By Olivia Tracey
"I feel like one of those punch-dolls who keeps getting bashed down yet bounces back up with a smile on her face, " says Irish-American Brianne Leary about her roller coaster career as an actress, television host, writer and producer.
In "the business" for more than 20 years (though a very young 30-something) she has certainly had her share of ups and downs. However, she has managed to accept it all with good humor and good grace, her eternal optimism effervescing like a good bottle of Dom Perignon.
Born in Rhode Island of Cork ancestry and reared in Tucson, Brianne (pronounced like the Gaelic form of Brian), moved to L.A. to pursue acting at the age of 17. A few white lies later, she landed herself a survival job at an employment agency before moving to evening work as a cocktail waitress. She found herself an agent in Dale Garrick, studied with the renowned Milton Katselas, and, within a year, landed her first part on the short-lived NBC series "Blacksheep Squadron." Next came "CHiPs," in the role of patrol officer Cindy Cahill, which, she recalls, taught her how to hit her mark as she repeated her token line, "Come on, guys, let’s role." She was then on contract to NBC, which paid her not to work while the network bigs wondered what to do with her. The plan was to get her own show, but, alas, it hasn’t happened. Not yet anyway.
Various TV roles followed, including the lead in the Harold Robbins mini-series "The Dream Merchants," ABC’s "Just Our Luck," "Fall Guy," "Love Boat" and "Hawaiian Heat," NBC’s "Buck Rogers," and CBS’ "Simon and Simon," "Private Benjamin" and "Archie Bunker’s Place," among others.
However, with what she calls "an overwhelming fear of doing ‘Love Boats’ for the rest of my life," Brianne turned her hand to journalism, where she created numerous opportunities to exercise her adventurous spirit, not to mention her intelligence. Her debut assignment for TV Guide took her to Belfast to cover the casting of "Children in the Crossfire," an American TV movie about the Troubles. Next port of call was Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, where she had to shave her head and disguise herself as a boy to sneak across the lines through a mine field despite a Soviet diplomat’s promise that "the next journalist we find in Afghanistan will be killed." Thankfully, she only managed to get briefly arrested.
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Back in L.A., the surviving thrill-seeker ventured to write a book about her experience in Afghanistan only to discover her publisher bankrupt. Then came screenwriting and she got hired by no less than TriStar Pictures to rewrite two features, including "Side Out" and "Conn. Men." Next, along with award-winning animation director Robin Steele, she created, wrote and executive produced "Stickin’ Around," a children’s cartoon series bought by CBS, with a half-hour prime time slot in Canada, Europe and Latin America. The show also won the Gemini Best Animated Series 1997 and the Gold Medal New York Festival’s Best Television Programming in the same year.
What she loves most about writing and producing is that it has nothing to do with her looks and everything to with her brain. Though a gorgeous brunette, Brianne is also blessed with an inquiring mind, creative vision, a huge personality and limitless energy and drive. She is also extremely funny and possesses charm in abundance. Considering this, along with her on-camera and journalistic experience, it is not surprising that she should move into television hosting.
And of course, there she excelled, working with "Good Morning America" on ABC, the Tony Awards preview week 1995 for HBO, "Fox After Breakfast" and a CNN pilot, "Monkey Bar." She also worked extensively for the Disney Channel, among her credits being "Walt Disney World Inside Out," the 25th anniversary special, the Christmas and Easter Parades and the winter and spring previews.
She can be seen these days on the Animal Planet Channel hosting "Petsburgh USA" from Florida. She jokes about how this show reignites her self-confidence, saying, "Well, if I can do a segment on kitty litter, I can do anything." Mind you, she almost lost her "Petsburgh" opportunity to Paramount when, just this summer, she accepted a three-year contract in L.A. as a sidekick to Howie Mandel only to lose it months later because of her "overpowering" personality. She got fired high-gloss style over a Beverly Hills breakfast, and interrupted the "meeting" to make a call to salvage her "Petsburgh" offer in Florida. Had she waited till noon, it would have been too late.
Then there was the NBC "Last Call" series, on which she was one of five panelists who pontificated on current affairs. This time there was concern over her lacking a college degree, despite her intelligence and worldliness. The show got canceled anyway, but it compelled her to study for her GED at Columbia.
It appears that nothing can stand in this high achiever’s way. It is also obvious that she is not made for sidekicking but for stardom in her own right. No doubt the powers that be will soon wake up and embrace the rare and wonderful package that is Brianne Leary. Perhaps they are just pondering what to give the woman who has everything.