WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Susan St. James uses her mom-sense
By Serena Kappes
(PEOPLE) -- As the free-spirited Kate to Jane Curtin's straight-laced Allie on the hit 1980s sitcom "Kate & Allie," Susan St. James evoked an easygoing, earth-mother feeling.
In real life, St. James was the mother of four -- and trying hard to balance her family life at home in Litchfield, Connecticut, while taping the show in New York City. "I thought everything was fine because I was one of those people juggling knives and melons and then [saying], 'Toss me in a razor blade,' " she recalls. But the stress manifested itself physically in St. James, in ailments such as kidney stones.
Once the show finished its five-year run in 1989, she decided to retire from acting. And she added another member to her brood, son Charlie, now 12, with husband Dick Ebersol. "Whenever I took a break, I got pregnant," St. James says with a laugh.
The baby biz
Today, at 56, St. James is using her experience as a mom to enhance Seedling and Pip, a baby-gift basket business with a focus on books that she founded in 1998 with her sister Mercedes Dewey and friend Barrie Johnson. "When I was having babies, somebody sent me a basket of books and they'd send books for the ones that were already born," she recalls, explaining her inspiration. "That was the best thing I got."
Seedling and Pip filled a void for St. James, whose father, Charlie, died in 1994. "I went through this kind of crisis and I thought, 'What do I do?' " she recalls. The thought of earning a paycheck again appealed to her. "I had worked since I was 16," she says.
St. James, who was raised in northern Illinois, began modeling as a teenager. At 20, she moved to California, where she scored a part in a TV movie. A contract with Universal's television division in 1966 followed, along with an Emmy-winning role on the drama "The Name of the Game" (1966-70). Then came "McMillan & Wife," in which she played Rock Hudson's spouse, from 1971-1977.
She transitioned to movies after McMillan (in films such as 1979's "Love at First Bite"), but eventually returned to television. After doing a "ghastly" pilot, she starred with Curtin (her costar in 1980's "How to Beat the High Cost of Living") in "Kate & Allie."
Along with her efforts for Seedling and Pip, St. James still dabbles in acting: In 1999, she starred in a Torrington, Connecticut, production of "The Miracle Worker." As for doing more gigs, she says, "I think now it might be fun." But her numerous commitments -- which include serving on the board of the Special Olympics -- keep her busy.
But these days, her personal life takes precedence. This summer, St. James reconciled with Ebersol, 55, the chairman of NBC Sports and her husband of 21 years, from whom she had filed for divorce in March. "We had a second chance," she says. "I'm amazingly happier, so that's a good sign."
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