Not even a youthful warning from her grandfather — a powerful entertainment attorney who practiced during the Golden Age of film — could prevent Sharon Gless from attempting the journey to Hollywood.
Neil S. McCarthy counted Cecil B. DeMille, Katharine Hepburn, and Lana Turner among his clients. Despite this, he still cautioned his young granddaughter about the “filthy business” of the movie industry.
Gless didn’t listen.
With aid from her loyal friends and associates — in addition to her own fierce determination to succeed — Gless beat the odds and found stardom, as recounted in her autobiography Apparently There Were Complaints published in December.
Appearing in just a half-dozen feature films, Gless focused her career on television. Since 1970, she guest-starred in numerous TV movies and series, receiving wide acclaim for starring roles in several popular shows including the 80s CBS crime drama Cagney & Lacey.
“It changed the history of television for women,” Gless said of the drama from her home on private Fisher Island, a short ferry ride from the coast of Miami. Gless played New York detective Christine Cagney alongside Tyne Daly (detective Mary Beth Lacey). The tough but flawed duo regularly dealt with serious social issues.
During the show’s run, Gless and Daly dominated the Emmy season, winning for Best Lead Actress in a Drama each year (four for Daly and two for Gless).
Of her co-star of six years, Gless had only praise.
“You might think we’d be competitive on the set, but not at all,” she said. “When you’re working, any sort of competitiveness is good for no one. She was a real pro and we were totally there for each other throughout the series. Since Covid, we talk on the phone almost every day.”=
Gless credited others for guiding her journey. One of them is Monique James, head of the talent department at Universal Studios, where Gless was under a seven-year contract.
“She was so tough, I always felt she would protect me,” Gless said. “And she did. When I left the studio, she came with me as my manager for many years.”
Barney Rosenzweig was the executive producer of Cagney & Lacey and with whom Gless began an affair towards the end of the show’s run. Despite their on-and-off personal relationship, Rosenzweig remained a loyal supporter of Gless’s career. The couple would eventually marry and remain together today.
Of Rosenzweign, Gless said: “We have an interesting history together that’s outlined in the book, but love and respect each other enormously.”
Gless followed the hit crime show with other successful series such as The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, Queer as Folk, and Burn Notice. She received multiple award nominations and wins, including a Golden Globe for Rosie O’Neill. And although she stumbled along the way (leading to the title of her book) with alcohol problems, weight issues, recurring pancreatitis, and complicated relationships, she never found Hollywood to be the “filthy business” her grandfather labeled it.
“It hasn’t always been an easy road, but I made my own way helped by people who believed in me,” Gless said. “Television is an amazing medium, and I’ve been fortunate to be part of it.”