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Calling Sela Ward
An Unabashed Love Note To One Cool Operator

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2000; Page C01

Sela, everywhere. Don't you want to call her? Boy, I do. I want to call Sela Ward, and I want to say, "Hi, it's me," just like in the TV show, and I want Sela to toss her hair, such thick and straight and chestnutty hair, and coo to me covertly, so Grace and Zoe won't hear (even though they know it's me again, calling like I always call, right when Sela's packing lunches for the school day, right when she's just had a fight with the ex-husband about the restaurant going bankrupt, it's so damn complicated), anyway, here is what Sela Ward says to me, when I call: "Hi, you."

I say, "When can I see you?"

She says, "I know, I know. I miss you. I want to see you, too."

But we can never see one another. Sela Ward isn't mine. Sela Ward isn't yours. Sela Ward belongs to the collective we, and we have to share her. Sela is a 43-year-old television actress who is exactly and perfectly occupying her one moment, which is right now. The It girl is older now, and we are helpless in her grip.

Sela belongs to a moderately rated ABC series called "Once and Again." The show depresses and enthralls. Those bearded, sensitive "thirtysomething" guys created it and just look at how some of us (some in shame) lap it up, clinging to the possibility that things will work out for Lily Manning (Sela) and Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell, this impossibly perfect man with the hangdog face). Look at us clinging to it the way we'd cling to a building ledge 31 stories high.

Sela also belongs to Sprint commercials, where she sells cheap long-distance plans. Five cents a minute on Sundays, I think, but really I'm just watching her move. She billows like silk, with those long hands, with that arched eyebrow, as though she's got the ability to walk through walls. In one spot, she is lolling about in a blasted-white Heaven of a bedroom, diagonally prone on a queen-size bed, the duvet all rumpled; Sela in her baggy pajama bottoms, tossing that hair and talking about how great Sundays are for doing the crossword and calling people long-distance. Would she call me on Sundays? Can we paint each other's toenails? I haven't felt this way for many years. I haven't felt this way since Lindsay Wagner, the Bionic Woman, sold Fords.

Go, Sela S is for smart. E is for eyeful. L is for Lily. A is for amazing. Bursting forth in the 1970s as a football cheerleader at the University of Alabama, our Sela Ann Ward of Meridian, Miss.: Roll, Tide, Roll! She was the homecoming queen. Oh yes. Phi Beta Kappa, bachelor of fine arts degree, lighting out for New York and becoming a model, wanting to be an actress. (Isn't this Farrah's story?) World, take care of her.

Non-Scientific Findings Sela said this to television reporters at a network press conference last summer, about being in her forties: "I feel like my life is just beginning. I don't think I've ever been happier. I feel right. I feel yummy. I feel incredibly intelligent."

And who loves Sela? Women love Sela as an ideal. Men love Sela as Sela. The same men who can get frothy over long, Talmudic discussions about Lynne Russell, the steely and mysterious anchorthing of CNN Headline News, those are the men who love Sela. Some are partial to Sela as the sports ute-driving knockout, the foxy fortysomething; others are drawn to that bookish, librarian quality of her. (On "Once and Again," Sela, as Lily, co-owns a cute little bookstore with her Symbolically Unmarriageable sister; it is unclear if Sela's character ever reads, but it is implied that the Symbolically Unmarriageable sister reads way too much, and has lots of candles in her apartment. The viewers ignore this loser, focusing instead on Sela.) Men talk about that Sprint commercial that casts Sela as stern teacher, lecturing a smart-alecky 10-year-old boy about long-distance rates. We've been bad, teacher, we've been bad.

For Sprint, Sela Ward usurps Candice Bergen, whose moment is past, whose pin dropped. Now is the time to praise women born in the 1950s. Sela is their new doll and they dress her up any number of ways.

Sela's Lifetime Not from just out of the blue, Sela Ward. Not like she just appeared so we could be living in this Sela Ward synergy event, in which a 43-year-old actress who plays a character who is always on the phone becomes a spokesmodel for a phone company trying to get us to spend our lives on the phone. No, the woman worked her way here. She got murdered, as Harrison Ford's wife, in the 1993 remake of "The Fugitive." For years she was Teddy, the problematic sister on NBC's (barf! puke!) "Sisters." Sela is a byprodcut of the Lifetime network, whose motto is "television for women" and is always making those painful based-on-true-story tragedies: On Lifetime, she has been battered, neglected, addicted, institutionalized.

In real lifetime, she married a man named Howard. They have two children.

How To Say Sela Sela, rhymes with Sheila.

Not rhymes with Stella.

Not Marlon Brando screaming up into the rain, but it could feel that way: Sela. Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeela!

Dear Sela Sela, online: Chatting with her fans on the World Wide Sela Ward Web, and someone has the gall to ask, Why, Sela, why do you keep touching your hair on the show? Pushing it behind your ears, Sela, running your hands through it, Sela? (This sounds exactly like someone's mother.)

Sela responded (but was it really Sela responding, or a publicist typing somewhere in cyberspace?) that running her hands through her hair is deliberate, that it's what her character, Lily, would do.

Sela, don't ever stop running your hands through your hair.

The men of America's workpod cubicles have spoken.

Once and Again, Again What will happen? Will ABC cancel the show, even though it's winning its Monday at 10 p.m. time slot in the ratings, barely? Will Lily's children, Grace and Zoe, open up to her relationship with Rick Sammler? Why are the critics so irritated with the show's whining? (Some of us like whining. Some of us like watching people like Sela Ward get paid to have perfect lives and whine about it.) Will Lily get over the death of her father? How long before her divorce from Jake is final? Is she going to have to close the bookstore to take that job at the Web site? Is that the phone ringing? Is it Rick?

I need to see you.

When can I see you.

84 Words About Billy Campbell, Who Plays Rick Sammler

Believe me, ladies, I know. Billy Campbell is the other side of the equation. Not just because he goes perfect with Sela. Billy is a whole new essay. His hair beguiles, too, as Sela's does; how does it hang like that just in front of his forehead? What's it made of, cashmere? And his eyebrows, those lopsided letter S's of pain and simplicity. Of course they wrote him as an architect.

InStyle magazine reports: Billy Campbell wears a size 14 shoe.

There you go.

But Back to Sela Ward You might assume I'm going to call Sela Ward for real. That sounds like trouble. I'll bet you have to go through a lot of people to do that, explaining the "story angle" to various ABC people. (Um, the angle is Sela's great? Sela really rocks our world?) Then you have to wait for return phone calls from Sela's publicists, and on and on. You wind up sounding like a weirdo, waiting on hold, not wanting to get up to go to the bathroom because maybe Sela will pick up on that line.

And what if she does?

I'd immediately say, "I need to see you" as a joke, because they're always saying that on the show, in that chaos of shared custody and soccer carpools. Gee, I'll bet she never hears that one; but I'll bet she would laugh anyway. For me she would laugh. (We could talk about how "I need to see you" is almost sexier than saying "I love you." The raw need. The craving.)

She would be polite, and an interview of no consequence would follow, filled with much stammering on my end. We'd probably talk about fiber optics and Sprint. At some point she'd say something like, "It's only a TV show." It would be horrible. It would be horrible to be one of the many objects now orbiting Sela Ward in her moment and having nothing to say to her. The connection would be too crystal clear.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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