News & Community

Rhea's Turning Point

After years living in the 'burbs, the MPT doyenne gets the snazzy urban condo she deserves.

It’s a good thing Rhea Feikin isn’t superstitious. Almost two years
ago, the longtime Maryland Public Television personality sold her
Stevenson home of 42 years and moved into a swank new condo on Charles
Street in Baltimore. “I always knew I wanted to live in the Charles
Street area,” she explains. “My friends live in this area, and I was
tired of being the designated driver!” But literally a few days after
she moved in, disaster struck. Feikin woke up at 4 a.m. with a startle.
“I got out of bed and ended up walking through two inches of water,” she
recalls. A pipe on a water heater in a neighboring apartment had burst
and leaked water into her apartment.

While Feikin moved to the nearby Colonnade for a week (and her
belongings were stored), a team of disaster specialists dried out the
walls, pulled up the soaked carpeting, and dehumidified the space. Once
the apartment was restored, a reordered Karastan carpet was laid down
again, and designers Ted Pearson and Rita St. Clair (also two of
Feikin’s dear friends) got back to the business of decorating.

Crisis averted, right? Wrong.

Within days, Feikin noticed strange dirt spots appearing all over the
carpet. This time around, the carpet was deemed defective (the glue
backing was eating up into the yarn). Because Pearson and St. Clair were
afraid the glue would get on Feikin’s belongings, the movers came back,
put everything in storage for a second time, and Feikin moved back to
the Colonnade.

Unbelievably, yet a third round of carpeting was defective, and
Feikin was forced to hang her hat at the Colonnade again before moving
in for good in July of 2007.

“She was a champ,” recalls Pearson. “She was so kind and sweet and
patient with us the whole time. I said to her, ‘You’ve been so nice to
us—anyone else would have lost it.'”

As for Feikin? She took the whole thing with characteristic good
humor. “I’ve never been faced with anything like that before,” she
laughs. “What could I do except believe it was going to be all right?
Did it teach me anything? Not a damn thing other than don’t use that
carpet! I loved being here. I knew it was going to work out.”

Standing in her condo’s doorway, dressed in a navy-and-white-striped
boatneck sweater, elegant white trousers, and the perfect pair of white
leather sandals, the 73-year-old Feikin seems to have completely
recovered from the stress of moving in. In fact, she positively glows.
It was light, Feikin says, that sold her on the two-bedroom apartment in
the first place. “When I first saw this apartment,” she says, “the
light drew me. I love light.”

While Feikin also loved her suburban home, she decided it was time to move on after more than four decades in one place.

“I was living in the house by myself,” she explains. (Son Daniel
lives in Kenya and is an epidemiologist for the Center for Disease
Control; daughter Jennifer lives in Los Angeles.) “My second husband
[actor Colgate Salsbury] had died seven years before,” says Feikin, “and
my dog, Maud, died. So there I was in this house, which I loved, with
beautiful old trees, and a basement stuffed with things my kids couldn’t
get rid of. The years went on, and they never looked through any of it.
I just decided one day it was time for me to change my life.”

The first order of business was selling the house. Feikin’s Realtor,
Michael Yerman, thought the ’60s-era home, with its small rooms and
outdated spaces, might be a tough sell. But within several days of
putting it on the market in October 2007, a developer purchased the
one-and-a-half-acre property with the intention of razing the house and
building a new one on the land.

“I didn’t have to paint it or do anything,” says Feikin. “All I had to do was empty it and find a place to live immediately.”

Ironically, it was Feikin’s kids who found it more difficult to let
go. “My children, who come home two times a year at most, were
broken-hearted about my move,” she says. “We had to go through every
room of the house with a camera and talk about our memories from every
room. Then my daughter put it to music and gave us DVDs.”

Not everything was left behind. Feikin was able to take her favorite
pieces from her old county home and incorporate them into her new urban
one—while updating and creating a space of her own. The airy,
light-filled apartment is a rhapsody in cream, peaches, and pale pinks—a
palette based on the Indian silk taffeta Tafford curtains in her

“I didn’t want a lot of color,” she says. “I didn’t want to be
jangled. I wanted to feel calm and serene, and I wanted the art to show.
Because Rita knows me so well, I didn’t have to say a lot. I like Art
Nouveau and Art Deco. I wanted some of that feel here.”

Feikin brought all of her artwork (magnificent signed lithographs
from Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha, a Douglas Hoffman painting,
wooden antique hand carvings from an Italian donkey cart) and objects (a
valuable 1920s Handel leaded stained glass lamp, a stunning silver tea
set samovar, a wooden box from a noted Chinese artist purchased at the
American Craft Council Show in Baltimore) from the old house. For the
furniture, St. Clair and Pearson balanced treasured pieces—like Feikin’s
Scandinavian table and chairs (actually purchased by St. Clair nearly
50 years ago) and a pair of black lacquered and zebrawood Art Deco
chairs—with new ones, including a Deco-style dining room sideboard, a
stunning living room sofa covered in a cream-colored Old World weavers
fabric, and woven outdoor furniture with leopard upholstered cushions
(where Feikin reads her beloved crime novels).

At least one relic from the Stevenson home didn’t make the final cut.
“I’m a big lover of bathrobes,” says Feikin. “When I get home, I don’t
put on warm-ups. I put on a bathrobe. I had my favorite old, ratty
bathrobe, and as I was washing it at my old house, I looked at it and
said, ‘Girl, I’m sorry, but you’re not coming with me—you go with the

Feikin’s bedroom is a study in feminine glamour. After sleeping on a
platform bed for many years, Feikin wanted one with a headboard. “I told
Rita I wanted something really special,” she says. “She said, ‘I want
to show you something. If you hate it, just say so.'”

Rita’s grand idea? To take elements from an Art Deco armoire and
headboard she had bought at a French flea market and use them all
throughout the room. “She said, ‘What I’d like to do is take the armoire
apart and build you a headboard and side table,'” Feikin recalls. St.
Clair also designed an elegant walnut and silver-leafed dresser with
legs fashioned from the leftover wood.

The results are quite striking—and Feikin is thrilled with them. “It’s just what I wanted,” she says.

“I would like to think that we captured her look and personality,”
says St. Clair of the bedroom. “Rhea is a diva, but without all that
drama. She is not what I’d call a drama queen. She is a warm,
intelligent, and very feminine lady, and I wanted to create a ‘stage
set’ according to her personality and lifestyle.”

Part of that stage set includes a walk-in closet stocked with
beautiful clothing purchased at favorite shops such as Ruth Shaw and
Jones and Jones and a makeup table with ample lighting. “I am a makeup
junkie,” says Feikin, who loves Bare Escentuals makeup. “I’m fast, and I
can practically put it on in the dark.”

Of course, when Feikin gets dressed for the day, she has to mind her
fashion more than most. “I probably am a little more cognizant of how I
look when I go to the grocery store, although sometimes it’s bad,” says
Feikin, who is a fixture at such Baltimore restaurants as The Prime Rib
and Kali’s Court. “It’s part of the job. I’m grateful that people like
me. I’m grateful they want to say, ‘Hi,’ but that means I can’t go out
in my bathrobe. That’s the downside. It’s hard to look hideous when you
go out, though I’ve managed to do it quite a number of times!”

When Feikin was a little girl growing up in Hampden, she dreamed of
becoming a movie star. “I wanted to be an actress, and I acted all
through high school and college at University of Maryland.”

But her career choice was frowned upon by her family. “My parents
said, ‘You have to learn to do something. You can’t major in drama.'”
Feikin graduated with a degree in speech pathology, and went to work for
the Department of Education as a speech therapist.

As luck would have it, a year into her job, WBAL-TV was looking for
someone from the department to do a show on speech. “They said, ‘Who
wants to do it?’ And no one did, and I said, ‘I do, I do!’ and that was
the beginning of my TV career,” says Feikin.

A stint on the children’s show, Miss Rhea and Sunshine with puppeteer
Cal Schuman (who kept things lively when he came straight to work
hungover from a night of drinking, Feikin reports) followed, as well as a
weather gig with Schuman at WBAL-TV in the ’60s. “We didn’t know a
thing about the weather,” says Feikin. “They had teletype machines in
the newsroom and we would pull off the weather and make it up. Once in a
while, when the teletype machine didn’t work, we had to call the
weather bureau and talk to a meteorologist, and they were always so
annoyed that we were doing the weather and didn’t know the first thing
about it.”

Even as Feikin’s TV career was flourishing, she never lost her first
love: the theater. She helped found Centerstage in 1963 and appeared in
several productions including La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler; it was also
where she met her second husband. Acting in professional theater,
however, helped her realize that acting was not going to be her calling.
“I was smart enough to know that, although I thought I was hot stuff in
college, I was mediocre when it came to people who really knew how to
act,” she chuckles. “So fortunately, I was able to forge a career in

That’s an understatement. Feikin is about to celebrate her 35th year
with MPT. As the host of Artworks This Week (recently renamed Artworks)
and other shows, Feikin has proven herself the consummate
conversationalist, able to interview actor Jeremy Irons (an admitted
crush), cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and lifelong friend John Waters (whose movies
she has had bit parts in, including Hairspray and Cecil B. Demented)
with equal aplomb.

Ironically, she might even be most famous around town for her
cheerful and persuasive presence at MPT fund drives. “One time I came
home from doing a membership drive, and my second husband said, ‘You
know, you really are a fabulous actor.’ And I said, ‘What are you
talking about? I’m doing a membership drive!’ And he said, ‘You only do
one character—you—but you do it so well.’ That was a really wonderful
compliment because, in fact, I think people on TV who are closest to who
they really are are the most believable and successful—you can’t choose
a role you can’t play.”

Feikin, a devoted yogi, plans on playing herself for a long time to
come. “MPT doesn’t have this age neurosis, especially since they have an
older audience,” she says. “It’s never been an issue for me there. My
daughter says, ‘Who do you know that’s your age except Barbara Walters
who does what you do? You are making younger women realize they can have
a career on camera for longer.’ And I hope that’s true. I hope women
will be allowed to age on camera, just as men have been allowed to age
on camera.”

Meanwhile, off camera, Feikin couldn’t be happier about this turning
point in her life. “Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a hotel,” says
Feikin. “The feeling I get from living here is so welcoming and
comforting. And other times, I feel like I’m living on a big cruise
ship. Everything is here, and it’s all very easy.”

For now, it’s smooth sailing. “I’m finished with responsibility. I
went away to Italy recently and had my mail held at the front desk. I
closed the door, and I left. This is the right thing for me now. This,”
she says with dramatic emphasis, “is nirvana.”