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L.A.'S MOST VISIBLE Office Romance : When TV news co-anchors Jim Lampley and Bree Walker became a team off the air as well as on, tongues started wagging. What's it like to conduct a romance when so many people are watching?


Colleagues describe Lampley as self-confident and charismatic. "There's definitely a charm about Jim," says Moret.

While Lampley stayed somewhat aloof from the newsroom staff, Walker was "one of those anchors who's relaxed enough to just be one of the guys," says an insider.

Hired by KCBS in October, 1988, she, too, was already a celebrity. While winning bicoastal acclaim during stints first as a news anchor with KGTV in San Diego from 1981 to 1987, and then with WCBS-TV in New York, until 1988, she became the first physically disabled anchorwoman to climb to the top of a profession known for putting a premium on cosmetic perfection. People magazine, ABC's "Good Morning America" and other media wrote of her rare hereditary disorder known as syndactylism, which causes severely deformed hands and feet.

As the replacement for anchorwoman Terry Murphy, Walker immediately moved into the desk next to Lampley's. Like any newsroom, KCBS' had "a lot of camaraderie," staffers say, because of the long and often odd hours. So, in the beginning, their office behavior was similar to that of any colleagues who work closely together--good-natured bantering that never seemed to get personal.

And colleagues didn't give a second thought that Lampley and Walker, like most anchors who work the same schedule, huddled in private conversation or took their dinner breaks together. "It was a chance to catch up on business, bitch about management, even exchange confidences," one staffer explains. "Because the person you work with the closest is the one who knows what's going on in your life."

And what was going on in their lives was personal heartache.

Like Walker, Lampley had married twice: first to his childhood sweetheart, then again in April, 1979, to Joanne, an exotic-looking brunette, former teacher and aspiring artist. Together the couple had two daughters--ages 10 and 3. But when Lampley took the KCBS job and moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles, Joanne and the girls didn't come along.

"She didn't want to move here. That seemed to be the real stumbling block," Murphy recalls. "He even spent time looking for a house for the family in Hancock Park."

Lampley didn't like to talk about his marital status. "Jim was a very private person. I didn't want to pry," Murphy adds. When other colleagues would ask where his family was, Lampley would respond diplomatically, "My wife is living in New York with our children." He never said they had actually separated. Notes Moret, "I never heard him use the 'S' word."

According to Lampley, his wife filed for divorce in March, 1988, changed her mind, and then filed again in October of that year. "All I can tell you is that what took place did so over a long period of time," Lampley relates. "When I came here it was my fondest and most heartfelt intention that my wife and family would come to California to live here with me. And I tried long and hard to make that a reality. And it didn't happen."

Friends say the separation was especially hard because Lampley was a "doting" father who "worshipped" his older daughter and regretted he didn't really know his younger one. "I've only lived in the same apartment with her for two or three months of her whole life," he notes.

Walker was a brand-new mother when she arrived at KCBS. She and her second husband, Robert Smith Walker, a 41-year-old independent film and video producer described as a quiet man with "off-beat Jack Nicholson" looks, had Andrea-Lyne Walker on Aug. 12, 1988. The couple were aware that any children they had would run a 50% chance of inheriting Bree's syndactalism, and Andrea-Lyne was born with the disorder.

Walker asked to be let out of her contract at WCBS in New York after only 14 months because her husband had found it difficult to move his free-lance production business from San Diego to New York. In one interview in 1988, Robert Walker acknowledged that he was traveling back and forth so much, "we'll have enough bonus air miles for a flight to Mars soon if this keeps up." Sources in San Diego, where Bree's parents have lived since 1982, also maintain that career tensions helped to create the couple's rift. For her part, Bree won't confirm or deny these reports.

"I will tell you that it was a long erosion that began many years ago," she says.

The first word that Lampley and Walker were "involved" came from Walker's old station, WCBS, in New York. By January or February of last year, the telephone lines between WCBS and KCBS suddenly heated up, with KCBS staff asking each other, "Do you think it's true?" The reason for the lag is not that "people in the newsroom were stupid or oblivious," one insider notes. "It's that New York is much more of a media gossip market. L.A.'s not as concerned about it."

Recalling this period, both Lampley and Walker describe their budding romance as a "mutually supportive working relationship that got better." And personal.

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