Supporting Role

Pat Modell, wife of the Ravens owner, gave up an acting career for love -- and never looked back.

April 08, 2001|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Maybe you've seen Hollywood starlet Patricia Breslin in a rerun of "Perry Mason" or "Twilight Zone" or a dozen other TV shows from the '50s and '60s.

What you probably don't know is this: The pretty ingenue playing the defendant or consulting a fortune teller is the feisty, stand-by-your-man wife of Ravens owner Art Modell.

"Every once in a while a friend watching TV will call me up and say, 'You're hitting that man with a leg of lamb again,' " Patricia Breslin Modell says with a laugh. She's not sure now which show it was. An episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," perhaps.

She had a career others would have killed for, yet she now dismisses her acting days with a wave of her carefully manicured hand.

"It's part of a life I don't even think about," she says.

She's always been comfortable in front of a camera -- and has had her picture taken a thousand, maybe a million times. You can tell she'd never be caught with a frozen smile on her face or her eyes half-closed.

Her tousled pouf of Zsa Zsa hair is yellow as sunshine, gold as honey, beautiful as the best colorist in the city can make it. The bright-red lipstick and eye makeup are flawlessly applied, even though she's dressed casually in a bulky black sweater, black leggings and leopard print slippers. Her mandarin nails are painted fuchsia, and she takes long, sensuous drags of her cigarette as she talks. She looks good --great, really, for someone her age.

And how old would that be?

"I won't tell you," she says. "My mother always said a lady never tells her age or sits in the sun."

So does she sit in the sun?

"I used to, but not anymore. I'm paying for it now."

Not really. The rest of us should look so good when we're -- what? 60? 65? Surely not 70. But then we weren't movie stars, or at least starlets.

Patty Breslin always knew she wanted to be an actress. She was one of three children born in New York to an Irish Catholic father and a mother whose family came from Scotland. Her father, Edward Breslin, was a judge. Patty was quite properly brought up, going to schools run by Ursuline nuns for 16 years.

She begged her father to let her leave college her sophomore year for the theater. He refused but allowed her to work in summer stock her last two years, sure she would get tired of the drudgery involved.

"I scrubbed floors, painted scenery. I loved it," she says now. She eventually won the female lead in "Romeo and Juliet," and then there was no looking back. After college she appeared on Broadway in "The Wayward Saint," "Richard III" and "The Tempest," moving to Los Angeles in the early '50s to get into TV and film work.

As Patricia Breslin, she starred in the series "People's Choice" with Jackie Cooper, and appeared on "Peyton Place" and the live "Philco Television Playhouse." Her movie credits include 1958's "Andy Hardy Comes Home" and 1961's "Homicidal," a "Psycho"-inspired thriller. She acted with the likes of Mickey Rooney, William Shatner, Joan Crawford and John Ireland.

Her most famous role was probably her last -- nurse Meg Baldwin on the soap "General Hospital."

Patricia Breslin never had any trouble getting work, but she left it all behind 32 years ago when she became Mrs. Art Modell.

"That's what Patty is like," says her close friend Connie Pitcher. "She puts things behind her and never looks back. Occasionally Art talks about her acting, but she doesn't really."

It was a younger and very handsome Art Modell, then the owner of the Cleveland Browns and still a bachelor at 43, who turned her head. They were introduced in an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica by a mutual friend, Dan Reeves, who owned the Los Angeles Rams.

Art asked her to dinner the next night. Their second date they took along her two sons from her first marriage, David, 8, and John, 9.

The boys liked Art immediately.

"He taught us how to light matches," David says, "which we thought was really cool. We weren't allowed to play with fire, but I guess that night all bets were off."

For Art, it was as close to love at first sight as it gets.

"I just met the girl I'm going to marry," he told friends.

"They say it hits you hard between the eyes," Art says now. "My judgment has been vindicated for 32 years. It's been a great run. We laugh together. We cry together. And she likes football."

In June 1969, three months after they met, the two were having dinner on one of Art's frequent trips to Los Angeles when he reached in his jacket and brought out a piece of paper.

"He sat there with the piece of paper," Pat Modell remembers, "saying you have to go to this game and that game with me."

"I said, 'Art, I can't do that. I have work.' He looked up and said, 'Oh, but I'm asking you to marry me.' "

They were married at a friend's home in Las Vegas four months later. Pat gave up her career to move to Cleveland with her two sons. Modell adopted them a year later.

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