By Wendy Wilkinson Photos by Ken Amorosano
Tall and elegant, with a great sense of style, Wendie Malick appears right at home in a bustling and urban world. From starring roles on the HBO series Dream On and the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me!, to her recent five year run on the surprise hit, Hot in Cleveland, big cities have been her celluloid home for more than twenty-five years.
There is a much different side to this very busy actress, however, who lives with her husband Richard Erickson on a fifty-acre ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California, where the couple care for four horses, a miniature donkey, two dogs and a cat. Erickson, a master builder, has created a remarkable series of spaces, built out of wooden shingles and distressed wood. The porches surrounding the main house look out over acres of scrub oak and other Southern California indigenous foliage.
The ranch house is also animal friendly, with an expansive wrap around veranda and a relaxed casual feel that could not have been imagined by Malick, who as a model in her twenties, would “take jobs that allowed me to travel and I didn’t have much furniture other than a bed,” she laughs. “I now have a really big and messy life and say that a good day is a day without vet bills.”
Meeting for the first time in Mexico while helping build houses for the poor, the couple has always had a sense of adventure. Erickson and Malick’s first trip together (almost twenty-five years ago) was on a motorcycle through parts of Africa. Soon after they got together “He brought me up to the Santa Monica Mountains, an area that I had never really explored before and we rented a cabin on the property of some friends before buying our own land. Most of the property is unbuildable, but our living spaces, which are all cedar with rusted steel roofs, look like a series of prairie buildings with sliding barn doors to keep out the afternoon sun. We’ve also got a couple of barns, with paddocks and plenty of room to roam.”
For most of Malick’s life—even the seventeen years she spent living and working in New York City—she had a yen for, and a love of, a more country-like life. Every chance she got, she would leave the city to explore the more rural areas of Connecticut, or go upstate to visit friends and relatives who had animals. Her true love of horses and riding came in Southern California when she bid on a series of English riding lessons at a local school fundraiser soon after she and Erickson had purchased their ranch property. The horse they paired her with was a giant Thoroughbred named Butch and she decided to buy him. “He was tall, lean and gorgeous, had been on the track and broke into a full out sweat as soon as I got on his back,” Wendie explains. “Butch taught me so much about riding as he had so much fear and separation anxiety that I had to learn how to hold on for dear life.
“Years later when we retired Butch, I found a lovely Quarter Horse named Rosie. It was love at first sight. She changed my life by proving how therapeutic riding could be. We had to put her down several months ago at the age of 28. She was the Big Mama of this herd and is missed by us all.”
Rosie did however give Malick a wonderful gift–a foal named Cassidy. “I never had children and thought that I should be allowed to have one baby in my life. When Rosie was ready to deliver, I watched a birthing video and stayed in the barn for three nights, sleeping on hay bales. Sure that the foal was going to be female; I had the name Rose Bud picked out. Well, when that little colt was born, he became Cassidy and is now 14 years old.
“He knew my scent as well as his mother’s,” Malick said, “and is still like a giant, 1,000-lb. kid.”
Their equine brood grew exponentially with the adoption of another Quarter Horse named Jeb and two miniature donkeys, when a friend had to move and find them a good home. Jeb was ridden in a Marlboro commercial almost twenty years ago. “They’re such incredibly little animals,” Malick said about the miniature donkeys Luca, and Geronimo, who has since passed away. “They have so much personality and are so focused. We fell madly in love with them.”
A whole new chapter began in Malick’s life when she met Neda DeMayo, founder of Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Sanctuary and Preserve, located in Northern Santa Barbara County. “Neda is a remarkable woman, warm and fierce, and she introduced me to the world of wild horses,” she says.
A rescuer by nature, Malick wanted to learn about the ongoing plight of this country’s wild mustangs and drove up to the Sanctuary to visit them in a close-to-natural habitat.
“I went into one of the pastures, and felt breath on my back and looked into the most gentle eyes I’ve even seen. This was Stuart. Big, black and beautiful, I fell in love with him immediately and we hung out for hours,” she says. Stuart was from the Chalice herd, and he now lives with Malick and her husband. “We’ve been riding Stuart since we adopted him. He’s gentle, very engaging, and wants to please you.”
Along with sweet Stuart came his herd mate, Bo, who was a whole other story. Bo is constantly testing her. “He was sent to me for a reason,” she explains. “He has been in training several times, but he still loves going backwards unexpectedly, particularly down steep hills. Bo is so cool, but has a lot more wildness in him and I frequently find myself sliding down his neck.
“Since these guys came I have started wearing a helmet for the first time, and I’m very glad as there have been times that I have had to get off quickly. We mostly trail ride, but it’s not unusual to come across deer, bobcats or rattlers.”
This experience has also been the catalyst for a film project that Malick is developing on Wild Horse Annie with Helen Bartlett and Deanne Stillman, author of the critically acclaimed Mustang. Born Velma Broon Johnston, “Annie” was an animal rights activist who led a campaign to stop the eradication of mustangs and free-roaming burros from public lands.
In addition to the hoofstock, Malick and Erickson also parent two dogs, both rescues from a shelter that have “such unique, amazing, remarkable personalities, and there is something about those two that run the full spectrum of why we love having dogs in our lives.” Zoe, an 8-year-old shepherd mix who was found on the street, cowering with a thin frame, is now a fiercely loving guard dog. “She would lay down her life for us,” Malick told People magazine at the Pets at Farm Sanctuary’s 25th Anniversary Gala, “I can see that trust in her and feel so honored to be her caretaker and her friend.”
Miles, a 6-year-old black Lab, is “very large and incredibly sweet and dear,” Malick said. “Miles just needs to be loving us. He’s kind of a big doofus but in the sweetest way, with the hugest heart in the world.”
Malick’s commitment to giving back also includes mankind. As a young actress in New York, she volunteered for Literacy Volunteers of America and tutored a young man named Kenneth Torres who ultimately became passionate about crafting poetry. She worked with Torres, who had severe reading difficulties, for nine months and they became pen pals. “Within a year of us working together, Literacy Volunteers of America hosted a performance at Citicorp Auditorium in New York and Kenneth read one of his poems,” she explains with great pride. “We can truly help change the world one person at a time.”
Malick has been captivating television audiences since the 1980s in such diverse shows as Trauma Center, Kate & Allie, and Baywatch. In 1990, she was cast as Judith Tupper Stone on the fledgling HBO comedy series Dream On. Because of her stature, Malick had been relegated to playing doctors, lawyers and ex-wives early in her career, “This role was pivotal for me,” she explains, “as I was able to show my comedic side.”
It wasn’t until she was cast as Nina Van Horn, a shallow, boozing former supermodel on the NBC comedy Just Shoot Me! that she truly made her mark on the little screen. Starring with Laura San Giacomo, David Spade and George Segal, she was nominated for two Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and Miniseries or Television Film, respectively. “We’re all still friends,” Malick says, “and several cast members came to my recent birthday party!”
Perhaps one of Malick’s most surprising career successes came six years ago in 2011, when she was cast in TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland along side Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and the venerable Betty White. A bit of a gamble for the young cable network, Hot In Cleveland became both a critical and ratings hit and was on the air for five years. “None of us were expecting this project at this time of our lives,” says Malick. “I turned 60, Jane and Valerie turned 50, and Betty turned 90 during the time we were on the air. We all considered this a gift at this time in our careers, like catching lightning in a bottle. It was the right time for a story about a bunch of older women who were still viable.
When you spend seven years together (Just Shoot Me!, HIC) you become a family…none of us are willing to let that go. I love those guys.”
Other career highlights include guest starring on the on third and fourth episodes of NYPD Blue, and the last season of Frasier with Kelsey Grammar and Leeves. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to touch all those different notes,” Malick reflects. “Last summer I did a play with Gary Cole in a tiny little theatre in New Jersey for a total immersion experience.”
Recently Wendie guest-starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Grace & Frankie, NCIS: Los Angeles, and co-starred on a 13-episode season of the television series Rush Hour, based on the successful movie series. Every year around 9/11, Malick does a staged reading with Dan Lorea from The Wonder Years, of a play called The Guys. Written by playwright Anne Nelson, this is a dramatic telling of the stories of firefighters who lost their lives on that tragic day. This year the reading, which celebrates the first-responders’ lives and mourns their deaths, was held in Durango, CO.
Wendie and Richard’s ranch life and the animals that live there are the “anecdote” for the “craziness of what I do for a living,” she says. “The peace and quiet of having this alternate universe makes me a better actor and much kinder person. We feed the horses, clean their stalls, and brush them in the morning, and then take the dogs for a walk if I don’t have an early call. I try to take a piece of this into my other world.”