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March 20, 2011

The New American Couple

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the new american couple
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Louanne Brickhouse (left), 40, VP of production at The Walt Disney Company, and Ilene Chaiken, 53, cocreator, writer, and executive producer of the TV series The L Word

How did you two meet?
LouAnne: I'm a former club girl, and a friend asked if I would take Ilene to the gay venues and show her the nightlife, so my friends and I picked her up in a limo and took her out. At the time, I was dating someone and always trying to set up Ilene on dates and get her into trouble. Years later, when I was single, I realized I wanted to date her. On our first date, I was so nervous that I had to bring a friend along! I also brought a dictionary on the date. Ilene has the most amazing vocabulary and always uses words that I don't know. I wanted to make sure I fully understood every word she said!

Ilene: A mutual friend said I had to meet LouAnne, describing her as attractive, smart, and stylish — and that she knew all the good clubs and parties. One night I was out with the great film director Garry Marshall, and he asked about my love life. I told him there was nobody rocking my world. He said, "If she were available, LouAnne would be perfect for you."

What's your morning routine?
LouAnne: We typically wake up at 5 a.m. If I don't have to read a book or script, we go to the gym. By 6:30 a.m., we're home, and I make protein smoothies. Then we feed the dogs and talk about our days ahead. Often, it's the only time we get to talk the entire day!

Ilene: When we're in production on The Real L Word, I read story reports from our field producers about what they shot the night before. Then I talk with LouAnne while she's dressing, and our new puppy climbs all over me and makes us laugh.

Which one of you spends more on clothes?
LouAnne: Ilene loves to shop, and she has very exclusive tastes! I'm a country girl and spend my money on cars. I love American muscle cars and have two customized trucks. Before Ilene knew me, she had never been to Target, driven a Ford-150 pickup truck, or had a Chick-fil-A sandwich. All of that has changed.

Ilene: Me, I've done my best to corrupt LouAnne, and she's acquired a taste for some things that I cherish. I love clothes and shopping, and I am definitely the one with the habit. I once had an entire room lined with shelves to contain all of my shoes. I've since pared down, but I still have a considerable collection. As Pam Grier once said, "Shoes are my crack."

How do you handle finances?
LouAnne: We share a lot.

Ilene: There are many things that we share and some that we keep separate — I have teenage daughters in private school and the associated responsibilities. I've never been good at finances. LouAnne is helping me to become better at it. She's more organized than me. She's helped me to plan. I feel less compulsive with her in my life and don't really need the things that I once believed essential.

Who usually works later?
LouAnne: I often have dinners, screenings, and events that keep me out until late. And although Ilene is usually home, she writes all night long.

Ilene: That's LouAnne — she has an executive life. When she doesn't have a screening or a dinner, she comes home between 7 and 8. I have a sporadic freelance life. When I'm writing, I usually start early in the morning, and normally I stop around 6 p.m. When I'm on a deadline and feeling inspired, I may get up in the middle of the night and go upstairs to write.

How do you prioritize your relationship with your demanding careers?
LouAnne: We both love what we do, but the workload is intense. I try to plan outings or date nights for us so we can exhale, hold hands, and enjoy the sunshine. This past weekend we hiked with our dogs, got massages, and had pizza at a café while people-watching.

Ilene: We don't distinguish between the two. We support each other's work — it's one of the most loving things we can do. We chose careers that are demanding, and although we miss one another when it's an intense work time, we accept that, and then make up for it.

Where are you weak where the other is strong?
LouAnne: I can be impatient and stubborn. Ilene is a great sounding board and always deals with a situation without ego or personal agenda.

Ilene: LouAnne has a deep and intrinsic moral rudder — moral in the true and pure sense — not a judgmental morality, but an intuitive ethical guidepost. I'm more inclined to equivocate, and LouAnne helps me when I'm uncertain. I trust her on issues of conscience.

What drives the other nuts?
LouAnne: My biggest complaint is that we don't get enough time to talk. By the time we get to bed, we both pass out.

Ilene: LouAnne has many quirks, but I love them all.
Elise Nersesian-Solé


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