real women inspirations
THE GOODBYE GIRL
WRITTEN BY JANCEE DUNN PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM WRIGHT
COURTNEY THORNE-SMITH HAS WALKED AWAY FROM ONE MARRIAGE, ONE ENGAGEMENT, TWO TV SHOWS AND OBSESSIVE DIETING. NOW SHE'S FEELING GREAT AND LOOKING FOR LOVE. DO YOU KNOW ANYONE?
Courtney Thorne-Smith bounds into a Los Angeles coffee shop wearing her gym clothes—black track pants, a baseball cap and a light-blue fleece top, which shows off her Technicolor-blue eyes. "I was going to work out before, but I started cooking," she says with a shrug. For some people, this is a minor schedule change, but for Courtney, a former compulsive exerciser, it's major. "The point of an eating disorder if rigidity," says the According to Jim star, settling into a chair with a mug of green tea. "When I was on Ally McBeal, I was dieting obsessively, running eight miles a day and eating only chicken," she says. "My exercise had to be right after my huge cup of morning coffee, because my body couldn't really do the exercise. And if I had to be at work at 6, I'd get up at 3." She is silent for a moment. "It was a really hard time," she says. "I feel relieved not to be in that cycle anymore."
Instead, she's having her on-screen hubby, Jim Belushi, and his wife, Jenny, over to her house for a fat-grams-be-damned dinner of artichoke and spinach casserole, chicken marsala and risotto. Belushi and his wife have been regular dinner guests since the show premiered three years ago. "We're already stuck in a rut, and we love it," Courtney says, propping her feet up on a chair.
Belushi, for one, is more than happy with the arrangement. "I gotta tell you something," he declares. "Nothing makes me happier than to sit at the table with my two wives. You should see me; I've got this big grin on my face like a little boy. The two women in my life that I truly love. And I'm sleeping with one of them! I adore Courtney. She's hysterically funny, but she's also very spiritual, very grounded."
Courtney's more relaxed attitude extends to the set, too. After years of feeling self-conscious during wardrobe fittings for the micro-outfits of Ally McBeal and Melrose Place (despite being a size 2), Courtney now has a dressing room at According to Jim full of racks of comfy khakis and jeans. "And some of the pants have smiley faces drawn inside them to indicate that they're for when I'm having my period," she says with a laugh. "They're happy pants. I'll say, 'Pull out the big pants, honey, I'm not putting on anything tight.'"
Courtney is a real girl's girl, warm and confiding, who frequently mentions her mom, her sister and her tight clique of friends. (And you've got to love a gal who shows up for an interview in gym clothes and no makeup.) When Belushi first met her at a 10 A.M. audition, he was so won over by her laid-back personality that she was cast by 3 P.M. that same day.
She loves the "family feel" of the show, as well as the more leisurely hours, a relief after the grueling pace of her former jobs and "the drama of a big ensemble drama—a lot going on, a lot of egos." She left both Melrose and, more controversially, Ally (then at the peak of its popularity) before the shows were over. In both cases, she was simply burned out, but more important, her inner voice was telling her it was time to vamoose. Courtney has lived her life trusting that feeling, even when her choices have caused a ruckus.
"If my gut says to do something, I just do it," she says firmly. "Why did I leave those jobs? It became too painful to stay, and the pain of stagnation was worse than the fear of change. And the more you follow your intuition, the cleaner it is. People would say, 'You don't know if you're going to get another job,' and I'd say, 'I know, but I just feel like it's not right, and I'll know when it is.' And that's true, I hope, in relationships, too."
She is referring to her infamous short-lived marriage, which occurred during one of the few times she ignored that inner voice. The warning signs were flashing before she married Andrew Conrad, a genetic scientist, in June 2000. The idea of preparing for a wedding made her brain "go into full-fledged denial," and months after the engagement, she hadn't done a thing. Still, the couple soldiered on, planning to get hitched before a four-day party in Hawaii. On the way over, they changed their minds, convincing themselves that they "felt" married. Once she saw all of her family and friends gathered, Courtney relented and took a last-minute trip down the aisle.
In Style magazine chronicled the festivities after picking her as the cover girl for an upcoming wedding issue. When the magazine finally hit the newsstands in January 2001 (with her posing in full bridal getup), the mortified pair had already split. "That was a nightmare," Courtney says, shuddering. "I called my publicist and said, 'Stop the presses—we broke up.' And he said, 'It's on my desk. It's out today.'" She buries her face in her hands. "And my poor ex. He was getting calls, and he really got hassled."
The whole mess taught her a lesson. "Don't push ahead," she says. "We knew it was wrong, we thought about calling it off and we just pushed ahead. If it's not working before you get married, marriage isn't going to fix it."
She was mindful of this when she got engaged in 2002 to Robert Andrews, a cardiologist she met on a blind date. Earlier this year, after it was clear that the pair was having problems, she called the whole thing off. "He was a wonderful guy, it was just wrong," she says. "They were both really good guys. It was just wrong." What got her through both situations was the support of her friends. "I wouldn't have had the courage to walk away from the wrong jobs, the wrong men, if I didn't have my girlfriends," she declares. "I just think, if I fall apart, I won't have to do it alone."
She also has close family ties and speaks "at least three times a week" with her mother, Laura, a landlady. She and her sister, Jennifer, were raised just outside of San Francisco by Laura and Walter Thorne-Smith, a former research analyst. As a child, Courtney attended an only-in-the-'70s alternative school with "no grades, a lot of sharing, a lot of crafts. We did weaving and threw pots on potter's wheels in kindergarten." In the fourth grade, she transferred to a public school and soon fell in with the drama geeks, landing an agent and her first part—in the Winona Ryder movie Lucas—in her senior year. After Courtney graduated in 1984, she headed for Los Angeles, where she found roles as the babe in Summer School and Revenge of the Nerds II. (A key plot point: "We stumble upon an old army base, and I fashion a bikini out of fatigues. What? How? I was the only one that seemed to have a problem with that.")
In the '90s, she landed parts on the most talked-about shows of the decade. Her stint as Harry Hamlin's girlfriend on L.A. Law led to a starring role on the night-time soap Melrose Place as the beleaguered Alison Parker, who endured everything but a plague of frogs—blindness, molestation, drinking, cheating and carjacking. Courtney's most vivid recollections are not of Alison's travails but of "making out with people. My clearest memory of Melrose Place was the daily 'Hi, I'm Courtney.' 'Hi, I'm Joe.' 'We'll be kissing over there.' It was really strange."
It was more surreal to make out with her co-star and boyfriend Andrew Shue after they broke up. "We dated for the first year, and our characters were still dating," she says. "It was really awkward making out with your ex-boyfriend for work. I remember having a conversation with him and saying, 'OK, now that we've broken up, no tongue. Are we clear?'"
Courtney quit the show in 1997, saying that she was through with stressful, hour-long dramas, but she couldn't resist joining Ally McBeal that same year, staying for three years. "I think in hindsight, I would have left after one year," she says. "But it was so hot and it looked so good. And I wasn't connecting to the fact that I was so tired."
Because it was such a weight-conscious environment (even at a size 2, you're going to feel like Moby Dick standing next to Calista Flockhart), Courtney obsessed constantly about diet and exercise. She lost weight and her clothes hung on her, but she felt fatigued and cranky, and with her depressed immune system, she was always ill with colds and flu. "I felt awful," she says. "After my workout, I would just drag through the day. You don't have to think about the rest of your life if you're completely focused on food and exercise. You're safe, yes, but you're safe sitting in a steel box in a corner." She shakes her head. "Not fun."
What were you thinking about last night before you fell asleep?
I'm sure it was what I was going to cook for dinner tonight. I love mornings. I'm up out of bed like a shot, so when I go to bed I get excited about getting up in the morning. If I don't get it done in the morning, it just doesn't get done.
How are you most like your mother?
We look a lot alike. Our humor is similar. We're both voracious readers. But she's much more of an extrovert than I am. I'm really good one-on-one or at small dinner parties.
What living person do you most admire?
I want to say something really deep like Nelson Mandela, but in terms of the impact on me, I would say Amy Lamott, an author I love. She's really helped me a lot through difficult times. I just adore her.
What's the ultimate day at home?
Get up, have my tea, walk my dogs, come home and work out, and cook dinner for friends. Then I would make all of them watch the Vin Diesel movie XXX with me. My friend says, "You know, you really should be going to the movies with my 12-year-old son." If it's a choice between Pride and Prejudice or The Chronicles of Riddick, I'm going with Riddick.
What was the happiest day of your life?
The first time I saw a bin candy store.
With the help of a therapist and a nutritionist, Courtney was able to break the cycle. Now, she only eats when she is really hungry, and has exactly what she wants—in reasonable amounts. "I really pay attention to what my body wants," she says. "If I'm at lunch with people and I'm not hungry, I don't eat. If I'm hungry at 4 and having dinner at 6, I eat." With diets, she says, "you're never eating what you want. If you're eating plain chicken, a plain potato and a salad with no dressing, there's no satisfaction in any one bite, so you're going to eat a hundred bites."
She refers to her Melrose co-star Heather Locklear, saying that when they first went out to lunch together, Courtney was stunned when Heather ordered deep-fried zucchini and a burger. "First of all, after I finished my lunch, I realized she hadn't finished hers," she says. "But she pretty much does what I do now, which is get exactly what you want, really savor it and don't overeat. Now I feel relaxed for the first time in a long time."
Once she got a handle on her problem, she started speaking out against the tyranny of thinness. In one magazine essay, she wrote, "You know those teeny, tiny jeans you bought after that horrible breakup when you couldn't eat anything but an occasional Popsicle for two weeks? Give them to Goodwill so that the 12-year-old girl they were made for can wear them." After Courtney opened up, women with eating disorders would stop her on the street and pour out similar stories. "That was a real turning point for me," she says, "because I felt like people actually felt connected to me, rather than a character I play."
After a decade of struggling with her self-image, Courtney is finally at peace with both her body—and her life. She says that the set of According to Jim is a "lovefest, and I appreciate every second of it."
Belushi feels the same way. "When the cameras are rolling, and it's me and her standing in the scene and I'm looking in her eyes, there's nothing more delightful and safe," he says. When things have gone wrong on the set, it is she who inspires him. "I try to hide what's going on, but a couple of times she could tell I was upset," he says. "And she took me aside and gave me a pep talk that just melted my heart. I dropped everything and went back out and performed. I mean, I love her with all my heart. She is the coolest chick I know."
Courtney wanted to join a sitcom to "have a life," and during the show's hiatus this summer, she turned down movie offers so that she could have lunch with girlfriends, go on a mug-painting outing with her niece, "organize that drawer of crap you never get to" and attend Jim's birthday party. Recently she became hooked on The O.C. "I never got to enjoy Melrose because I was on it," she says. "Now I'm watching The O.C. going, 'This is why people liked Melrose Place! I like to watch all these attractive people make out!'"
She's also planning one of her twice-a-year trips to a spa with her gang of girlfriends. "Those days are so precious to me, that sort of laughing-until-your-clavicles-hurt," she says. "There's always a lot of massage and early dinners. A lot of waiting outside for the restaurant to open—'What, you don't open until 5:30?'" She arches an eyebrow. "You know, when you're 36 and single, you're in trouble if you don't have good girlfriends. They have really given me strength."
And they'll help her out when she is ready to date again, because she has no problem with set-ups. "I've always met people through friends," she says. "Match.com is not really an option for me. So when I decide to start dating, I say, 'OK, start looking.' But being single feels good. I like it." Courtney may be a little bruised from her last experience, but she hasn't given up on the idea of marriage. "I think that the romantic idea of marriage is not as strong for me anymore," she admits. "You know, the 'getting swept off your feet' princess fantasy." She finishes the last bit of her green tea and gathers her things to go. "What I finally learned is that it's not about being rescued or financially supported. It's not about any of the stuff I thought it was about. It's choosing the person you want to trudge the road with. It's really about, who can you hang out with for 80 years?" She laughs. "So if I can find a person I want to hang out with for 80 years, I would do it again. Absolutely."