Busy Mother Glenn Close Stars in a New South Pacific
March 26, 2001
Russell Scott Smith
Photo Editor Kathryn McCarver

“Like so many working single mothers, I always feel torn in half,” says Close, photographed March 1.

Glenn Close would like every­ one to know that she is not dating Robert Pastorelli, the actor best known as Candice Bergen's house painter on Murphy Brown. That's regardless of what people have been saying since September 1999, when the two were first spotted walking hand in hand through New York's Greenwich Village. "I assume I know what you mean by 'dating,"' Close says somewhat sternly. "And no, that is not true."

Still, the 54‑year‑old actor understands how people might make the mistake. "You will see us hanging out," Close says of her South Pacific costar Pastorelli, 46, whom she affectionately refers to as Bobby or Babu. "He's a great friend. I love his company. And we probably would see more of each other if we had the time."

These days, time is something Close has precious little of as she struggles to balance her busy film career with raising her 12‑year-old daughter, Annie. "Like so many working single mothers," Close says, "I always feel torn in half." Movie shoots frequently call Close away from the renovated 1910 Federal‑style farmhouse that she and Annie share in suburban Westchester County, New York. She spent 9 of the past 12 months out of town.

Close tries to take Annie on location when­ever possible. Last summer, they spent four months in Port Douglas, Australia, where Close filmed a TV version of South Pacific, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which will air on ABC on March 26. While Close was playing Ensign Nellie Forbush opposite Pastorelli and Harry Connick Jr., singing such standards as "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," Annie snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. Close and Annie even got a private tour of Queensland’s­ Australia Zoo from Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who let Close (who's best known for such villainous characters as Fatal Attrac­tion's Alex Forrest and 101 Dalmatians' Cruella De Vil) handle the world's most toxic land snake, the inland taipan.

During the school year, Close has to find someone to stay with Annie. Last year, when 102 Dalmatians took her to England for five months, Close got Annie 's father, film producer John Starke, to move into her house for the duration of the shoot. Starke brought his wife, Jody, and infant daughter, Lydia, along. "It was an incredibly generous thing to do," Close says of her former boyfriend, who split with Close in 1991. "It was great for Annie to spend so much time with her dad."

When Close returned from England, she bought a fluffy five‑pound papillon, Petey Petit, the son of Champion Loteki Supernatural Being, who won best in show at the 1999 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Petey joins the rest of the Close menagerie, including a "fantastic mutt" named Jakey; two Abyssinian cats who were bred by Close's friend Christopher Walken; and a Thoroughbred horse, Untacked, who is the son of Unbridled, 1990's Kentucky Derby winner. Close borrows a horse to join Annie on Untacked for brisk rides over Westchester’s woody trails and country lanes, past white picket fences and horse farms with names like Sunnyfield. Lately, Close and her daughter have been in training for a 10‑day Kenyan "riding safari" that they'll take together at Easter.

It will be a rare break for Close. "I'm not very good at sleeping in or taking time off," she says. But when she does, she hangs out with Annie in their enormous kitchen, which features a fireplace, a couch, two armchairs and a large window that faces east and fills with sun in the morning. "I love to sit at the table and read," says Close. She's currently taking comfort in an old favorite, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. "I find Thoreau really soothing. Especially after being stressed out for so long."

It's not surprising that Close would take comfort in an old New Englander like Thoreau. She herself is a dyed‑in‑the‑wool Yankee who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, 15 miles from her Westchester house. Close's ancestors helped found the town 12 generations ago. ("It was the Pecks, the Meads, the Closes and the Weeds," she says.) She learned to ride horses on her grandparents' 250‑acre estate, Mooreland.

But Close refused to be cloistered by her blue‑blood background. "Glenn has never been limited by her life of privilege," says her neighbor and good friend actor Christopher Reeve. Some people who grow up that way lack a curiosity to learn about the rest of the human race. But Glenn has a genuine interest in people. I've never thought about her as a snob at all."

She certainly could have been. Close's paternal grandfather was the director of the American Hospital in Paris from the 1920s until the German occupation, and her maternal grandfather went on an early expedition to the North Pole. (He brought back a musk ox and donated it to the Bronx Zoo.) Close's father, William Close, was a Columbia University‑trained surgeon. He moved with Close's mother, housewife Bettine Close, to the Belgian Congo when Glenn was 13 and set up a medical clinic. Close's parents stayed in Africa for 16 years, and her father wound up as the chief doctor for the Congolese Army. In 1976, he was one of the first doctors to treat the Ebola virus.

Glenn was sent to a prep school in Switzerland and then to the girls' boarding school Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. When she graduated in 1965, she joined a touring musical group, Up With People. For the next five years, she traveled the world singing antidrug songs to young audiences. In 1969, she married the group's guitarist, Cabot Wade, and soon after, they quit the troupe to attend the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Once she got to college, however, Close began to drift away from her husband. They divorced in 1971, and Close threw herself into campus life. She "wore tie‑dye," she says and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1974, with a degree in drama and anthropology.

Close's parents are now in their late seventies and live thousands of miles from Greenwich, in Big Piney, Wyoming. Her siblings, Tina, Jessie and Alexander, all of whom are involved in the arts, have also moved west, to Wyoming and Montana. Close owns a plot of land about 25 minutes from her parents' home, in a desolate stretch of high desert next to the High Piney Creek. Last Christmas, Close and her daughter spent the holidays there with the family. "Looking around the room, I realized that my family has this huge, very strong bond," says the actor. "I think that's because of what we all went through."

Lasting romance has been more of a challenge. In 1984, Close married a Wall Street executive, James Marlas, and tried to live the life of a society matron in Greenwich for three years. They divorced in 1987, and Close moved back to New York, where she hooked up with Starke and became pregnant with Annie. A few years later, while she was on Broadway in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard, Close became engaged to the show's head carpenter, Steven Beers, but they separated in early 1999. Later that year, Close met Pastorelli on the set of the TV movie The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. At the time, he was reeling from the death of his live‑in girlfriend, who apparently committed suicide in March 1999 in the bedroom of their Los Angeles home. Like Close, Pastorelli is now single‑handedly raising a daughter, Gianna, 3.

Close is most comfortable with her fellow actors -they seem to understand her best. Her oldest and dearest friend is Mary Beth Hurt, whom she met in the 1970s in a group called the Phoenix Theater Company. Today, Hurt lives down the road from Close, and the two see each other often. "I call actors the alien nation," says Close. "It's hard for me to be away from my own kind. I'm very happy with my fellow aliens."