Jaclyn Smith: Wholesome is Beautiful

Her looks, her maturity, her talent, are all ripening. She gives most of the credit to a marriage that is, by Hollywood standards, unusual.

Jaclyn Smith storms into her dressing room, frustrated by the pressures of a Charlie’s Angels scene she has just completed. Furious, she prepares to hurl her hairbrush at the wall. As she takes aim, her eyes are briefly diverted to a vase holding three roses: one yellow, one white and one red, with a white card resting against it. Her fit of temper recedes, her green eyes soften and a smile brightens her face.

The scene is from one of Jaclyn’s television shows but from the pages of reality. She has broken more than one hairbrush by angrily flinging it against her dressing room wall. And the flowers have become a motif in her life since her marriage last October to actor Dennis Cole, which has made her, at 31, a stepmother to Cole’s 18-year-old son.

To the world at large, Jaclyn Smith is a top-paid performer on the persistent Charlie’s Angels series (she gets $50,000 a show), a producer (GH Productions, named after her minister grandfather, Gaston Hartsfield) and a sought-after celebrity. But her private life is more like an old-fashioned valentine.

The trio of roses and their meaning-yellow for friendship, white for passion and red for love – are symbolic of her relationship with Cole, who has become the focal point in her life. The flowers appear unexpectedly, accompanied by a poem written by Cole. Jaclyn finds them in her dressing room, at her bedside, on a living room table when she gets home from a particularly hard day’s work. They decorated the church on her wedding day, and when she and Cole celebrated their six-month wedding anniversary last April, Jaclyn was inundated with them. New York portrait artist Zita Davisson – the “painter of famous faces” – has even included them in her painting of Jaclyn.

Jaclyn Smith painting by Zita DavissonBoth the brush-hurling incident and the flowers are revealing comments on Jaclyn’s cool image and elegant beauty. She is unquestionably capable of anger, and just as capable of passion on a grand scale. She wants children now, lots of them, and says, unwaveringly, that she would sacrifice her career if her marriage to Cole depended on it.

“Having a child is really important,” Jaclyn says. “I’ve always loved children and I’ve worked with disadvantaged youngsters in ballet classes. I plan to work as long as I can when I do become pregnant, have a baby, take a break and then start back to work again. I’d like to have a baby and then adopt a child. In fact, I wanted to adopt a baby right away, but Dennis thought it would be better for us to have our own first. I think it would be nice to have a little girl because Dennis is so very tender and he would go absolutely crazy over a little girl.”

Adding to the family, which already includes Cole’s son, Joseph, who calls Jackie Mom, would mean finding a new home. After their marriage, Jaclyn and her husband set up home in her spacious Coldwater Canyon house in Los Angeles, a recreation of Tara from Gone With the Wind, which she has decorated with antiques and family memorabilia. Now, however, the couple spends weekends house-hunting in and around Beverly Hills. “We want something that isn’t ‘his’ house or ‘my’ house, but ‘our’ house. Dennis is terrific at fixing up structural things and I’m good at decorating. We’re looking forward to finding a new place and working on it together.”

Jaclyn and Cole, who met three years ago when he appeared in a Charlie’s Angels episode, tested their relationship during a two-year courtship, during which they refused to live together as do many modern Hollywood couples. They kept their separate homes and took different hotel rooms when they traveled together. Days before their marriage in New York, they took two rooms at the St. Regis Hotel. Both Jaclyn and Cole, who is 39, had survived previous marriages and divorces and, therefore, were in no hurry to compromise their individual lifestyles; at least not until they were certain of their feelings for each other. And both govern their lives by rigid, traditional moral values, which precluded their becoming roommates.

There also were important and thorny considerations involving their marriage. Dennis’ son would be living with them. No small obstacle was Jaclyn’s status as a superstar, while Dennis, although a successful and busy actor, was not nearly so well known. Dennis was aware that Jaclyn has an unusually close relationship with her mother and father, who live in Houston. She wanted their approval and approbation of her second marriage but knew they weren’t particularly partial to actors.

Surveying her marriage, Jaclyn says, she can’t remember being so happy and fulfilled, despite the initial dilemmas. But, she adds thoughtfully, “We’ve both been working at it.”

Her first and perhaps more dramatic adjustment was becoming the instant stepmother to Joey. “It wasn’t Dennis’ relationship with Joey that really decided me on marriage,” Jaclyn said. “While we were dating, I saw that Dennis gave such care and love and time to Joey, and I knew what sort of man he really was. At that time Dennis and Joey didn’t live together. But Dennis spent weekends with him – quality time, devoting hours talking things over, playing tennis together. Joey is everything to him and Dennis wants the best for his son. Now that we all live together I’ve formed a very close relationship with Joey. He listens to me and respects me, but it’s not that I can come in and be a mother to him. Joey has an excellent mother and she instilled some wonderful values in him. She lives in San Francisco with her new husband.

“Joey has added a dimension to my life. It’s great having a young person in the house. A lot of people reacted negatively to the news that Joey would be living with us. You know, ‘How are you going to cope with that?’ It’s a natural attitude because so many children resent a new mother or a new father. And there’s the problem of the new spouse resenting the child of a previous marriage. We don’t have those attitudes. Joey is somebody I can sit down and talk to. He’s very mature. His personality was already formed when we met. He wants to become a tennis pro, so physically he takes very good care of himself. It’s not like I’m having to deal with some wild kid who’s swinging around town smoking grass.”

Sometimes peacemaker

Jaclyn sometimes acts as a peacemaker between father and son on those rare occasions when they argue. Recently, Dennis brought Joey to task for failing to take care of a minor chore and Joey’s answer was flip. Dennis, a strict disciplinarian, did not take the flippancy lightly and let his son know about it.

“For a couple of days they didn’t speak to one another,” Jaclyn said, smiling. “That’s really unusual they spend hours together in ‘their’ room, where they mess around with all sorts of tape and video equipment and watch TV on one of those big, huge sets. I couldn’t stand the silence, so I asked Dennis, ‘Are we really going to go on not talking?’ I learned that parents always wait for the kid to make the first move. Then I took the matter up with Joey. He said for the first time he didn’t feel he was in the wrong. But he finally gave in after about three days and everything worked out well.

“It was ridiculous because every night when we’re home we have a candlelight dinner in the dining room with fresh flowers on the table. No television. We believe it helps keep us together as a family. So you can imagine how it was sitting at the dinner table with two men who weren’t talking to each other.

“A lot of women might think it would be difficult or impossible to begin sharing her life with an eighteen-year-old son and a new husband. But our personalities – all three of us – mesh together. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s easy. We have to work at it. My schedule on Charlie’s Angels is a drainer. The pressures are tremendous. It’s not a normal life. I get nervous and high-strung about problems at the studio. I bring them home with me. I take it to heart when things don’t go well on the set or if someone says something hurtful. I’m sure Dennis and Joey get bored with listening. But they do listen and that counts a great deal.”

  Victim of barbs

More than once Jaclyn has been the victim of barbs by members of the cast, or in print. Jaclyn’s only reaction has been to let loose a volley of hairbrushes, or to cry silently. “I’m strong, but when I’m hurt, I cry. Those outside influences only hurt a little while. Family is all that counts. It’s what keeps me going. When I do something I want to share it with people I love. I share the highs as well as the lows. Without somebody to turn to life wouldn’t be much fun. I used to turn to my parents, nowadays I turn to Dennis.

Jaclyn’s family experience has been extraordinarily close and influenced by strong moral standards. Her early hero was “Pawpaw,” her beloved grandfather, Gaston Hartsfield, who died three years ago at the age of 101. Jaclyn named her own G.H. Productions, through which she is under contract to do movies and shows for ABC, in his honor. When Jaclyn quit college, her father sent her to New York to study ballet and provided her with a generous allowance. She still calls her parents daily and steadfastly abstains from the Hollywood high life. “Family, religion and morality are what I’m all about,” she says.

It is on that point that she and Cole complement each other the most. He is a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, has read all of Norman Vincent Peale’s books and attends conferences on positive thinking. They were married in New York’s Marble Collegiate Church, where Peale is pastor. Dennis shares Jaclyn’s deep religious conviction and her almost puritanical aversion to alcohol, drugs and vulgarities.

Despite her pristine reputation, Jaclyn insists: “Dennis is more old-fashioned than I am. I hear so many four-letter words on the set they’ve lost their meaning. Once in a while I let a vulgar word slip out at home and Dennis goes crazy. He turns into an iceberg. He doesn’t even like to hear me say ‘dammit.’ One day he said, ‘I wish you wouldn’t use that language. Your image is so sweet and pure, if people hear you cussing, I’ll get blamed for it.’”

Jaclyn considers her life a love story. Dennis is remarkably thoughtful in many ways that ease the demands of his wife’s grueling schedule, which often requires her to be up at 5:30 AM and at work until 7 PM. Most mornings when Charlie’s Angels is in production, he brings her breakfast in bed.

“Of course he spoils me,” Jaclyn said. “I enjoy it and I think it’s a good thing as long as I don’t expect it. I’m appreciative, but I don’t think I deserve it. The big thing in our life is romance, which is difficult to put into words. He kisses me good morning and good night every day. If he surprises me by visiting on the set, I walk ten feet higher afterwards. I hope that feeling never leaves or that I ever take him for granted.

“I was married before [for five years to actor Roger Davis] and there was never that sort of emotional rapport. I never knew a man could be as thoughtful as Dennis.”

Jaclyn and Dennis' WeddingDennis apparently handles Jaclyn’s renown as easily as the financial intricacies in their household. In addition to her earnings from Charlie’s Angels and an estimated $100,000 a year from Wella Balsam, Jaclyn has other substantial income from posters, dolls, games and television movies. Still, the couple’s lifestyle is not extravagant – they live on Cole’s income and invest Jaclyn’s, emphasizing real estate, both in California and Texas.

“It can be rough sometimes,” Jaclyn said. “Dennis sometimes hears, ‘We’d love you to play in our tennis tournament, Dennis; now is Jaclyn coming?’ But he doesn’t have a big ego. He takes pride in what I do and he tries to help me. He knows more about acting than I do. Charlie’s Angels will go off the air someday. Next year Dennis could have a series that’s on top and people would be coming to me asking questions about him. In this business careers go up and down. We keep that in perspective.”

Dennis, in addition to his wife’s popularity, fame and financial success, must live with the increasing clamor by magazines, polls and public opinion that Jaclyn is the “most beautiful woman in the world.” Doubtless he agrees, but she doesn’t accept it. “When I read that or hear it, I’m shocked,” Jaclyn says. “I look in the mirror and I don’t see it. I’m not homely. But most beautiful? Heck, no."

  Wasn’t the standout

“I grew up with very pretty girls and I wasn’t the standout. I was voted ‘Miss Beautiful’ in the seventh grade, but not in the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh or twelfth. People ask if I tire of hearing about my beauty. I like to hear it. It’s flattering, but it comes as a surprise. I think I have more to offer than a pretty face; I’m not a sex symbol. I feel my acting has improved in the three years of the show – I got good reviews in The Users, ABC’s television movie. I think I’ll be better on this year’s shows because they are going to concentrate more on character development. Some people judge the series too harshly. It’s designed as pure entertainment. The only reward we have is that people love us and watch the show.

“But the show isn’t my main concern. My primary interest is my husband, my family and my home.”

Jaclyn holds out her hand to display her wedding band, a series of blue-white diamonds in the shape of interlocking leaves that completely encircle her finger in platinum and gold. “My priorities begin with Dennis,” she says.

In the inconstant world of Hollywood marriages, Jaclyn has determined that her union with Cole is forever. To keep it intact, she says, she would sacrifice her vast celebratedness and her financial success. To Jaclyn Smith, Charlie’s Angels takes a back seat to her husband, her home and having a child.


By Stephen Decatur Ladies' Home Journal July 1979

"People ask if I tire of hearing about my beauty. I like to hear it. It’s flattering, but it comes as a surprise. I think I have more to offer than a pretty face; I’m not a sex symbol."

"I feel my acting has improved in the three years [of Charlie's Angels] – I got good reviews in The Users, ABC’s television movie. I think I’ll be better on this year’s shows because they are going to concentrate more on character development. Some people judge the series too harshly. It’s designed as pure entertainment. The only reward we have is that people love us and watch the show."

Jaclyn Smith