Hollywood history is replete with iconic names who made it to the big time thanks to a pretty face. Cybill Shepherd certainly reaped the benefit of her girl next door qualities in that way. However, as many a sweet young thing in Hollywood has learned, such a pretty face can have its downsides, quite easily translating into scandal and notorious reputation. It seems almost quaint now, amidst our modern day love affair with controversy and bad behavior, to reflect on a time when such things could easily bring down a career for good. Yet that might very well have been Cybill's story, had her strong will and that other great Hollywood institution, the lucky break, not come through more than once for her, reminding everyone how this particular pretty face is more than just the sum of her parts.
Cybill Lynne Shepherd was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. The daughter of a homemaker and a home appliance business owner, she got her name via a combination of her grandfather's name, Cy, and her father's name, Bill. She grew up the typical young girl until 16, when she won the 1966 "Miss Teenage Memphis" beauty contest - her first big break. Bearing the face of an angel and a shapely figure that successfully contrasted with the predominant skinny look of the day, she quickly rose through the ranks in the modelling world, eventually becoming "Model of the Year" in 1968 at the young age of 18. That helped propel Cybill to even greater heights, making her one of the most prolific faces on magazine covers through the last years of the 1960s. It was this success that soon facilitated the arrival of her second big break and the beginning of a more notorious side of her life.
By the late 1960s, Cybill's modelling fame led to a brief but memorable affair with rock legend Elvis Presley. This was one of the first in what would be a long line of elicit affairs for the young modelling phenom. A short time later, Cybill took that most common of paths for young models when she turned to acting. Though unlike many before and after her, acting fame came not from her efforts, but from a lucky break at a grocery store. As the story goes, Cybill came to the attention of young, cutting edge director Peter Bogdanovich while he waited in line at a local LA grocery store. At that time, Bogdanovich was actively looking for an ingenue to play the role of Jacy in his new movie, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. However, it was his wife who noticed Cybill on the cover of that month's Glamour magazine, prompting her to remark "That's Jacy." Soon enough, Cybill was offered the role of Jacy, a young debutante coming of age in a small North Texas town. It was a huge win for Cybill, yet one that later threatened to bring down her career and that of her director for good.
Though celebrated by critics and audiences, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW was controversial for its frank depictions of sex and sexuality, including several full frontal nude scenes - a rarity for those days. Controversy also abounded behind the scenes, with affairs between Cybill and her co-star Jeff Bridges creating gossip in the tabloids. However, it was her other affair with director Bogdanovich that really stirred things up in Hollywood. Cybill's supposedly Svengali-like love affair with Bogdanovich grew into an 8-year relationship that surely made his wife regret ever pointing her out. It also tainted much of the work they did for years afterward, both together and individually, as critics and Hollywood insiders began to look at the two of them as something akin to damaged goods.
Despite the hubbub, Cybill carried on with her acting career, choosing 1972's THE HEARTBREAK KID with Charles Grodin as her sophomore effort, telling the story of a recently married man who falls for a beautiful young woman while on his honeymoon. Once again it was controversy and negative press, thanks to affairs and elicit encounters between co-stars during production. However, the film did enough business to get her more roles. Unfortunately, Cybill's next role proved to be the beginning of her undoing.
Reteaming with Bogdanovich for his 1974 adaptation of the Henry James novel DAISY MILLER, the role proved to be way beyond Cybill's abilities as an actress. That, along with more rumors and whispering about her relationship with her director, as well several ruffled feathers over Bogdanovich's swelled ego and superior attitude, led to failure at the box office and a decades long slide into infamy for Bogdanovich, which his young actress girlfriend unfortunately endured alongside him for a time. Cybill's 3rd film with Bogdanovich, the Cole Porter themed musical AT LONG LAST LOVE, similarly tanked thanks to a series of poor decisions and failed experiments during its production. Cybill's accompanying album of Cole Porter music also did little business.
While Bogdanovich spent the next 30 years licking his wounds, Cybill also struggled to maintain relevancy during a slowly floundering career. A brief reprieve came in 1976 with her role as Travis Bickle's obsession in the Scorsese classic TAXI DRIVER, a role she won thanks to Scorsese's request for a "Cybill Shepherd type" for the role. While the film was a huge success, things continued to fair badly for Cybill. Years of rumor and gossip had taken its toll on her reputation, which by the late 70s stood as little more than a pretty face riding the coattails of a director with an even worse reputation than hers.
By the end of the 70s, all that remained for her were smaller roles in low budget films like AMERICATHON, THE RETURN and the remake of the 1938 Hitchcock film THE LADY VANISHES, none of which did much of anything in the way of box office. Her relationship with Bogdanovich also came to an end around this time, thanks in part to a brief rekindling with a not long for this earth Elvis Presley. By the early 80s, mostly out of work and alone, Cybill did the only thing she could at that point - she went home.
Back where she started in Tennessee, dealing with two ruined careers and a very publicly dismantled relationship, Cybill began to rebuild. Far from the bright lights of Hollywood, her method of settling in to life as a regular person was to get married and knocked up by that most regular of people, a local Memphis car dealer. It wasn't long before the former super star realized just how out of place she truly was and began to angle her way back to past glories. Following a brief stint in local theater to sharpen her skills, as well as a hasty divorce from her car dealer baby daddy, Cybill sought her comeback in that most comeback friendly of places called television.
Her first gig on the TV scene was 1983's The Yellow Rose, opposite San Elliot. But that only lasted a single season before being cancelled. Her next gig proved itself her true return to success and one of the things she is still most remembered for. The 1985 ABC hit series Moonlighting starred Cybill as Maddie Hayes, a former beauty queen turned private detective, working with her loose cannon partner David Addison, played by a then mostly unknown comedic actor called Bruce Willis. The irreverent comedy was a huge hit back in the day, in part by taking a different approach to the traditional sitcom. Characters routinely broke the 4th wall by talking to the camera and the show's occasional theme episodes became the stuff of 80s sitcom legend. Though the real draw of the show was the exquisite sexual tension between the two main characters, which was so good it helped win Golden Globes for both its lead actors.
This tension was something the two actors achieved honestly. Like with many of her former co-stars, Cybill and Willis quickly developed a romantic relationship soon after production on the show began, nearly consummating their affair. However, unwilling to do anything that might jeopardize his first big break, Willis stopped short of getting with Cybill, thus creating much of the real life tension that came through so clearly on their show.
In 1987, Cybill became pregnant by an LA chiropractor who she later married and had twins with. Around that same time, she and Willis' characters on Moonlighting finally gave in to their longstanding sexual tension, embarking on an full on romantic relationship that spelled doom for the show. With that sexual tension between their characters gone, the show's premise quickly turned stale and by 1989 Moonlighting went off the air. The following year, Cybill was granted a divorce from her second husband.
A few film roles followed in the 90s, among them CHANCES ARE with Robert Downey Jr., Woody Allen's ALICE and the sequel to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, called TEXASVILLE, which briefly reunited her with former lovers Jeff Bridges and Peter Bogdanovich. Once again film work failed to deliver much success her way and so Cybill returned to TV, scoring another solid hit in the way of her self-titled sitcom Cybill in 1995. This show told the semi-biographical story of a twice divorced former beauty queen in her 40s who struggles with never having gotten her big break. It ran for 3 years and won her a 3rd Golden Globe before going off the air in 1998.
In 2000, Cybill published her sensationalist and impressively-titled autobiographical book, Cybill Disobedience: How I Survived Beauty Pageants, Elvis, Sex, Bruce Willis, Lies, Marriage, Motherhood, Hollywood, and the Irrepressible Urge to Say What I Think. Essentially telling her life story, the book also provided frank tales of Cybill's many sexual exploits as a Hollywood actress. Highlights included stories of her relationships with Elvis and Bogdanovich, flirtations and rejections of actors like Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, flings with actors Don Johnson and Charles Grodin, a 3-way she once had with two stuntmen from her TV show, as well as an affair with a 17-year-old when she was 35, who she called "her perfect sexual match." Seen by some as sensationalist fluff, Cybill's book also scored points for being a gutsy, no holds barred look at the life and times of a beauty queen in Hollywood.
Since then, it's been mostly TV work for Cybill. Doing numerous TV movies and scoring regular roles on shows like The L-Word, Psych and The Client List, she remains a prominent name in TV. In 2012, Cybill was engaged to be married to her soon-to-be 3rd husband, psychologist Andrei Nikolajevic, proving that while actors are great for affairs, it's only the non-entertainment types who get to call her wife.
Now 63, Cybill Shepherd long ago left behind her beauty queen days and multiple celebrity love affair experiences. However, she's since scored some of her most successful gigs and earned herself more fame than she ever knew as a young beauty queen with stars in her eyes. Celebrity has had its ups and downs for her, but in the end Cybill has come out the winner. Though perhaps not as much of a winner as all those guys who got to know her better back in the day. You lucky bastards.