Crystal Bernard goes extra mile for `Wings' role

Crystal Bernard photo

From: Chicago Sun-Times 5/31/1990
By: Jerry Buck

LOS ANGELES A real trouper is one who, despite a near-fatal gassing, can rebound almost immediately to audition for a good part.

Actress Crystal Bernard fits that description. Now she is a co-star of NBC's "Wings," playing Helen Chappel, an aspiring cellist who runs the lunch counter at a small airport on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. The new comedy series has been renewed for next season, when it will air in Chicago from 8:30 to 9 p.m. Fridays on WMAQ-Channel 5.

Bernard considers herself lucky in more than one way. She was working on the TV movie "Without Her Consent" on a day when filming was delayed because of lighting problems.

"I went to my trailer to lie down and I passed out because of carbon-monoxide poisoning," she said. "They found me in the trailer's toilet about three hours later. I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. They rushed me to one hospital, then to another, where I was put into an oxygen chamber.

"I was very close to dying. When I was released from the hospital, I had to have someone watch me at night to see that I didn't have a seizure. When I woke up the next morning, I found a script on my door. It was `Wings,' and I went down immediately to read for it. I know that's ludicrous, but I loved it so much."

"Wings" was created by three former producers and writers for "Cheers" - David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee. The first seven episodes and followed "Cheers" on Thursday nights.

Bernard, who spent five years on the syndicated comedy "It's a Living" and a year on "Happy Days," had a recurring role on "My Two Dads" and has appeared several times on "Paradise" as a schoolteacher. She co-starred with Michael J. Fox in the TV movie "High School U.S.A."

"Wings" had been delayed for several months because the producers had not been able to cast the part of Helen, which originally was conceived as a fiery Greek woman.

After Bernard was cast, she had to complete work on "Without Her Consent" and wait out a commitment to "Hot Prospects," an ABC pilot. Production was postponed until January, when she became available.

Her character on the show is, like herself, from Texas. But unlike Bernard, she's a woman who has struggled to shed 60 pounds. She's also fiery and outspoken.

"Helen has a weight problem, and I kind of figure that's why she's fiery," Bernard said. "People would comment on her weight, and she'd fire back. Nobody has her number."