There's No Stopping Her
You get the feeling that weird gusts of wind suddenly appear in this world and strike only her - the hair is THAT kind of unexplained disaster. A very sexy, rather lusty one, mind you, but a disaster nevertheless. To be sure, four or five hours ago there was an attempt to pile it and style it, but now every strand is askew, every tendril is amok and every curl is ahoy. She pats them, pulls them and pampers them, but they never, ever seem to behave. And when she answers the door in her Manhattan apartment, you can't help wondering just what exactly it is you've caught her doing - being bawdy in the boudoir or having an electric-shock treatment.
And Ilene Kristen wouldn't have it any other way. It's not a gimmick, not a special effect. It's Kristen, pure and simple. On Ryan's Hope, she’s that flaky tribute to mangled matrimony, Delia Reid Ryan Ryan Coleridge Crane, but there are those who suspect that Ilene Kristen is the queen of ditz in real life, too. Maybe it comes with the territory when you play your part so well. (She has been known to drop everything to sing lead with a Brazilian samba band). Maybe it comes when you do more in life than go home and memorize soap lines.
It's Friday night and her phone is ringing off the hook. The answering machine takes messages but the sound is turned up just loud enough for the eavesdropping. Somebody sounding quite frenzied and frantic - is calling about a wig. Someone else wants to know if she is available to entertain next week at Harlem Hospital. Her manager needs her to be at two different places the following Tuesday at four. An old girlfriend calls seconds later. Is Ilene available for a drink next Tuesday at four? Several ex-boyfriends check in too. One, in particular, actually makes her swagger over to the phone, but her hand freezes on the receiver. She changes her mind and says, “That was some guy I used to go out with. Geez, talk about coming out of the woodwork.” A look of possible regret flashes but, in an instant, she remembers why she didn’t take the call. “He’s a real sweet guy and he’s real cute," she says, "but he just screwed up one too many times."
Far from the love-em-and-leave-em type (she's had a six-year-long live-in romance with a jingle writer and another that lasted five years with an actor), the actress acknowledges, "I"m very easy to get along with. I make very little problems for somebody. My attitude is - do whatever you want. And if a guy lets me do whatever I want, then it's great because then we usually wind up doing what the other one wants us to do. I've always lived with a great deal of freedom and I give any man who's around me enough rope to hang himself. Ultimately” she continues, “Life's going to take you where it takes you anyway, so why mess with it too much? I have a very laissez-faire attitude about all this stuff, but sometimes I do wonder if I could ever settle down with one person. However, there’s a part of me that just wants to continue the way I’m going. Then there’s another part that thinks, hmmmmm....well....maybe if I found the right man. I've still got a couple of minutes on my biological clock - but everybody's my child, so the need to have one is so minimal."
When Kristen’s not playing Earth Mother, she’s taking chances. She sings in clubs like New York’s Paper Moon (where, she says, they call her ‘Bubbles’, and nobody knows she’s on Ryan's Hope). The Lone Star (a country-western) pub where, when the amps busted one night, she brought down the house by launching into a stand-up routine about those dumber-than-dumb, oversized hair bows that stylish ladies insist on wearing nowadays) and The Kamikaze (where, not long ago in his pre-Moonlighting days, Bruce Willis used to mix her Margaritas). "Nobody knew quite what Bruce did,” she remembers. “I thought he was this cute, smart-ass, professional bartender." She described herself as a ‘poor man’s Janis Joplin.” She never invites her friends to a club date - "I’m the kind of person who says, ;Naw, don’t come see me now. Come see me in six month'" - and she actually prefers early-morning performances. (‘One of my gigs was from 1 a.m. until 5. I had a whole audience of Japanese businessmen and I’d just as soon keep it that way.') Despite this, Ilene has developed a considerable music following - and they come to hear HER, not Delia. Still, she insists, “I've never considered myself a soap opera person or a singer. If anything, I consider myself a comedienne.”
She's got the mind for it. One second she’s telling you about the time she royally blew her big audition for Saturday Night Live - Kristen was supposed to do some sort of musical strip tease which backfired and ended with her blouse over producer Lorne Michael’s head, her belt in the cameraman’s face and nary a chuckle to be heard - and the next, she’s recalling the time she headed to Hollywood to try for bigger and better things. “I’ve always had this fear of L.A.” she claims. “No matter what audition I went on, I always wore the wrong thing. And, on the way over in the car, my stocking would automatically rip and I’d get perspiration stains under both arms. It was like some weird, poltergeist-type thing. I’d walk in and have to ask for a towel. As I walked out, they’d be wondering. “What the hell was that?”
Her career with Ryan's Hope has been somewhat of a comedy, too - albeit an occasionally black one. Kristen created the devilish Delia role when the soap premiered in 1975 and played the hell out of it for three years (at which point she made the aforementioned tragic trip to Tinseltown). Upon her return to the East Coast, she did a quick stint as Georgina Whitman on One Life to Live then got talked into trying the Delia role again. A year and a half later, she was fired. Rumors flew that Kristen, with an extra twenty pounds on her small frame, had become too heavy to continue playing the sexy part. But the star herself spills ‘The Untold Story.’
“I had taken cortisone for a skin infection,” she begins. “The doctor screwed up the prescription and I blew up. It caused me three years of absolute torture. My system was sooooo out of whack and they were very intolerant of it. It did weird things to my neck, to the back of my shoulder. I had a rear end where I never had one before. It was really bizarre. They wanted glitz, glitz, glitz, glitz and it’s not what I really wanted to do and it wasn’t particularly what I was physically capable of doing. Still, I gave them my all. I gave them 1000 percent. I did a lot of explaining but nobody would believe me.” She’s not at all ticked about it anymore, just a little hurt and a whole lot amazed. One network buttinsky, she says, even added insult to injury by continually telling the distraught actress, ‘dear, if you just exercise.....'"
Ilene made a far more triumphant return to Delia-ville last year and, oddly, found herself one of RH's biggest boosters - despite crummy around-the-set morale and rotten ratings. “When I came back,” she scowls, “somebody on the show told me ‘nobody’s watching.’ I said, “I think there are at least 6 1/2 million people watching. You make the assessment that your entire audience consists of twelve people sitting home screaming, “you can’t make me watch Ryan's Hope! I don’t want to do it!” That’s absurd - and even if it wasn’t, you have to do the same show for twelve people as you would for twelve million.” The mopey castmate in question never tried his doom and gloom routine on Kristen again.
Her only fears in this world are getting too secure, too safe, too assured. "I don't want anything to take my edge off," she insists. "I really think that my edge has given me the edge." She gets out of life things other people never knew existed. And the fantasies? They're endless. "My goal of the month," Ilene explains, "is to be the opening act for James Brown." You know she’ll probably get her wish - and she’ll probably be able to squeeze it in next Tuesday at four.