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Lander makes transition from sublimely Squiggy to daffy doc

Dig back, way back, in your consciousness.

You can hear the theme song: "We'll do it our way, our way, make all our dreams come true . . . "It's the late 1970s, and Laverne and Shirley are capping bottles at Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee, living in a basement apartment with as much charm as a roach motel. Their upstairs neighbors - Lenny and Squiggy, two losers convinced they're Casanova reincarnated - are almost as charming.

In fact, Andrew "Squiggy" Squiggman, with his black leather jacket, greased-down hair and permanent leer, is perhaps the slimiest character around.

Fast forward to today, to that guy with the mildly familiar face in the doctor's white coat on the CBS soap opera "The Bold & the Beautiful."

Omigosh, could it be? Squiggy?

Yes, that's David L. Lander sans the greasy hair, now playing an alcoholic, anal-retentive, somewhat deranged doctor.

Some viewers, who last saw Agoura resident Lander as Squig-gy, might insist it's typecasting with a better wardrobe.

But the "B&B" powers that be call it comedy.

Lander plays Dr. Martin Guthrie, ministering to the town's resident villainess, who for at least two weeks was tied securely to a bed in the "Psycho" house on the Universal Studios back lot. Her absence, orchestrated by her conniving blond rival, gave the scheming bimbo a chance to move in on the villainess's hunky but totally clueless husband.

Despite the name of the show, the good doctor could be described as neither bold nor beautiful. Confused maybe. Wacky definitely. In fact, nobody really even seems certain he ever went to medical school, although he does look like a doctor.

This is Lander's first soap opera experience. ("B&B" airs weekdays at 2 p.m. on KUTV-Ch. 2.)

"I'm a novice at this, but I'm having a great time," Lander said. "On a soap, you're faced with a way of working that is completely unreal. You have virtually no rehearsal, you do the lines essentially the day you first see 'em. And the women are constantly on `crying call' - they've got to be able to cry on cue, all the time, and they have to play it and play it quick. Remarkable."

Since "Laverne & Shirley" went off the air in 1983, Lander has kept busy doing voice-overs for Disney (he played one of the henchmen in the TV version of "101 Dalmatians") and making appearances on a handful of TV series (including a brief role on "Twin Peaks") and a few movies.

Lander's arrival in the world of daytime drama, which is almost always . . . well . . . dramatic, brings a bit of welcome comic relief to the landscape, said "B&B" head writer/executive producer Brad-ley Bell, who picked him for the part of the daft medico.

"He's someone I've admired for a long time," Bell said. "I thought he would be fabulous playing the older brother. He knew how to work in a comedy team, to bounce lines off one another."

Although Lander reserves his Squiggy characterizations for stage shows and special appearances, he finds "B&B" directors asking to see bits of Laverne's slimy neighbor in his current performance.

"They'll say, `What if he does this? And what if his voice goes up like this?' And they'll do Squiggy. And I'll think, `Am I playing Squiggy or this doctor or what?' "

So far, his favorite scene has been getting drunk on scotch - which actually was watered-down diet Coke - as a co-star pours out his heart about his dead mother, his missing wife, his new baby.

Doing a drunk scene on a soap, Lander discovered, takes a lot longer than you'd expect.

"It basically took four days to get drunk," he said with a laugh. "Just lifting the glass to make a toast took two days."

And, because Dr. Guthrie weeps when he drinks, there were prop people just out of camera range blowing chlorine fumes in his eyes to help him tear up.

"You suddenly realize your tear glands are working overtime," he said. "You leave the set and somebody says, `Good job," and you burst into tears all over again."

Lander began appearing on "B&B" in early January, and his last performances are scheduled to air as the month wanes. Will he be back? As on most soaps, his character's future is not resolved.

Viewers will last see Dr. Guthrie scrambling out a window, hanging onto a knotted bedsheet, as the police close in to arrest him.

Does he escape? Does he fall to his death? Tune in tomorrow . . .