04/30/2013 10:58 am ET Updated Jun 30, 2013

Looking for David Addison


One early spring day in 1987, fulfilling a secret promise I had made to myself and my wall of laminated photos some months before, I drank an airplane bottle of orange liqueur with my 13-year-old best friend while her mother was at work. And then I called ABC Studios in Los Angeles and asked for the set of Moonlighting. I was looking for David Addison. I mean, officially I was looking for Bruce Willis and in the interest of full disclosure I panicked and hung up the phone before the production assistant could do it herself. But I was looking for him. Had been since I was 11.

There are so many things about this that are nostalgic: the giant wall phone, for starters. And how did I even get the phone number -- the White Pages? The operator? Then the weird found alcohol. Sitting on the floor, heart pounding, wearing my favorite pink and grey striped jeans. My dear friend, now only a dim memory in the normal and healthy attrition of things a quarter century old. But mostly there is the sincere promise, the possibility of finding him.

David Addison was my most serious boyfriend of the fantasy variety. I had a warm-up flirtation with a few others -- namely Remington Steel, whom my mother loved and who was exceptionally handsome. I liked Alex P. Keaton, in all his sweet contrarian nature. And I had pretty intense feelings for Charles Ingalls, but I'd like to believe those were more daughterly than anything. I have to believe that, actually.

But nothing prepared me for David Addison. He made such an indelible impression on me that I actually think Moonlighting wired neural pathways in my brain. It was a great show on so many levels -- the wit, the meta theatrical structure, the boldness -- and I appreciated all of it (or at least the 72 percent I understood), but in the end there was David Addison -- adorable and smirking and a little arrested, and he slayed me. He defined my terms for romance, for love. It should be spicy. It should be difficult. It should be titillating, consuming, and as protracted as humanly possible (at least three seasons). You start to see the problem. What is good for television is not necessarily good for life. Not at all good for life.

By later adolescence, I had managed to cool down a bit. The shock of finding out that Bruce Willis was a Republican shook me out of my reverie, and right around the same time live boys started to enter the picture. I managed to choose some who were, in fact, kind and mature (for teenagers). But my eye always wandered towards the funny, damaged ones -- the guys who were going to give me a hard time and some A+ banter. And in college, I was definitely focused on real men, but I was still applying my old Addison standards. I waited out months hoping some of them would learn their lines.

A couple of legitimate breakups balanced out my expectations. Certain things do clarify themselves when you date living, breathing people. In TV land, coyness is exciting and usually hides a vulnerable soul. In real life, coyness is annoying and usually hides another girlfriend. By the time college was over, I had had my heart broken for real and there was no overarching narrative structure, no 11th hour revelation, and nothing funny or charming about it. I was done, and in that loud I Will Survive way.

Then one night, after nearly two decades, David Addison showed back up. In the hazy late night of a party, a bunch of women and I went on a nostalgic '80s bender, and it turned out we had a serious relationship in common. Like an analog fan site, we quoted lines and cited moments and sighed sighs that were one part longing, one part concerned self-awareness. I went home and quick-curated my own greatest hits montage courtesy of YouTube. I had to know.

Had the show held up? Well, the shoulder pads were period pieces, but David Addison's side smile was as potent as ever. He was still that magic elixir of exterior strength and internal vulnerability, of wild chatter mixed with unexpected smarts. The biggest surprise, though, was that although he played at irresponsibility, he was actually totally -- if stealthily -- committed. Was that the secret ingredient, after all? That, despite the literal and figurative limbo-ing, he wasn't going anywhere?

After that late night date, I knew we were really done, and in that quiet Still Crazy After All These Years way. But I am left still thinking about the draw, the idea of a great romance in which the pull, the frisson, and, yes, the underlying commitment, is powerful enough to bring two impossible people together. It's not a new idea. It wasn't new when Shakespeare wrote it. Or Austen. Or Ephron.

So there's no moral to this story. I can't regret meeting David Addison; he was the greatest, the start of it all. Sitting in the floor, a small sweaty hand clutching a pale blue phone with a tangled cord, wearing silver pink lip-gloss for valor, I knew that a great, messy romance was out there for me, somewhere. I just had to be brave and ask for it. And not hang up.

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