He called her Countess. She called him Buddy Lee. They first made love at his Florida home after dancing naked on the balcony. That night, she remembers, he was ''sweet, tentative and gentle,'' with a body like ''a great god.''
But the honeymoon was short-lived. Fast-forward several years to another romantic night in Florida. Anderson appears in their bedroom wearing what she calls ''trashy lingerie'' to provoke a ''reaction'' from her husband after several sex-free months. But Reynolds isn't in the mood. ''What the hell do you think I am?'' he snarls. ''A stud service?''
Yowza! Dialogue like that and you're probably about to ask: What the hell do you think I am? Some long-lost Jacqueline Susann fan? But just consider my predicament. I had to go read an advance copy of Loni Anderson's autobiography, My Life In High Heels (Morrow, DOLLAR23), under close guard at the publisher's office and sign an agreement promising not to divulge the contents beforehand. I felt like saying What the hell do you think this is? The Pentagon Papers?
So imagine my embarrassment at having to admit that I became so engrossed in this story of a C-list actress and her lamentable taste in men that I barely looked up in three hours. And it wasn't just because of the tabloid-ready ''bombshells'' that fill the book specifically, allegations that Reynolds was a voracious pill-popper and wife abuser.
Cowritten by Larkin Warren, My Life in High Heels does not pretend to be anything more than a cheesy celeb autobiography. But at the same time it manages to transcend the genre by demonstrating that flamboyant, histrionic figures from cheap fiction with names like January Wayne or Lucky Santangelo do not live only in the valley of the dolls. They have names like Loni and live in real-life Hollywood as well.
Reynolds and his alleged descent into periodic drug-addled torpors, as well as the physical and verbal attacks Anderson claims he inflicted on her, are clearly meant to be the centerpiece of the book. In 1993, for example, Anderson writes that Reynolds ''shoved me around, pushing me onto the floor. Then he pulled out a gun and said, 'Here, why don't you kill yourself and do us all a favor?' '' Similar passages describing Reynolds' twisting her wrist until it bled, sending her a 16-page threatening letter, and bringing his mistress to tapings of Evening Shade are pretty chilling. They also seem pretty overdue considering how Reynolds dumped Anderson and then called her an unfit mother on TV.
But High Heels makes it clear that Anderson's miserable marriage (her third) to Reynolds was just another twist in the tale of a woman seemingly determined to create constant catastrophe in her life. As recounted by Anderson, however, it's also highly entertaining. After an idyllic childhood, Anderson impulsively eloped at 18 and endured a wedding night that she called ''one of the great disasters in the history of sex on this planet.'' Though she and her husband never had actual intercourse because it was too painful, Anderson got pregnant without penetration something her husband could hardly believe. ''This can't be my baby!'' Anderson remembers him yelling. ''We never did it!''
Not surprisingly, husband No. 1 is soon history, leaving Anderson with a baby girl to raise and an acting career to launch. The acting came pretty easily. So did the men. Her affair with WKRP in Cincinnati costar Gary Sandy is typical of her many passionate dalliances: ''It was like experiencing a nuclear explosion in a very small place,'' she writes. ''I was sexually addicted to him.''
Anderson's sexual addictions may appear to be her downfall, but what's satisfying about High Heels is how she always lands on her, uh, feet. She met her latest squeeze during her divorce from Reynolds. Will they marry? Stay tuned. For some people, once is not enough. B+