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Kirstie Alley has no delusions about her 'Madhouse' role

"I'm going to tell you all how to say it. It's like thirsty, notKeersty. It's not fancy. It's Scottish. My mother saw Loretta Young play a nun, and that's how I got it."

People have had lots of practice pronouncing Kirstie Alley's name.

For several weeks last fall, Cheers, the NBC-TV show in which Alley stars with Ted Danson, was No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings, and Look Who's Talking, the movie in which she co-stars with John Travolta, was doing well at the box office.

Television observers wondered whether Alley could follow the popular Shelley Long as Sam Malone's (Danson) love-hate interest on Cheers. Of course, Rebecca (Alley) the bar manager was a new character. Still, the perception was that she was replacing Diane (Long). More importantly, there was concern whether Alley could sustain the comedic energy of Cheers. Based on the ratings so far, she has managed winningly.

The success of Look Who's Talking surprised many Hollywood experts.

Travolta's career was supposed to have careened into oblivion. Of course, there was a cute baby - albeit with tough-guy Bruce Willis' voice - and movies about parenting (Three Men and a Baby, Dad and Parenthood) have been popular.

If there is a common thread in the success of Cheers and Look Who's Talking, it just might be Kirstie Alley. Perhaps TV viewers like the chemistry between Alley and Danson even better than that between Long and Danson.

Alley, who delights in poking fun at herself and anyone within earshot, said she is as surprised as anyone with her success, especially the $120-million-plus box office take of Look Who's Talking.

In Alley's latest movie, Madhouse, she plays the wife of John Larroquette of Night Court. They are a DINK (Double Income No Kids) couple beset by what some wags have called "the house guests from hell," whose numbers include Alison La Placa from Fox's TV show Open House.

Alley is realistic as to why she got the Madhouse role: "Studios are run by people who like money. They don't know too much about art anyway. If you look at movies - the ones making money - you see Willis, (Michael J.) Fox. TV or former TV stars. You become a commodity.

"Some studios are snobbish toward TV people. There's not as much of a stigma, but it's hard. If you come from a successful TV show, it's not hard, but if you come from a schlocky TV show. . ." Her voice trailed off, and she made a face and laughed.

Alley admits that, as a movie star, she is still a commodity. While she gets to read "most major comedy scripts," what she would like to do during her Cheers hiatus this spring is star in a movie drama. "Up until now," she said, "it's been major personality stuff."

She said she is laboring under the misconception that only other stars got the good scripts. Now that she sees almost every script that she wants to, she said, "I didn't know until recently that most scripts are schlocky. I used to think that the best actresses got the best scripts."

The Wichita, Kan., native was chosen for the role of a Vulcan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan because she "looked like Leonard Nimoy - my eyebrows go up naturally, I have dark hair, alien eyes and Vulcan ears."

She and Larroquette, who appeared in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, swapped "Trekkie" stories.

Of her Madhouse role, Alley said, "I liked this because I could go out on a limb comedically - be a little wilder." Her favorite scene is where she confides to her husband (Larroquette) what he and their marriage means to her. "If there's any message in the movie - which there's not - it was that they found each other," she said.

Alley is married to Parker Stevenson, star of Baywatch, an NBC drama ostensibly about lifeguards but with a high jiggle content. She and Stevenson have a menagerie of about 50 animals, including dogs, cats, birds, geese, rabbits and fish at their 30-room mansion, the former home of Al Jolson.

Alley said she is signed for one more year of Cheers. Next season marks the show's 10th anniversary. Danson has said it will be his last season, says Alley, but "Ted is like a waffle boy. Don't base your vacation on what Ted says."

Would Alley do Cheers without Danson? "No, because Ted is Cheers," she said. "He is the heart of Cheers."

Once Cheers runs its course, Alley does not plan to do another TV show, but she said she, Travolta and Willis are signed for a Look Who's Talking sequel.

Alley has been a Scientologist since 1978, when she read founder L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics book.