"One of the groundbreaking aspects of the show was that you two really acted like a married couple, a couple in love."

"Yes," Mary says, smiling, "in that way, we were more realistic than the other sitcom couples at the time."

"So, was there ever anything real behind it? Anything in real life?"

"Oh," she begins, and instantly the interview is blotted out and it's 1961 again and she's meeting the man she'll be married to for five seasons.

She likes him right away. He's sort of shy, sort of nervous, soft-spoken, but with a ready laugh. A contagious laugh. She giggles back at him, feeling her cheeks warm up, then giggles again because she knows she's blushing.

And he's handsome. Slim, debonair, with humor in his blue eyes and a deep, wide smile. A smile you can't help smiling back at. She thinks she's pretty lucky. Not just to get a role on a TV show, but to have a leading man who's actually attractive. Not movie-star gorgeous, but good-looking in a slightly quirky way. Yes, they'll be believable as a happily married couple.

She felt the warmth from the moment they began to rehearse together. They projected an easy, relaxed kind of love, but what was going on between them was way more intense than that. The first episode, there was a lot of physical contact called for. When she read the script, she actually felt flushed even though she was alone.

She felt flushed again when they rehearsed it. They nuzzled and breathed each other's air while he tried to convince her their TV son would be fine with the babysitter. He picked her up and carried her fireman-style out the door as they left for a party. They kissed a few times--just a little peck, anything more would be censored--but the peck was just camouflage for the raging, plastering kiss they would've had. Not Rob and Laura, but Mary and Dick.

Her final line of the first show was, "Darling, I am a woman." Then she was supposed to walk off camera, and that would be that.

But she made more of it. She said the words, then she unhooked her pearl necklace and sauntered off with it dangling from her hand, toward their imaginary bedroom. Swinging her hips like a dancer, knowing he was a dancer too. She didn't look back, but she heard his response: starting low, then rising to a happy plateau, "Y-EAH!"

When she saw it in the dailies, she saw the gleam in his eye. She was only twenty-three, but she knew how it all fit together. On the show, Rob and Laura slept in twin beds. But the real-life Rob and Laura would have slept together in one bed--and often. Sometimes she would look at Dick and her mouth would get dry. And it gave her a catch in her breath whenever she thought of it.

It was brave of her, to launch into it so soon. In the sixties, girls made men wait. But this was different. They had already been Rob and Laura for three months. So it wasn't really bravery, it was this demanding need to know what Rob and Laura had, to have it for real. She was twenty-three and she knew two things: if she did it she'd regret it, but if she didn't do it she'd regret that even more.

That first time, oh, it was good. All the kisses, touches, soft affectionate words Rob and Laura would've had, and then the crossing of the line. Her hands sliding under Dick's shirt, her fingers at the button of his slacks, his kisses following the contours of her body, until it was no longer play and they loved with force and hunger, and with seriousness. He led her up, up, till she couldn't take it any more and clenched, then burst, and only afterward realized how he had pushed hard, surged inside her.

After a moment, they giggled, and she stretched out luxuriously on the bed. Then he kissed the tip of her nose and said, smiling, "Darling, you are a woman."

It was never a full-blown affair. They probably only did it maybe twenty times in the whole five years. Only when the closeness, the physicality of being Rob and Laura got to be too much. When the tension became unbearable, then they released it. That way it didn't seem like cheating, because they never let their emotions become fully involved. Like Mary, Dick was a kind person, and they had a sort of tacit agreement that this--whatever it was, she didn't know what to call it--would never hurt anyone, and that when the series was over it would end, and that they would always deny it. And they were true to that. Even when they were interviewed together, they always said, No, no, no, nothing ever happened; but they always said it with a smile, and a tiny glance...

Larry King is looking at her expectantly. Only a nanosecond has gone by, her memories so compressed, quick as a catch in her breath.

"No, no, no," she finishes the sentence, and smiles.