Bernard gets to wing it - Actress plays '40s heroine

`Wings" co-star Crystal Bernard will be flying solo next week in the title role of "Lady Against the Odds," an NBC movie about a pre-feminist private investigator.

Crystal Bernard photo

From: Chicago Sun-Times 4/15/1992
By: Lon Grahnke

Set in Los Angeles during a 1943 heat wave, the stylish murder mystery stars Bernard as detective Dol Bonner, a resourceful young woman coping with surly male cops, runaway husbands and homicide suspects who patronize or threaten her. "Lady" will air at 8 p.m. Monday on WMAQ-Channel 5.

"Dol is really smart," said Bernard, phoning from the L.A. recording studio where she spends much of her spare time. "I respect her character and the difficulties an independent woman would face trying to be in business for herself during World War II. Women were welcome on the factory assembly lines back then, and there were more opportunities - until the guys came back and took away all the jobs."

Bonner could become the heroine of a TV-movie series that would air several times a year, like Raymond Burr's "Perry Mason" whodunits. "That would be cool, but I would have to shoot the movies during hiatus periods," Bernard said. "We filmed `Lady Against the Odds' in four weeks, so it can be done. But I would never give `Wings' up."

After five years in the syndicated sitcom "It's a Living" and a shorter stint as K.C. in "Happy Days," the singer, songwriter, actress and daughter of a Southern Baptist minister from Texas won the high-profile role of Helen Chappel in "Wings." The popular comedy series, which premiered two years ago, airs at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays on Channel 5. Revolving around a half-dozen characters at a small Nantucket airport, "Wings" has ranked in Nielsen's weekly Top 20 since its first full season began last fall.

"The producers (Paramount's former `Cheers' team) were looking for a dark-haired Greek actress to play Helen," Bernard said. "They were casting that part for a year until they picked me." She had other commitments, but creators David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee agreed to wait until their chosen Helen was ready in January, 1990.

"I think they saw something in me that was innately there," Bernard said. "I express a lot of strength through my eyes. Helen wasn't all that vulnerable at the start."

Helen, a waitress who runs the airport's lunch counter, also plays the cello. She had a romance with pilot Joe Hackett, played by top-billed star Timothy Daly, but the writers sent their love affair into a tailspin. Bernard said she's ready for another man in Helen's life.

"Maybe Brian (Joe's brother, another pilot, played by Steven Weber). He could be the guy who catches her eye," she laughed. "I want all men to fight over me."

Bernard said the "Wings" writers are "very good" about giving her "a lot of input" regarding the continuing development of Helen's character.

"After each run-through, we discuss the script scene-by-scene with the writers," she said. "I would like Helen to have more of a life outside of the airport, but she should continue to try and fail at whatever she does. If she succeeded, she wouldn't be as funny. That's the secret of `Cheers': It's the continuing story of a bunch of losers."

Bernard's Dol Bonner character in "Lady Against the Odds" is not a loser. And she's not funny.

"It always gets me when you do a drama and somebody asks how it feels to be doing some real acting. That's so wrong," she said. "Comedy is very hard and much more demanding than drama. In a drama, you can pause and take a moment to think. Comedy requires precise timing. You have to stick to what's written, and you need to rehearse more.

"Dol is very alone in the world. She keeps up a brave front at all times. Helen fights to stay in control; then she breaks down in front of people. Her character just seems to flow. She's much warmer than Dol. I feel closer to Helen because I play her all the time."

And she will keep on playing Helen, because NBC has renewed "Wings" for another full season. "It's an all-consuming job, but it's worth it," Bernard said. "I'm looking forward to a very long run."