Dyan Cannon has never done things the typical way. In her 20s, the Oscar-nominated actress shocked Hollywood by marrying 61-year-old matinee idol Cary Grant--a man older than her own father and one dogged by rumors of homosexuality to boot. When Cannon was in her 50s, she founded a Christian revival group--a novel choice for someone who had been raised Jewish.
So maybe it makes sense that now, in her 60s, Cannon has confounded the conventional wisdom that says an actress who's over the hill is over, period.
At an age when her peers are finding fewer and fewer opportunities, the star of such classics as "Heaven Can Wait" and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" has never been busier. Cannon can be seen Tuesday nights on NBC's midseason sitcom "Three Sisters," playing the free-spirited mom of a trio of adult daughters. Before that, she had a recurring role on "Ally McBeal" as a hot-to-trot judge romanced by younger men. Next up: the comedy "Down and Under" from producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Cannon is also ubiquitous on sports channels as the L.A. Lakers' No. 1 fan--a role that finds her courtside, jumping around in tight jeans, her trademark curls swinging.
Who's the Beverly Hills agent that's helped make Cannon so very visible while other actresses of her generation fade away? No one, in fact--with all the work she's offered, Cannon doesn't need a talent broker. "The Big Guy's my agent," says the actress, pointing to the heavens.
Call Cannon eccentric, but her offbeat approach to life seems to work. "Three Sisters' " creators Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline were so taken with Cannon that they modeled their pilot's curvy California mother on her even before they asked if she was available.
"She's an interesting combination of this warm, mom kind of person and this bombshell," says Heisler. "We wanted to show a mom who is still a spitfire. The character has a zest for life that Dyan has too."
Heline relates a classic Cannon anecdote, as told to her by the actress: Out one day some time ago with her daughter, actress Jennifer Grant, now 35, Cannon became so tired of walking around in high heels that she jumped into a shopping cart and asked Grant to push her around.
"She's hilarious," says Heline. "There are so many older women out there who aren't reflected on TV; they look fabulous and aren't [traditional]."
Indeed, Cannon's sitcom character, Honey Bernstein-Flynn, is about as far from June Cleaver as you can get. Honey, a former Playboy Bunny and an avid Lakers fan, runs a yoga studio. The most domestic thing the character's done in recent episodes was to Rollerblade around the kitchen in short-shorts. If Honey sounds a lot like the yoga-practicing Cannon, it's because the producers agreed to tailor the character to the actress' creative specifications.
"They're allowing me to show the energy I have," Cannon says as she zooms her sport-utility vehicle toward Staples Center to see Kobe & Co. "Usually, women over 40 aren't shown that way: They have hunched-over shoulders and [all they do is] bake!"
On the subject of her birth date, Cannon is candid about her love of lying. "I've constantly lied about my age so that I don't remember [what age I am]," she says with a laugh. (Cannon, widely reported to be 64, says she is actually 62. However, she admits that her track record on the topic is such that, at one point, she had her own parents fooled about her age.)
"I lied originally because of the thing that happens in Hollywood: If you're a certain age, they don't want you. But if we're going to buy into the common thought that when you're such-and-such an age, it ain't happening--if you believe it, that's going to manifest itself for you. The aging thing doesn't get to me anymore. I honestly think that's why [my career is thriving]."
In person, Cannon does come across as much younger. It's hard to keep up with her as she sprints to her Staples seat, late for tip-off. And her schedule is packed: "Ally McBeal's" producers have asked her to remain available for future return engagements as Whipper, plus she's writing a Broadway musical. Cannon also does charity work and is godmother to 11 children.
But age has affected the actress in one way: She boasts more wisdom about life's ups and downs than she used to. Cannon, whose divorce from Grant in 1968 was particularly acrimonious, says she spent a long time feeling devastated that her two marriages had fallen apart and that she had failed to be the "perfect" wife and mother.
"I've spent years in reflection," notes Cannon. As for her career, the actress says it hasn't always been this easy. Maybe that's why Cannon adores the game of basketball as much as she does: "When [the score] is down, people are calling them losers and the crowd is booing, but [the players] have to keep their thoughts up and never give up," she says. "We all go through those dark spots, but it's how we hang in there, isn't it?"
* "Three Sisters" airs Tuesdays at 9:30 on NBC. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).