With its focus on two powerful women in a typically male-dominated field, the ’80s police procedural Cagney & Lacey brought a breath of fresh air to network television, and remains highly influential today. The show, which ran for seven seasons, from 1982 to 1988, and won multiple Emmy awards, starred Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless as a pair of New York City police detectives. After Cagey & Lacey wrapped, Gless went on to star in shows like Queer as Folk and Burn Notice. Here, FIRST for Women sat down with Gless for a revealing exclusive interview about the personal highs and lows she’s faced, her marriage and why her latest project will shock audiences.
Sharon Gless looks back on Cagney & Lacey
When Gless joined Cagney & Lacey, she remembers her first day on-set being awkward, as she was the third actress to assume the title role of Detective Christine Cagney. M*A*S*H star Loretta Swit was the original pick, followed by Meg Foster, who had previously been in the miniseries adaptation of The Scarlet Letter and films like Ticket to Heaven and Carny. Foster played Cagney for the first six-episode season of the show, which was canceled and then retooled with Gless in the role.
Given this rocky production history, it’s no surprise that Gless was a bit insecure at first, However, her costar soon set her at ease. “I learned quickly that Tyne is a pro of the first order,” Sharon Gless says in this FIRST for Women exclusive interview. “I have never worked with an actor who is that generous and that giving.”
While the two stars have maintained a close friendship over the years, Gless says, “that didn’t really happen until after Cagney & Lacey ended because we were so busy working 18-hour days and then Tyne would run home and take care of her children so there just wasn’t time to do the stuff friends can do today.” In the years since, they’ve prioritized keeping in touch. “I really do speak to her every day,” Gless smiles.
“I knew the show was groundbreaking because you had two strong women in powerful positions taking on sensitive subjects the networks weren’t ready to address on primetime television,” says Gless.
Depicting Cagney’s alcoholism hit particularly close to home and helped Gless face her own personal challenges. Gless wrote candidly about her own struggles with alcoholism in her 2021 memoir Apparently There Were Complaints.
“The title was easy to pick because there were grumbles and moans about me and one of the writers pulled me aside to tell me to get help, which is why I also asked to play it on the series,” Gless says. She admits that delving into such a personal subject in the show “was difficult at the time because it was also a difficult period in my life,” but ultimately “it is the storyline I am most proud of.”
Gless brilliantly portrayed an alcoholic and says, “Those moments on the show were based on real incidents. I wanted people to see Christine on a downfall and hit rock bottom because I lived it.”
Gless ultimately sought treatment, and received an outpouring of love and support from fans. “I brought this problem to the forefront while everyone else was shying away from it,” and it made a big impact, she recalls.
Sharon Gless’ most influential role
While Gless won two Emmy Awards for her work as Detective Christine Cagney and still gets recognized for the part, she surprisingly cites another role as the one that’s been most influential. She explains: “Yes, I learned a lot about women from Cagney & Lacey, but the one role that completely changed my life was playing Debbie Novotny on Queer as Folk.”
“Before landing that character, it had been a while since I had worked,” Gless says, “When I took that part it was in a slow time on my career. I put on a ton of weight, and it was a bad time in my life. Despite what I was going through, that program made me so aware of the pain the gay community goes through and the obstacles they faced just to be accepted. It really opened my eyes.”
In the five seasons Queer as Folk ran on cable, Gless remembers not only the laughs in between takes but as she tells it, “the extra amount of kindness everyone had for the actors who had to do a lot of scenes in the buff, not because they were exhibitionists but because of the subject matter of the program.” Gless also says she’s remained good friends with the Queer as Folk ensemble and remains incredibly proud of what the show accomplished.
Gless’ secret to a lasting marriage
While the popularity of Cagney & Lacey made Gless a star, it also had a huge impact on her personal life. In 1991, Gless married her boss, Barney Rosenzweig, who served as the executive producer of Cagney & Lacey and The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, where Gless also played the title role. The couple recently celebrated 32 years of marriage. The secret for such a long-lasting relationship? “Don’t be in the same city at the same time for very long and have separate bathrooms!” Gless says with a laugh.
Although the pair do not share children together (Rosenzweig has three children from his first marriage) Gless loves bragging that she is the coolest stepmom and grandmother, and says that she now hopes to write a children’s book.
Rosenzweig retired from Hollywood and in doing so convinced Gless, a fifth-generation California resident, to move to Florida, where they currently reside. Gless says while her husband loves retired life, she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Gless reveals, “I want to do one more hit series, a drama with comedy in it. Until that comes along, I will continue to work as long as people will have me.”
Sharon Gless’ latest project
Rosenzweig isn’t the only executive producer in this couple! Gless has also recently gotten into production work. Her most recent project is executive producing the documentary Show Her the Money, which she also appears in.
The film follows four female entrepreneurs facing the hurdles of being a woman in business. It also brings up the sobering statistic that women are only getting 2% of the $241 billion dollars invested in new businesses every year. “When I learned that, I got so angry because not only is that not fair, but it also doesn’t make sense,” Gless says. “I believe women are the power now.”
Gless’ interest in Show Her the Money is personal. “Back when Tyne and I were doing Cagney & Lacey, we became the highest-paid actresses on TV, yet it never occurred to us to ask what our male counterparts were earning because we didn’t think that way,” she says. “We were just so grateful to be working,” she adds, but she ultimately learned that “people do honor you with money. That is how they show their appreciation. Money talks. It was an extraordinary lesson to see what the women in this film have done and the heartache they went through to get to it.”
Show Her the Money is sure to spark some powerful, much-needed conversations, and we can think of no one better than a strong, trailblazing star like Sharon Gless to help lead the way.
Find more FIRST for Women exclusive interviews below!