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TV star cheers for family, oceans

I can't remember a day when I didn't hear [the words] 'I love you' said in my home when I was growing up," actor Ted Danson confides. He smiles as if cherishing a special childhood memory.

His parents wanted each of their children to feel needed and loved. Danson and his wife, Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, continue that tradition with their combined family of four teenagers.

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Their Connecticut-style farmhouse in Brentwood, Calif., seems to have plenty of space. Yet the meeting place is the kitchen. The breakfast table is surrounded by six stools. On one side are schoolbooks and an unfinished algebra problem. Next to these is the script for the next week's "Becker," Danson's CBS comedy (Mondays, 9:30-10 p.m.), which had its season premire this week.

Danson is whipping up a snack, an omelet with all the fixings, as he talks about the new season. "We're going to spend more time getting to know the other characters in the cast. We're filming it at Paramount, the same studio where I spent 12 years shooting 'Cheers.'

"I hope 'Becker' does that well. I almost get down on my knees every morning and say 'thank you' for 'Becker.' It's such a rare thing when you have great writing, a fun cast, and someone like Dave Hackel who created the series."

In 1996, Danson and Steenburgen costarred in the short-lived TV comedy "Ink." It seemed to have all the right ingredients. But as hard as they tried to fine-tune it, it just didn't have the right chemistry.

He's also appearing in the new movie "Mumford," which opens today. "I feel a little squeamish talking about it," he says, as he places the food on the table. "I only do a cameo; the star is really Loren Dean who plays Mumford. I play this ego-driven husband who believes his family enjoys him telling them how marvelous he is." His friend Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed it.

He pauses, then adds, "Do you realize it was 18 years ago [that] I was in the first movie he directed? It was 'Body Heat,' and right after that I got the series 'Cheers.' "

From under the saltshaker, Danson retrieves some color photos from his trip down the Amazon River and Peru. "We took enough pictures and videos to bore our friends for six months," he says. Holding up a snapshot crammed with people, he inquires, "Do you know who they are?"

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"The inhabitants of a village along the river?" this reporter responds.

"No," he says, laughing, "these are our 28 family members who went on the trip to South America with us. Our small vacation expanded until we had to rent two flat-bottom boats to carry all of us along the river."

Their last night on the Amazon, the Dansons decided to entertain their guides. "We put on our version of the musical 'Oklahoma!' There were enough of us to play all the roles and the chorus. I wonder what those guides must have thought. They did understand the language, but the way we sang it left them confused, but still smiling."

Water has always been important to Danson. As a youngster, he joined his archaeologist dad exploring ancient seas. As an adult concerned about protecting the environment, Danson is a founding member of the American Oceans Campaign.

"We've been working on a beach bill. When you go to any beach in the country, there will be a sign posted informing [you] that the water has been tested and whether it's safe to swim or not. It's a minor step, but we think if you start closing beaches, people will ask why, and then we'll tell them. It unanimously passed the House, and now we're working on the US Senate. We have high hopes."

Rivers have also played an important part in Danson and Steenburgen's life. They met when costarring in the film "Pontiac Moon" in 1994. There was a scene on a river: "It was when we fell in love," Danson explained. "I knew right then, Mary was the one.... I had a ring designed, and carried it around in my pocket for two months trying to get up the courage to ask her. It was one afternoon when we were boating on a river that I said, 'Will you marry me?' "

Since then, they've celebrated four wedding anniversaries on four different rivers. Last year, when she was filming in Australia, he flew two days to spend five hours with her, and the two of them were on a river, paddling a canoe. "What can I say?" he grins, "I'm madly in love with my wife."

When Steenburgen arrives home, she tells her side of the story. She confesses that when she was a teenager living in her native Arkansas, "I'd always prayed for a husband who would be tall, handsome, kindhearted, and a little goofy. Four-and-a-half years ago I met Edward Bridges Danson III."

They seem to be a perfect match.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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