AMERICA’S TV SWEETHEARTS
WELCOME TO THE TWO-STORY SANTA MONICA, California, home of Marg Helgenberger and Alan Rosenberg. The shabby-chic furniture, tiled staircase and hardwood floors perfectly complement the Mediterranean style exterior. But the real motif here is noise and action. Lots of it. At the moment, the phone is ringing, there’s a pizza being delivered at the front door, golf is on the television, and the couple’s 10 year old son, Hughie, and four of his friends are racing down the staircase.
“There’s a bit of chaos that reigns sometimes,” says Helgenberger, laughing at the Sunday-afternoon commotion. “But it’s organized chaos, for the most part.”
Suddenly, everything stops. Rosenberg turns his attention to the TV set, where Tiger Woods sinks a 10-foot putt to win a tournament. “Now I’m ready for pizza,” he says.
That may have been the last quiet moment of the week When Monday morning rolls around, Helgenberger will drive 25 miles north to the Valencia set of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the hit CBS show on which she stars as forensic scientist Catherine Willows. Rosenberg, her husband of 12 years, will head seven miles south to the Culver City set of the CBS freshman drama The Guardian, where he plays child-advocacy attorney Alvin Masterson.
These are two very busy actors. Helgenberger won an Emmy for her role as hooker K.C. Koloski on the Vietnam series China Beach, played George Clooney’s lover on ER and starred opposite Julia Roberts as a cancer victim in Erin Brockovich. Rosenberg previously appeared in three television series – Civil Wars, L.A. Law and Cybill.
Yet there’s nothing Hollywood about the Helgenberger-Rosenberg house. His weekends are typically spent golfing and fetching the dry cleaning, while she cooks and attends book-club meetings with female friends. As a couple, they enjoy watching television (the two make a point of sitting down together for each other’s shows, reading the newspaper and hanging with Hughie. “As you can see, we’re pretty relaxed,” Rosenberg says in between bites of pepperoni pizza.
“For actors, their egos are right-sized. They’re not pretentious people in anyway,” says the pair’s longtime friend Dayna Kalins Bochco, the wife of producer Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue) and the president of Steven Bochco Productions. “One reason they’re so successful is they both see the world the same way. They look at it very honestly; they don’t have any bulls–t about them.”
Helgenberger turned down a lead role in the feature film Stolen Summer last May because it would have meant being away from home for five weeks. “It was a big quandary. I knew it was a good project, but I just couldn’t miss Hughie’s graduation from elementary school, his school play,” Helgenberger explains. “My life was more important to me.”
The two actors share parenting duties, but family life has become harder to manage since Rosenberg landed his role on The Guardian this season and both started working full time. When both work late (Helgenberger is often tied up until 4 A.M), a fulltime nanny-personal assistant helps out with Hughie and light household chores. Otherwise, says Rosenberg, “We’re here with Hughie all the time. And being an actor affords me the chance to coach his basketball team.” Helgenberger serves as the piano police. “Margie sits with Hughie at the piano and practices with him,” Rosenberg says. “It’s usually a fight,” Helgenberger says of the preparation for Hughie’s weekly lessons, rolling her green eyes. “Why do I put myself through this torture? Because how many kids grow up and say, `Why didn’t I stay with it?'”
The couple met in 1982, when Rosenberg guest-starred as a pimp on the ABC soap opera Ryan’s Hope, on which Helgenberger was a regular. There was no romantic connection, however, and it wasn’t until 1986 that a chance encounter at a West Hollywood bank led to their first date. On September 9, 1989, the couple eloped to San Francisco. “I had asked Margie to get married some months beforehand, and she said she’d think about it,” Rosenberg explains. “Then one day she told me she had a couple of weeks off and that if I wanted to, we could get married. Logistically, it was easier for us because we were both working. Our families were fine with it.”
Helgenberger, who grew up in North Bend, Nebraska, says her strengths are her pragmatism and discipline. Rosenberg, a native of Passaic, New Jersey, says that living in the intellectually stimulating atmosphere of New York, where he worked in the theater for several years, has brought out in him a love of politics and debates. Looking back, Rosenberg says, “Margie is not nearly as shy as she was when we first got together. I think I helped bring her out of herself a little bit.”
As for Rosenberg’s own metamorphosis, he says he wouldn’t have become a successful actor without the help of his wife. “Margie is the smartest, most focused, most practical person I know,” Rosenberg says. “Watching the way she worked truly helped me kind of mature and focus on my work. She grounded me.”
Helgenberger smiles, then returns the compliment. “A couple of years ago, Alan said to me – it was very romantic – he said, ‘Margie, if any guy comes after you and wants you, you know they will never win.'”
“That was romantic?” Rosenberg asks. “That’s scary.”
“No, what it translates to me is, ‘Nobody will fight as hard as I do for you.'”
“Well, that’s true,” Rosenberg allows. “People are always shocked that I’m with Marg Helgenberger. One year, when I was doing Civil Wars and Margie just finished up China Beach, some reporter wrote: ‘The shock of the new TV season? Nerdy Alan Rosenberg is married to sexy siren Marg Helgenberger.”‘
Helgenberger begins to laugh hysterically. “It still happens!” Rosenberg yells in mock anger and then adds, “It gives me confidence to walk around town with a woman as beautiful as she is.”
Thanks to Rissa for sharing this article!