Gless’ Memoir Takes Us Back
By Sheryl McAlister
“You only live once,” she said. “But if you do it right, once is enough.”
It was years before I realized Christine Cagney didn’t utter those words first. Sorry, Mae West.
I was in my early 20s when the Cagney & Lacey television series began. An early convert to shows about women detectives, I had loved Police Woman with Angie Dickinson. But Cagney & Lacey…. This was something different. Never mind that I was always a sucker for a good looking blonde with great legs.
Apparently There Were Complaints is the memoir released in 2021 and written by Sharon Gless – not the original Cagney, but the only one that mattered. The only one we all loved. The book is a love letter to her friends, her family and her life – her admitted flaws and all. But to her fans – to this fan at least – it was a long overdue visit with an old friend.
Even though Cagney & Lacey has become part of the vernacular when referencing women law enforcement partners, the show was groundbreaking at the time. We saw two women we cared about, rooted for and appreciated for their differences as well as their relationship. We witnessed the young, single police detective who lived in a Manhattan apartment work alongside the young, married detective with the sweetheart husband and 3 kids who lived in Queens. The got each other. They took care of each other.
Gless admits it took her several seasons before she realized the show’s relevance. We realized it from the beginning. She wrote: “The brilliance of the show was that Christine and Mary Beth were not activists, feminists or even very politically vocal. They were not best friends. They were two women whose lives depended on one another.”
I followed Gless’ and Tyne Daly’s careers, watched other shows, Broadway performances. Watched as they became icons for women and gays everywhere. Like so many fans, I was glued to the television back in the day. And thank goodness, VHS recorders were available so we could watch the episodes – over and over again.
When Gless joined the cast of Queer as Folk as Michael’s wacky mother, once again I was obsessed. She played a wildly different character. And what continued to be so attractive to me was her fearlessness, her articulate use of profanity, and her unwavering commitment to taking care of her people.
I ran into Gless in midtown Manhattan one night a million years ago. Not literally. But as I was rounding a corner, she was headed in another direction and focused on other things. It was dark, but I could recognize her anywhere. I didn’t say anything – didn’t shout “Hey Cagney,” which would have been far less cool out loud than it sounded in my head. I preferred to keep the moment to myself, forever a fan.
For those of you who loved the show as much as I did, buy this book. It’s delicious in its raw, no-holds-barred way that only she can tell. And to Netflix, Hulu or CBS-whatever with a streaming platform, what the hell is taking you so long? Every show on the planet is available and easy to find somewhere. Why isn’t this classic available as easily and often as Andy Griffith and Friends?
Gless writes: “Being happy has always been my goal. I’ve been defined with many labels over the years, some great, others not. … A more tough-skinned person would have ignored all these labels. I’m many things, but tough-skinned isn’t one of them. … Apparently there are still many things about me that others think need fixing. I am 78 years old now. Fuck ‘em.”
Copyright 2022. Sheryl McAlister.
Photograph from: CBS.