Actress Crystal Bernard has it backward. She's always a bride and never a bridesmaid -- at least on TV. Bernard, toothsome veteran of "Wings," "It's a Living" and "Happy Days," has been a bride eight times on television. But never in real life.
Her next tussle with something-borrowed-something-blue will be at 9 p.m. Saturday, when she stars as the fiancee of young Nick Claus who is following in his father's footsteps as gift-giver to the world in "Meet the Santas" on the Hallmark Channel.
Not an easy task, it turns out, when their nuptials are taking place Christmas Eve. "Meet the Santas" is the sequel to Hallmark Channel's highest-rated original movie: "Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus" (airing at 7 p.m. Saturday).
As for Bernard, though she's been what she calls "desperately in love," she's never traipsed down that aisle. "One reason is it seems to be sort of a legal contract rather than a commitment," she says over lunch here.
"That's what I viewed with all my friends. It pains me when I talk to a male actor and he's talking about his kids and I say, 'What about your wife?' 'What do you mean?' 'Do you feel that (for your wife)'? 'Oh, we've been married 12, 17 years.'
"I've really thought that a man and woman are not partners and for each other and they're not family as I want it to be."
She's experiencing a powerful sense of commitment with her current boyfriend, music mixer Michael Shipley. "We're together because we really get along," she says, stressing "really" with her slight Texas accent.
"He's so there for me, and I would do anything for him. I see myself behaving better and more giving."
A former relationship was something out of "True Romance," she nods knowingly. "Talk about soul mates -- everything in the books, and the white horse, and all. It was killing me. it was so fantastic. The greatest love story of all time. Of course, it was FALSE."
She concludes there are disadvantages to dating actors. "We actors have to be conscious of ourselves, there's vanity involved. There's a competitiveness. There's something that's not appealing to me about myself that I try to get away from. I'm constantly trying. To see that in others, that doesn't feel like home to me."
Though she's seemingly gregarious, Bernard confesses she's a closet introvert. "I'm so private, almost bizarrely private. There's a fear that always goes on inside -- I don't know what it is, it's not dishonesty. I'll tell you anything you want to know. There's just a part of me that's introverted. The time between 'action' and 'cut' seems like the only time that I'm free because anything can come out. I'm allowed, given permission, to feel whatever is there and however I want to feel it."
Bernard's father was an evangelist who left the church early on. But she traveled with him singing gospel most of her childhood and teen years. "I appeared on the 'Jerry Falwell Show' when I was 8 years old. The song I sang was 'I'm No Kin to the Monkey.' Does that give you a good picture? It sold a million copies at 8 years old," she sighs.
Her father was also a Greek and Hebrew scholar and archaeologist. "He got out of his religion -- not his spirituality -- theologically," she says.
"That was important for me too. Growing up in the church, we studied so much scripture. So just to abandon it and jump off, you learned your way out."
Throughout school Bernard suffered a profound sense of isolation. "I was head cheerleader -- most beautiful, most popular. I won all the stuff. But I campaigned. I made straight A's. Yet I had attention deficit disorder. Everything I did, I would try to study and couldn't, so I would do these amazing extra credit projects -- show how sound was made on records -- I'm amazed I did those things. All this in order to make straight A's," she says.
"So it appeared I was very versatile. I was head cheerleader and wrote the pep rallies so you'd think I was just moving and shaking, but completely isolated. No friends. When I was home we were just all alone. When we'd go with Daddy on weekends and during summers that would be getting out and performing. That was like being a star. At home it was very dark and isolated, isolated, isolated."
Her mom stayed home with her four daughters. "And we didn't have the psychology we have now. She feared that playing with other children we would get bad habits. And she wanted her children to excel like the Kennedys," adding, "I never talked on the phone until I got into college."
Still, when it came to performing, Bernard was no wallflower. She snagged her first professional gig by barging into modeling agent Nina Blanchard's office after everyone else had gone home. She copped the role in "Wings" by telling NBC prexy Brandon Tartikoff what was wrong with the way her character was written. She writes music and sings, has toured in "Annie Get Your Gun" and raced cars.
Becoming friends with Ginger Rogers and Debbie Reynolds taught Bernard that there's more to life than work. She's still working on that she says through therapy and reading. "I knew that I did not want to be a statistic, that I wanted happiness within and I wanted to be present because I knew what a great mover I was. I could move things and make things happen. But then when you come home, you either have to watch 'The X-Files' and numb out or what is there for you?"