 1997, had discovered the lump in her left breast. "He saved my life," Beasley says. She had surgery to remove a portion of her breast and underarm area, then—after her doctor agreed to a break for Stuart Little—12 weeks of chemotherapy. Faced with an 80 percent chance that cancer lingered in her body, she underwent a stem-cell transplant in which her marrow cells were frozen and reintroduced after she received megadoses of chemotherapy drugs that temporarily wiped out her immune system. "I was hallucinating," she says, remembering telling her husband, "No more chocolate gorillas, Jim!"
The procedure was successful, though "this is something we're going to have to continue to monitor," says her oncologist, Dr. Philomena McAndrew. Despite lingering lymphedema (a painful swelling under her arm), Beasley is back at the gym—and on the often-frustrating audition circuit. "I wish I could call the shots in my day-to-day life," she says. "That's been the hardest adjustment—facing death and still not being able to control things." But this is the party she came for. "This is what I want," she says simply. "So I'm here."
Mark Dagostino in Los Angeles