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I Can't Imagine Life Without Her

Kent McCord hadn't had a haircut in five months, was sporting a two-day growth of beard and hiding behind large, dark glasses. Since I had been expecting the man who plays Adam-12's short-haired, spit 'n polish rookie policeman, Jim Reed, I was slightly taken aback when this rumpled six-footer slid his frame into a chair across the table from me.

I had been told he probably wouldn't have a drink. But he did. He bared a row of beautiful movie star teeth in a wide smile and ordered an extra hot Bloody Mary and a ham and cheese omelot, heavy on the cheese. Perhaps because she was staring at him so intently, Kent smiled at a young wide-eyed girl at a nearby table. She promptly turned the color of a full bodied Burgundy. It seems Kent has this effect on women, especially the younger ones. Unfortunately for them he's been happily married for ten years to his high school sweetheart and is the devoted father of two girls, Kristin, age 9, and Megan, barely one year old. He might look at a pretty girl, but there the romance ends.

"It's really been more than ten years," Kent corrects, "because Cynthia and I dated at least five years before we got married. So we've really been together about 15 years. And they said it wouldn't last," he grinned.

Did they?

Let's say everybody tried to talk us out of getting married," Kent replied. "I was only 19 at the time and hadn't finished college. I thought I wanted to be an actor, but I was still torn between that and wanting to be a teacher, a coach. How was I going to support Cynthia? It was that sort of thing."

Kent and Cynthia Lee Doty met at Baldwin Park High School where he was a football star and she was one of the most popular girls in school and, of course, a cheerleader. During the five years they went steady, they had only one trial separation, when Kent accepted a scholarship and enrolled at the University of Utah. At the end of one semester they'd spent a fortune on long distance telephone calls and endured it long enough. There was nothing for Kent to do but return to Los Angeles and marry Cynthia. The wedding date--July 14, 1962.

Today the McCord's live in a Mediterranean style house in Hollywood which has been undergoing a major face lift since the day they moved in. "We currently have a crated tub in the living room," says Kent, "the downstairs bathroom is a disaster area and every piece of furniture in the house is covered with plastic. It'a about to drive us clean out of our minds. Kristin is the only one who is totally unperturbed."

Which led to an interesting question. Would it drive him clean out of his mind if, at 19, Kristin came to him and wanted to get married? "I hope it won't take that long," Kent feigned outrage. "I'm hoping to get rid of them by the time their 16, so I can be free. "Seriously", he settled down to the subject, "I don't think marriage will exist in another ten years. People will simply live together because they want to share a life. If I were a bachelor today, I wouldn't consider marriage. And I can say that because the fact that Cynthia and I have a license has nothing to do with the fact that we're still married. We were married long before the ceremony and we're together because we want to be. I think in that way maybe marriages are made in Heaven, if you see what I mean."

Celestial planning to the contrary, the first years of the McCord marriage didn't find Kent and Cynthia curling up in anything that even faintly resembled a bed of roses. Kent worked now and again on The Ozzie and Harriet Show and though it was good experience, his paycheck wasn't anything to write home about. When he wasn't working he attended Mount San Antonio Junior College, subsequently transferring to USC. To supplement their income, Cynthia worked as a model in the wholesale houses in downtown Los Angeles and finally at the California Trade Mart. Kent, who inherited his father's suspicion of banks, kept what surplus money they could scrape together in a tin can in the back yard.

"It's true," said Kent, readily admitting the idiosyncrasy. "My father taught me two things about money that stuck. First, don't owe anybody anything and, second, don't trust the banks. So up until about a year ago I never even had a credit card to my name and whenever I went to the bank I always thought I was getting shortchanged. I'd stand and count the money three or four times, then end up burying it. Although," he was quick to add, "I don't do that anymore."

"Basically, Cynthia and I try to keep everything to a bare minimum. I think about the only luxury we've allowed ourselves will be a vacation coming up soon. We've taken a house in Laguna Beach for a few weeks. Other than that I've got two Corvettes, both paid for, and I don't owe anybody anything with the one exception of the mortgage on our house. But that's it!"

Ask Kent if his attitude reflects a disadvantaged childhood and he is emphatic. "My father never left my mother or any of we kids (Kent has three sisters) wanting for anything. As a matter of fact, my Dad worked his tail off and still does. Right now he's at Kaiser Steel working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day".

"Let me tell you a story about my father. He'd been working long days for quite a while on a construction project and was in the habit of having dinner and a beer at a bar near the site. The bartender knew him and that he was my father. Anyway, on the nights my show was on, my Dad would take his dinner into the back room and switch on the TV. Well, one night there were a couple of young guys back there and when Dad tuned in the show, one of them said, 'we're not gonna watch the pigs, are we?' And he didn't lay off until my Dad finally blew. He got this guy by the throat and the fight was on. Now, my Dad is no spring chicken and he did get the worst of it, although the other guy didn't go away unmarked. The next day when I heard about it, I went to see my Dad and he was pretty banged up. I told him he shouldn't have reacted that way, that it was only words and he said, 'Son, I don't let people say just whatever they want about my family.' I said, 'Dad, I don't know what to say except that I love you.'"

After giving such a vivid word picture of Bert McWhirter (Kent's real name is Kent Franklin McWhirter) Kent was temporarily at a loss for words when asked how he would describe Cynthia to someone who had never met her.

"I don't know how to answer that," he said finally "Beyond the normal descriptive things which don't mean anything, it's all in a very abstract, emotional context. In the same sense I wouldn't know how to describe a relationship that has taken place over a period of years except to say that Cynthia and I are different people today than when we were first married. We've grown together and changed. And at this point, I can still honestly say I can't imagine life without her."

It appears the McCords are something of an anomaly in Hollywood. Not only are they happily married, they eschew the "Hollywood social scene" with a vengeance. "Way back in the beginning," Kent allows, "we used to go to the Factory every once in a while. We'd sit in the back room, drinking wine, checking the action on the dance floor. If we got smashed enough we'd get up and make fools of ourselves, but that's not where my head is. I hate all that nonsense. It's too unreal. It reminds me of high school and fraternity time. You can have it."

Kent also avoids functions such as promotional cocktail parties and autograph sessions if it's at all possible. "If Marty and I do it together, if we can sit around and kid one another and keep it in perspective, that's okay," says Kent. "Alone, I can't handle it. I think I'm going to drown in all that goo. It's too unreal.

"I tried to explain this to my mother, because when I visit her she will sometimes invite someone by who wants to be introduced to me or get an autograph. It embarrasses me to no end. I love my parents for being proud but I can't cope with the embarrassment I feel. If they're kids, that's different. I'll do anything for kids. I told my mother that at least I'm not like Mickey Mantle. I don't throw kids' papers and pencils away, which is how he coped with it."

All this led to a discussion of Kent's super All-American boy image. Studio biographies laud him using such descriptives as "clean-cut", "super athletic", the kind of guy who has regular appointments with his barber and who is high only when he flies in a plane. "That's right," Kent said referring to the latter, "As far as being a fugitive from a 4-H Club, as someone once described me, that may be part and parcel of the jazz I referred to earlier. A lot of people may not believe it, but I don't have a big red "P" for Policeman tattooed on my chest. Which only means I don't see myself as different in any way from anyone else. As far as maintaining regular appointments with my barber, I wouldn't go for another five months if I didn't have to."

Sensing Kent's impatience with the subject, we changed to something he likes to talk about--kids. "Sure, I'd like to have a son," he said. "I think most men have that innate desire to have a boy in their image to shape and mold. On the other hand, I could adopt a kid just like that. I could take one of Marty's kids, for instance, and love them as if they were my own. Hell, yes, what's the difference? I have a friend who's about 50 and he and his wife didn't have any children so they finally adopted a little German boy. Since they're a little older it was tough at first adjusting. I said, 'Listen, I'll take him.' Because kids are what it's all about. That's why a man works his tail off 70 hours a week--for them."

Which brought us to something else Kent inherited from his father besides a distrust of banks, a respect for money and a love of family, and that's his work ethic. "I started working when I was ten," says Kent, "and I've been at it ever since. My Dad started when he was nine and there was a slight difference. He was head of the family. My grandfather died in the coal mines--black lungs, whatever you call it. Funny thing, my Dad never talked about his family. I didn't know until just recently that my grandfather's name was Arthur. In fact, Marty and I were in Springfield, Mass., doing a telethon and one of the girls said, 'there's a call from your second cousin.' I'd never heard of the guy but we talked and it was very pleasant and for all I knew we were related. Later when I couldn't reach my folks I telephoned my Dad's sister and she said that he was my second cousin all right, and a half dozen other relatives around here I'd never heard of. When I got home I asked Dad about his father and he told me how he died. But before that he just wouldn't talk about it. Why, I don't know.

"He's a quiet man," Kent allowed. "That's another way I'm like him. If I get accused of anything it's being too reserved, while a lot of people misinterpret it and think I'm aloof or even a snob. I don't think I am," Kent smiled. "It's just that I'm uncomfortable when there are a lot of people around.

And I know it sounds too obvious, but nonetheless it's true that my two relationships in the business have brought me my closest friends. I started out with Ozzie and Harriet and they're like family to me. I met Rick playing football with a bunch of guys one Sunday and after that I used to hang around the set a lot. One thing led to another until I was a semi-regular. I guess Rick's gotta be one of my best friends. And next there's Marty. I know a lot of actors who work together don't see one another socially if they can help it. It's not that way with us."

If Kent could be considered old-fashioned by some standards, he's pretty progressive as far as his children are concerned. He believes in permissive discipline most of the time. "My girls," he says, "never get spanked for telling the truth. Actually I don't really believe in spanking at all. I'll allow that I may be wrong, but all I can do is what I think is best and we'll ride with the future whatever comes.

It's like the other day I heard a lot of commotion downstairs and at first I thought something was wrong. Then when I listened carefully I realized it was Cynthia and Kristin goofing around. I yelled at them to keep it down, that I couldn't hear myself think. 'I can't help it,' Kristin called up at me, 'I've never had a sister before.'

I guess that's about where we are as a family," Kent concluded. Minutes later he was racing toward the Hollywood Hills, making tracks toward Casa McCord and those three females who have made it all come together for him.

TV Radio Talk, September 1972
By Brooke Scott
Transcribed by L.A. Christie

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