Dana Delany: Sex & Sensibility

"I wouldn’t mind being the female version of George Clooney," she says.

By Amy Wallace
Photograph: Photo by: Peggy Sirota

Her current prime-time success has afforded Delany some perks; for example, she just bought her first New York apartment, in Greenwich Village. And her agent tells her that movie executives are showing more interest than they have in years. (Although she’s been in her share of films, becoming a fixture on Desperate Housewives—seen all over the world—has upped the likelihood that she will pull in foreign box office.)

But for her, being part of what is currently TV’s most successful female ensemble show also seems ironic. For despite all of Delany’s female fans—many of whom have followed her since she played the stoic nurse
Colleen McMurphy on the late-1980s Vietnam War drama China Beach—she has always been the girl who hangs with the boys.

HERE IN HER LIVING ROOM, the photo collection—which MORE has asked us to browse through—occupies us only briefly because she’s eager to get past the reminiscing. “I tend to be an emotional person,” she explains, settling into a shell-pink couch that complements the long-sleeve, pink-and-white striped T-shirt she’s wearing with jeans; her hair is still wet from the shower. “I don’t like looking through photos,” she adds, “because you go down that dark hole, and it takes me forever to get out of it.”

Delany was born into an Irish-Catholic family with an interesting legacy: Her great-grandfather perfected the Delany Flush Valve for toilets, and her grandfather and father carried on the business. She was raised in the suburbs, at the end of a cul-de-sac in Stamford, Connecticut, that wasn’t all that different from Wisteria Lane.
Delany says her spiritual curiosity emerged in childhood. “Even as a little kid, I remember walking around waiting for God to speak to me—to give me the sign that this would be my calling and I would be a nun.” But she also loved to read, daydream and perform on stage. So although she went to Mass regularly until she was 16, a convent would not be in her future.

“As a kid I was a loner,” she says, recalling that as a “chubby” girl she didn’t feel particularly pretty. “Everybody else wanted to play sports and hang out with friends and go shopping. My favorite thing was to sit on a rock and pretend it was a horse. I would make things up.”

Delany attended exclusive schools—Phillips Academy in Andover for part of high school and Wesleyan University—but she balks at the way she’s sometimes been characterized as a dilettante who inherited a fortune. She points out that she has supported herself since she was 22. Still, she acknowledges that growing up she wanted for nothing—except perhaps a more supportive moth­er. To wit: When Delany was in junior high, her mother, an interior designer, suggested she get a breast reduction.

“I just think she didn’t want me to be competitive,” Delany says, noting that her mom is smaller.

Ah, Delany’s big breasts. She has never shied away from talking about them, about how men view them as assets and so does she. While promoting the racy 1994 S&M comedy Exit to Eden, in which she played a dominatrix, she told Newsweek that the way she found out what size gloves to buy for a beau was to place a male colleague’s hand on her boob (“Definitely a large,” she said). It’s not a braggy thing—spoken in her voice it just sounds factual, even pragmatic.

It’s the same with sex: She likes it. A lot. She tells me it has changed as she’s gotten older, though mostly for the better. “Here’s the difference after 50: Your hormones change,” she says. “So much of our lives is driven by hormones—sexual, procreative hormones. Believe me, I’m still very sexual, but I’m sexual in a much more energetic, spiritual sense, which is deeper and more fun.”

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