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Rigby's Voice Gets A Workout In 'Peter Pan'

August 06, 1986|JACK HAWN

Sitting there, knee deep in a restaurant booth--all five feet, 100 pounds of her--Cathy Rigby looked as if she still would fit comfortably on a gymnastics beam.

Perky as always, the former teen-ager who vaulted to international fame in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics as America's real-life, rubber-band Barbie Doll almost blushed when she confirmed her age as . . . well, 33.

Only 15 when she made the U.S. Olympic team in 1968 as a Los Alamitos High School student, Rigby wasted no time winning medals, collecting a dozen in international competition during the next four years (although Olympic victories eluded her at Mexico City and Munich).

It's been 14 years since she last performed all those graceful athletic maneuvers in competition, but because of her association with "ABC's Wide World of Sports" as a commentator for gymnastics events, Rigby seems forever linked to the sport.

"I've been with ABC Sports since 1974," she said. "The day 'Peter Pan' closes, I leave for Peking, China, for the World Cup of Gymnastics."

"Peter Pan"?

Oh, yes. Her other career--show business.

Surprising to some, perhaps, Rigby has been piling up show-biz credits since 1974, when she made her musical-comedy debut in "Peter Pan" for NBC Entertainment in Sacramento. She toured with that company for seven months.

"Everybody thinks of Peter Pan as energetic and athletic," she said. "I fit that pretty well."

The Long Beach Civic Light Opera Assn. must agree, because more than a decade later, Rigby again has been tabbed to star in the children's classic which opens Saturday and runs through Aug. 24 at the Terrace Theater in the Long Beach Convention Center. But this time the role is more demanding. This time, she sings!

In 1974, Rigby soared around the set with the grace of a champion gymnast, worrying not about hitting the high notes--or, for that matter, any notes at all.

"It was a voice-over," she said. "Now, it's a real challenge, something I've always wanted to come back to."

Aided by voice lessons, she landed starring roles in other musicals: "Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Wizard of Oz," "Paint Your Wagon" and "They're Playing Our Song," all of them summer theater.

She also has a few dramatic TV credits, sang at last month's Liberty Weekend TV extravaganza and--with her second husband actor/singer Tom McCoy, whom she married in 1982--put together a variety act that raised a few brows last year in Las Vegas.

From there, Rigby and her husband took their act on the water, so to speak. They entertained aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean a couple of months ago and will set sail again in September, this time with the children. For now, the act is on hiatus while Rigby prepares for her most ambitious undertaking as an entertainer--"Peter Pan."

The mother of four children (two by former husband Tommy Mason, an ex-pro football player), Rigby said the story reminds her of her own youngsters--Buck, 10, Ryan, 6, Theresa, 3, and Kaitlin, 1.

"I'm getting some of my motivations from them."

On a more serious note, Rigby also discussed her involvement in a program dealing with eating disorders, sponsored by College Hospital in Cerritos.

For 15 years, Rigby suffered with bulimia--the disease in which the victim goes on eating binges, then purges food by using laxatives or self-induced vomiting--and now travels around the country telling horror stories about her experiences.

"It's a major epidemic," she said. "Twenty percent of college co-eds have bulimia and anorexia (lack of appetite), and I'm trying to get the word out."

Rigby, who weighed 92 or 93 pounds when competing in the Olympics, recalled that she often starved herself to get to 90 pounds.

"I didn't look good and I wasn't healthy at that weight," she added.

"Five years ago, I was just getting over bulimia. I've had no major setbacks, and I feel pretty confident now. I don't want to go back to that horrendous way of life. I know how devastating it is."

Her weight at the moment?

"I really don't know," she replied with a shrug. "There's no scale in the house. I think I'm around 100."

A bit hefty for a gymnast, perhaps, but perfect for Peter Pan.

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