Calista Flockhart: Anorexia rumors abound
Ally McBeal shuts down! Production halted! That was the story reported by a CBS news station in New York City during a breathless Oct. 2, 1998, broadcast. According to anchorwoman Lisa Cooley, Calista Flockhart, 33, the ultra-slender star of the Monday-night Fox hit, had entered a clinic for treatment of anorexia. The problem with the scoop? No one bothered to talk to Fox. Less than an hour later the anchor was backpedaling. According to Flockhart’s rep, said Cooley, his client was fine — and looking forward to ”a bucket of chicken” for supper.
Why did the station forge ahead with an unconfirmed item? Steve Friedman, WCBS’ GM, says the story was based in part on rumors ”on the radio and the Internet” but claims the station also had its own sources. Nevertheless, ”as soon as [Flockhart’s rep] gave us a response, we gave it prominence and repeated word for word what they told us.”
But perhaps it forged ahead because the report didn’t seem to be a stretch. Since appearing at the Sept. 13, 1998, Emmys in a pink sheath and looking dangerously svelte, Flockhart has inspired much conjecture about her health. When she didn’t show up on the McBeal set Friday, Oct. 2, 1998, WCBS ran with its story. But according to a Twentieth Century Fox TV spokeswoman, Flockhart wasn’t there because of last-minute shooting-schedule changes. ”Production never shut down,” says the spokeswoman, and Flockhart is ”fine.”
Sure enough, she attended the Oct. 4, 1998, Museum of Television & Radio tribute to McBeal creator David E. Kelley…and tucked into dinner. Not that it helped. Her denials and public dining have done little to stanch the whispers about her diminishing figure.
Newspapers began speculating about the actress’ physical fitness after the Emmys; London tabloids wondered whether she might be haunted by her leading role in the 1992 HBO movie The Secret Life of Mary-Margaret: Portrait of a Bulimic. And it’s not just the press. Jay Leno’s writers fashioned an Ally McBeal TV dinner — a tray with a few frozen peas and lima beans. And EW’s Sept. 25, 1998, cover, featuring the star and The Practice’s Dylan McDermott, drew a flood of mail (see page 8). ”Is Calista Flockhart trying out for the ’90s version of a Karen Carpenter story?” wondered one reader.
Not since protesters wrote ”Feed Me” on Kate Moss’ Calvin Klein ads has one woman’s size sparked such weighty controversy. Although the spotlight on Flockhart has been particularly intense, she’s not the only one pulling a disappearing act. At the Oscars, E! commentator Joan Rivers sniped that ”Helen Hunt doesn’t weigh as much as Kate Winslet’s arm.” Slim stars Courteney Cox and Teri Hatcher (the victim of similar rumors last year) — not to mention McDermott’s Practice costar Lara Flynn Boyle — have also excited concern. ”I thought the heroin-chic look was over,” says Drew Carey exec producer Bruce Helford. Mademoiselle editor Elizabeth Crow, who knows from waif models, says Flockhart is ”a skinny little bird. It was the norm in print but not the norm on TV. Suddenly there’s a very skanky look coming in there.”