December 8, 1984
Good-Bye, White House
Hello, Falcon Crest
By Eric Estrin
Though he always though he'd run for President, Billy Moses has finally realized how important his acting career is to him.
It's been hot this summer in the lush, golden valleys that make up California's wine country. Today, it's pushing 90, and the champagne grapes are ready for harvesting earlier in the season than ever before. But Billy Moses has the sunroof open on his red Alfa Romeo, and at 75 miles per hour, the weather's just fine.
"Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena...." Moses is ticking off the names of small towns up Highway 29 from Napa, just as surely as his Alfa is ticking off the miles. "We can eat breakfast at this great little restaurant in St. Helena. I go there all the time."
He's certainly had the opportunity. Napa, the home of many of America's top vineyards, doubles on television for the rich Tuscany Valley, where CBS's hit show Falcon Crest takes place. Though his role as Cole Gioberti, the young partner in his family's wine business, has grown steadily during the show's three years on the air, Moses still has plenty of time to appreciate these gently sloping curves and picture-post-card landscapes when he comes to town every summer to film.
This is obviously a banner time for the budding young star, who once turned down an acting career and then found he couldn't be truly happy until he got another chance. Now that he's had that opportunity and proved he can handle it, Moses' whole life has crystallized with a strength of purpose and direction he'd only dreamed about in the past. Already this year, he has traveled across Indonesia with a charity tennis tournament, found a happy new romance, bought a house in Los Angeles, and matured so much professionally that there is talk about him as a potential leading man.
So while most other cast members settle for drab rental cars or rides to the set in company vans, Moses is out in his Alfa nearly every day, tape deck blaring, wind blowing in his hair, soaking up every precious moment like a man firmly in control of his destiny for the the first time.
In the Napa Valley, Moses just may have found his promised land.
"Yeah, it's true," He smiles shyly. "This year has been my most enjoyable one yet. Everyone always assumes, 'Hey, you've got everything you'll ever want, or everything you'll ever need.' But for me, it seems every time I take three steps forward, I've taken three steps back. Learning to deal with acting along with the business of acting -- that can be a very frustrating type of road."
For a time, he admits it was too tough to handle. As early as age 5, Moses was cast in the lead role in an Ivan Tors children's pilot and seemed fated for a career in show business. He had gotten started with the help of his mother, actress Marian McCargo, but suddenly things were happening too fast. His parents were going through a divorce, and were concerned that their son might be sacrificing his healthy childhood for the series. Deciding, essentially, to sell no wine before it's time, Moses' family backed out of the Tors contract, resulting in legal problems and hard feelings all the way around.
The incident left its mark. For years, Moses watched two of his three older brothers launch acting careers, but despite his strong attraction to the business, he dropped out after playing a few bit parts. When his mother remarried, this time to a wealthy former US representative Alphonzo Bell (LA's ritzy Bel-Aire community is reportedly named after the family), he even thought about entertaining politics. "It was always preordained that I was going to be the sensible one," he says, "I always though I'd go to law school, become rich and famous, and run for President or whatever."
Instead, the athletic 6-foot-1 Moses entered Connecticut's Wesleyan University, where he played basketball as a guard with a deadly outside shot. But before the school year was out, he grew disenchanted and wound up back in Los Angeles, where he apprenticed as a carpenter and studied international relations at USC. Then, quietly, almost secretively, he began to take a new interest in acting.
His first steps were tenuous ones. Says brother Harry, who turns up regularly in TV Commercials and guest spots on shows such as Hill Street Blues and Hart To Hart, "You know, when you're 20 years old and you get a series, a lot of things you go through can throw you off track. The first season, he was very uncomfortable in the series and it showed. But Billy's a hard worker, a conscientious guy, As an actor, he's grown tenfold since he stared with the show."
Much of that growth is visible in the way he conducts himself on the job. Today is Moses' last working day in Napa Valley for a while, but instead of anxiously looking ahead to a planned weekend vacation with his girl friend, he's all business on the set. He has only one scene to film today, involving only one line, but he shows up early anyway and spends part of his free time in the makeup trailer helping Lorenzo Lamas rehearse for the upcoming shot.
"Don't forget," Moses says, preparing his cohort for a dramatic confrontation with Robert Foxworth (Chase Gioberti), "you're supposed to regard him coldly there. You can regard me coldly instead."
"I've got a better idea," Lamas says, receiving a dab of powder from the makeup artist. "We can change the scene. Why don't I just punch you there?"
Moses dissolves into cackles of laughter, as Lamas checks himself out in the mirror and struts out of the trailer.
Lamas and Moses come from similar, show-business backgrounds and became fast friends when cast against each other in the series' 1981 pilot. Moses fondly remember being taken to see his first professional boxing match by Lamas and his father Fernando Lamas. The two still see sporting events together sometimes and, when Lamas was briefly separated from his wife, occasionally hung around together as well.
"We're young and we're maniacs" is how Lamas describes the relationship. "We like to drive fast and have a good time. But Billy does things the right way. He's always home early, and studies like crazy. I looked at a page of his script once, and it had notes and instructions that he had scribbled all over the margins." Lamas shakes his head in amazement "He's a real professional"
Indeed, while Moses does display his share of boyish exuberance off the set, enjoying a variety of sports activities from flag football to parasailing, he can just as often be found quietly studying his lines, or engaged in thoughtful conversation with a friend. During the three weeks he's been in town, he's yet to travel to nearby San Francisco for it's legendary night life, preferring instead to have quiet dinners around the valley with various cast and crew members and their spouses. He's also spent time touring the local wineries - not because he has any particular interest in wine (which he rarely drinks) but out of a genuine desire to learn about his environment.
Up until recently he admits, his thoughtful nature sometimes got in his way. An incurable romantic, he often spent too much time brooding about why his relationships didn't seem to work out. But ever since meeting actress Tracy Nelson (Square Pegs, Glitter), his love life has turned from burden to joy. "Tracy and I are a lot alike," He says citing one reason why they've gotten along so well since meeting on ABC's *Battle Of The Network Stars. * "We're both afraid of being in the limelight, but at the same time, we both want it."
His reluctance to embrace his acting future is all behind him now, as his experience in the *stars* competition points out. Before last season, Moses has appeared on the show once, doing well enough to win some events, but not wanting to "hog the spotlight" he says. Last year, he engaged Joan Green as his new personal manager, and she immediately urged him to go all out in the competition. "She said to me, 'It's obvious you're the best athlete out there. Why don't you follow through?'" Moses recalls. "So I did, and that was the year Howard Cosell began calling it the Billy Moses show."
It was also the year Moses won all his events - not to mention $15,000 as a member of CBS's second place team, enabling him to buy his Alfa Romeo with the prize money.
Green says the incident is typical of the way her client has matured in recent months. "When I became his manager, he was right in the middle of being a boy and being a young man," She says of Moses, now 25. "We made some decisions about enhancing his appearance into more of a Gentleman's Quarterly look, and at the same time, trying to educate his producers that he's growing and needs meatier types of issues to deal with. We've tried to adultify his image."
Back on the set, production is running behind schedule, and Moses chats idly with his colleagues on the sidelines, as the director sets up the final shot. Moses mentions that he just met Gina Lollobridgida, who plays Francesca Gioberti and is new to the cast this season; he has come away with the impression that she didn't speak much English. "I tried to tell her that my mother did a film with her, and it went right over her head," He says.
"Maybe she didn't like your mother," Robert Foxworth replies. "Maybe she didn't like you."
Moses smiles appreciating this good-natured ribbing for what it is. After all, this is the fourth consecutive summer these people have spent time together in the same hotel - Camp Lorimar, they call it. A genuine, family type atmosphere has arisen, and here, as at home, Moses seems to be treated as the sensitive young son.
That night, exhausted from his long day in the heat, he spends the evening relaxing in his room, watching the Olympics on TV. At one point, Abby Dalton (Julia Cumson) drops by and he shows her a recent entry in a journal he's kept since starting the show. ("My writing is always melancholy," he says "Half the book is about my own romantic involvement's and how they've turned to crap.") Later he chats on the phone with Ana Alicia (Melissa Agretti Cumson), who just flew back into town for an appearance they're scheduled to make tomorrow on a San Francisco talk show.
He's up at 6 am in the morning for the limousine ride into the city with Alicia. His reddish-blonde hair, once worn in bangs, is now combed back and still wet from the shower, He's wearing clothes from the show's wardrobe, because he's forgotten to retrieve his own from the cleaners.
"I really like those slacks," the driver tells him.
"Thanks," Moses says, "They're not mine"
The drive to San Francisco takes about an hour, during which time the two screen lovers sit in the back seat and catch up on the time they've been apart. Soon they'll be promoting their steamy relationship on the series, but here in the limo, they resemble nothing so much as brother and sister.
They arrive at he CBS Affiliated station and are herded into makeup in the PEOPLE ARE TALKING IN THE AFTERNOON dressing rooms. The show's co-host drops by to say hello before airtime and talks to Moses about her daughter, who is in college at Wesleyan. "She'll like it," he tells her, "it's great there, if she can find her niche."
When asked if he should be identified as Billy or as William R. Moses, which is how his Falcon Crest credit now reads, he asks for them to call him Bill or Billy, but to use William R. if it's to appear in print on the screen. "I'd hate to be 40 years old and still be credited as Billy Moses," He says.
Ten Minutes later, they're all on the air, seated comfortable on the set in from of a live audience. The opening question is to Moses, about his new look. "You used to wear your hair differently on the show," the co-host says, "now you have more of a new-wave appearance."
At first, Moses doesn't know quite how to answer, and makes a joke about a punk style earring he left at home. But then he gets serious and says, "I guess it's all a part of growing up."
The remark is vintage Moses.