It's all an act

 By Gene Sobczak, Soap Opera Digest, 1991

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"Gordon Thomson (Mason) is a very easy person to strip for," Karen Moncrieff says. It's a statement you'd expect from the sleek and stylish Cassandra Benedict, but it sounds slightly off-killer coming from this casually thrown-together woman who is the real Moncrieff. It's a remarkable transformation, and one that gives ample credence to Santa Barbara co-star John Callahan's assertion that Moncrieff is "the finest actress on the show, not to slight anyone else. She gives more with her eyes than most people do with a page full of words."

"The striptease was so un-me," Moncrieff states with slight embarrassment. "I went to Frederick's of Hollywood and Playmates and felt so out of place. Here I am in these stores where they have stuff for real strippers, and I was, like, 'Well, I don't know how to do this, but this is what I think I need.' I wouldn't be comfortable doing a striptease, but Cassie, of course, would. I'm glad people say I don't resemble her.  She's really a self-centered, selfish little brat.  But she's had a hard life. She's a tough chick. But that's fun. I'm happy to hear that something else happens when I'm Cassie."

To that end, the role of Cassie Benedict has given Moncrieff the opportunity to portray a character of color. "Cassie is just like Lady Gray," offers Moncrieff. "More attention has been placed on her history before Mason" - the account of which is too diffuse to list in these pages - "so there's a lot more going on than this love interest. The key to Cassie is power. It's the reason why I can do a striptease and feel comfortable doing it. Cassie has been powerless for so long and, because of that, victimized. And she's damn well going to make sure that it doesn't happen to her again."

Currently, there are two men from whom Cassie protects herself - Mason and Warren, played by Thomson and Jack Wagner, two daytime heavies. "It's great. It's really fun, because they're so different," Moncrieff enthuses. "Gordon is such a pleasure to work with because he is such a focused professional. When he gets on the set, he never blows a line. And he has an energy that he brings with him that is very different from any energy that Jack Wagner brings. Jack's a funny person to talk to, and I've enjoyed working with him so far. I heard all the rumors before he got there. The poor guy, he knew too. He basically said, 'I imagine you've heard about me.' But he hasn't been like that. He's very private, which I respect. I can only imagine that being in his position, with so many people who want a piece of him, it's hard to retain your sense of identity or your sense of privacy. I'm also sure he's feeling the pressure to turn things around for the show. I'll tell you, though, I've never seen anybody light up like that guy does when he shows you a picture of his little boy. Talk about a proud papa."

Moncrieff understands about parents. She's quick to admit that her mother is the person who most directly and profoundly influenced and inspired her throughout her life. Though she wasn't born in rural Rochester, Michigan, Moncrieff considers herself a Midwestern girl as she was raised there throughout the late sixties and early seventies. "It was a good time to grow up," she reflects. "We were very lucky. We missed a lot of the messiness of the sixties. Drugs were never something we were involved with. I'm one of the few people who never even tried marijuana. If anything, maybe our generation got a little too much into the 'me' and that hurt us a little."

Nonetheless, Moncrieff's mother instilled in her self-confidence and a solid set of values. "My parents were divorced, so I was basically raised by my mom," she explains. "It's funny. Now that I'm getting to a point in my life when my husband and I have begun to talk about when we would like to start a family, I finally realize how many sacrifices my mom made for me. I'm fearful of what the ramifications will be of a whole generation of children raised in day care. I don't want to have children unless I can be as wonderful a mother as mine was."

As a daughter, Moncrieff seems pretty loyal. She didn't stray too far from home, not even to attend college at nearby Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, taking time off in 1985 for a reign as Miss Illinois, 1985, a bittersweet experience. "Pageants tell young girls that it is more important to know what a group of seven strangers thinks of them than what they think of themselves," she points out. "For such a long time, I wanted to be a good little girl and think what people wanted me to think. Now it seems that part of finding myself is rejecting that and saying how I really feel about things, what is really true to me."

Part of Moncrieff's self-discovery began at Northwestern. First, she realized that her interests, skills and ambitions lay with acting, a revelation that led Moncrieff to a Bachelor of Science in Performing Arts. Second, she discovered Michael Price, the man who would become her husband. "We were fixed up by a very funny, silly friend of ours." recalls Moncrieff.  "When I first saw him, there were not sparks," Moncrieff reveals, laughing. "The angels didn't start singing; the heavens didn't open up. I really wasn't looking for a relationship. We were two months away from graduation, and I didn't want to complicate my life. After our first date, all of my plans for keeping my life uncomplicated flew out the window. We had an instant rapport that I had never felt with anybody else. It was really weird, too, because visually he was not the kind of person I would be attracted to. He seemed too polished, too L.A.. He was a snappy dresser, something that I just wasn't. Quite honestly, I thought he was a drug dealer."

After graduation, Price moved to New York City to attend a seven-month business-training program, and Moncrieff followed. "He was going there and I wanted to be with him. That's really funny," she adds, "because my independent spirit, that part of me that was drilled into my head - 'don't do anything for a man' - kind of rises up at that." Before the year was over, Moncrieff and Price moved to Los Angeles - however, not before Moncrieff landed her first professional role on a soap, as Guiding Light's Patricia Murphy. "She was Ross Marler's legal assistant," she remembers. "It was very short-lived."

In California, Moncrieff felt at peace. "When I first came to California," she recalls, "it was the strangest feeling. It really felt like coming home." Yet, we remind Moncrieff that her hair is still brown and her skin noticeably pale. "But that's kind of a good thing, too," she answers, laughing as she pulls up her sweatshirt to reveal a white midriff. "Things are so loose here in L.A. that your style can be whatever you want it to be. So, I don't ever feel any pressure to impress, and I like that."