“I can’t go around trying to explain to the whole world that supermarket tabloids are full of it!” shouts Kristy McNichol, who thinks she’s been pushed too far by their brand of sensationalism. “The stories about me are outright lies.”
One example: A recent story how she supposedly stormed off the set [of TV’s Empty Nest] after co-star Richard Mulligan said terrible things to her. “It’s completely a lie,” she says with anger, adding that both she and Mulligan have been plagued by similar lies.
“Some people get back at them and sue, which is great, but I don’t have the time or patience. Plus that only generates more negative press. Besides, I think the only thing that’s caused me difficulty is that so many people read these tabloids and think they’re true. They don’t realize that there’s this other side to the tabloids that’s completely untrue!”
“I can’t understand why they make up such complete lies. Why don’t they write about real things, like the tennis tournament I run every year for abused children? Why do they just make up stories that are completely untrue? It happens to everyone in the business, but it still hurts – especially when they’re so far off base.”
Despite this, she tries to keep her professional life on an even keel. For one thing, she rarely does the TV talk show circuit. All the same, she did venture onto Arsenio Hall’s show one night but not before she asked him to ask the studio audience to leave. Arsenio granted her wish and the two of them sat and talked to the camera. Kristy, however, said later that she thought it made her look bad, and regretted her request.
Aside from her contempt for the tabloids, Kristy McNichol does display much the same exuberant personality as Barbara, the role she plays on Empty Nest. “There are a lot of similarities,” she says. “We’re both really outgoing, have a zest for life. We both aren’t sure when we’ll settle down and get married. There are definite similarities, though Barbara plays dumb a lot and I don’t like to play dumb in real life.” She adds that the show’s writers will see things she does, or ways she acts or responds to a situation and sometimes include it in a script. In one episode, Kristy joyfully bounded onto the kitchen set, ready for a shoot with tennis racket in hand, and proceeded to practice her serve. Soon after, a script called for her to enter the set the same way.
For most of her acting career, which began at age 11 in the short-lived Apple’s Way, Kristy McNichol has been playing the part of someone’s daughter or sister.
Her next part was that of Buddy, the tomboy daughter on the highly acclaimed drama Family for which she won Emmy Awards for supporting actress in 1976 and 1978. After a series of movies, Kristy returned to play the younger daughter on Empty Nest, where her sibling rivalry with actress Dinah Manoff has helped push the show past the erstwhile front runner, Golden Girls, and into a consistent top 10 position. In fact, the show is usually the highest-rated program on NBC’s Saturday evening lineup.
Just how do the argumentative, competitive, Carol and Barbara get along as Kristy and Dinah?
“We get along really well,” Kristy answers, “and I think that makes our not getting along on the show a lot easier because we can have fun with it. I think if we really didn’t get along there’d be a lot of negative energy and people would sense that.” Kristy is also aware that Empty Nest‘s sibling rivalry is one reason the show is so big a hit. “That’s why they probably won’t give either of us a full time love interest,” she explains. “It might take away from the dynamics between us.”
Comedy is relatively new for Kristy, who established herself as a dramatic actress. “I like to get into my work real heavily with drama because I think I’m very good at that. That part of my life’s been good to me. But I am enjoying comedy very much. It’s a nice break for me.”
The break comes from parts such as the daughter struggling to keep her alcoholic theatrical mother from falling apart in Neil Simon’s Only When I Laugh; a woman tormented by her own dreams in the suspenseful Dream Lover; and the wild girl on the prowl in Two Moon Junction, where she and Sherilyn (Twin Peaks) Fenn try on each other’s clothes in the ladies room.
“Actually, I feel good about everything I’ve done,” adds Kristy, “whether I did well or not. I said, ‘yes, I’m going to do this because I liked what the character was about.’ Sometimes it’s a character that’s really offbeat or interesting for a certain reason. I’ve never not been proud of something I’ve done, even if it didn’t do well at the box office.”
Having started in the business at such a young age, Kristy says there certainly were things she missed growing up in show business. However, “I have accomplished a lot for my age, more than some people ever do. So I guess it all balances out.”