When Austin meant a golden future for movie star Dennis Quaid

Recently, we reported that movie star Dennis Quaid had put his Marina Club house up for sale. The Houston-raised actor is spending less and less time here in Austin. That compelled us to reach back into the archives to a brighter 2005, when Quaid and his then-new bride Kimberly Buffington sat down with this reporter at Hoover’s Cooking to talk about their golden lives here. It saddens an unreconstructed romantic to look back on sunnier times for the former couple, but it’s important to remember who they were to our city.


So here we go …

Dennis Quaid blazes into a room — and it’s not just because the sun follows him inside Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road, basting his outdoorsman’s features and fueling his barely contained energy.Quaid also flushes royally with affection for his still-new wife, Kimberly Buffington, and for his still-new home, Austin.

“I’ve always loved Austin, ” Quaid says. “It has a sense of community you can’t get anywhere else.”

One minute, he’s signing a DVD for a young, delighted diner; next minute he’s doodling on the table’s paper covering. From time to time, he bursts with memories about his Texas childhood, but, like a compass returning to true north, his gaze returns to Buffington, the picture of blissful repose at his side.

If Quaid pitches his stories like a fastball, Buffington pauses before she speaks, averting her eyes before stating the facts plainly, but also playfully. He might be the actor, but she knows how to control time and attention, and is especially at ease on her lifelong turf — Austin.

If Quaid burns like the sun, Buffington shines like the moon — cool, pale, reflective.

Beyond ecstatic — and perhaps questionable — metaphors from reporters, the couple have announced their Austin presence in a big way. It can be heard from the house and land they’ve purchased on Lake Austin. It echoes in the events, such as the Texas Film Hall of Fame, that they are careful to attend, despite Quaid‘s heavy shooting schedule (he starred in four films last year).

And, of course, it makes the loudest sound at the Dennis Quaid Charity Weekend, which, during the next few days, combines celebrity and amateur golf tournaments, a fashion show, a gala dinner and an appearance at La Zona Rosa by Quaid‘s band, the Sharks.

So why Austin for this couple who could live anywhere?

Quaid, 51, asserts no longtime ties to the University of Texas, unlike fellow movie star Matthew McConaughey (Quaid attended the University of Houston for three years). Yet he can claim a deeper Austin connection than Sandra Bullock. Growing up the son of an electrician in Houston, he often visited Austin, skipping school to go camping or to attend parties.

“It had hills, ” he says. “Houston is so flat.”

Quaid‘s Austin ardor also connects back with Buffington, 33, who was born at Seton Hospital, grew up in Northwest Hills and West Lake Hills, and attended Hyde Park Baptist School. Her father was a builder involved in real estate, her mother a homemaker.

“It’s a great place to be from, ” Buffington says. “There’s always something going on. I was into all kinds of sports, but also made good grades. My brother (now a real estate attorney) made slightly better grades. I was always social and knew a ton of people in town.”

The story of their meeting has been told before, sweetly by Quaid on “The Daily Show, ” and by both of them elsewhere.

They tell the tale again on this afternoon at Hoover’s.

It was a Tuesday night — May 13, 2003. Quaid was in town filming “The Alamo” and met John Moore, the director of “The Flight of the Phoenix, ” at Truluck’s in the Warehouse district. Buffington had attended a party for the Junior League. They both ended up at Sullivan’s, where they were introduced by Brett Cullen, an actor and former University of Houston student.

“It was love at first sight, ” Quaid says. “Was it for you, too?” he asks a smiling Buffington.

“It’s love at first sight for everyone with Dennis, ” she says (a phrase she has used, effectively, in other interviews). “And we hit it off right away.”

After a few dates, they retired to Quaid‘s Montana ranch, just north of Yellowstone National Park. (“Yellowstone is my backyard, ” Quaid says.)

“I figured if I got her to Montana, I had her, ” Quaid says. “Not much place to run.”

The interview is interrupted by a discreet Hoover’s waiter. Quaid searches for his glasses to examine the menu.

“One of Kimberly’s duties is to read for me, ” he says with a touch of Jack Nicholson self-mockery that periodically creeps into his performances.

The pause — and Quaid‘s gentle treatment of the autograph-seeking boy — allows time for closer visual observation.

Their faces contrast strikingly. Buffington is all smoothness, her perfectly arranged blonde tresses framing a narrow face and gemlike eyes. Quaid, famously, has acquired creases that complement his still-roundish, still-boyish features. His smile, which eats up his face, has not lost any of its firepower.

On her finger sizzles the 3 1/2-carat canary diamond that Quaid selected from the Kimberly Mines while on location for “The Flight of the Phoenix” in Africa. It was later arranged by Austin’s Anthony Nak.

With orders of comfort food made, it’s back to the story.

“Well, she came up to Montana, but for three or four months, it was a long-distance thing, ” Quaid says. “That wasn’t good.”

What cemented their relationship was the monthslong “Phoenix” shoot in Africa.

“I asked Kimberly to come along and protect me from all the wild animals, ” Quaid jokes.

So the couple spent a few months together on a Namibia beach. They went on safari. They bonded over spectacular scenery and splendid isolation.

“Everything was perfect. If it hadn’t been for Africa, it would have been so much more difficult, ” Buffington says. “It showed us we were able to make the next move.”

That meant sharing a home in Los Angeles, where Buffington continues to work in the real estate industry (she had worked for a title company in Austin).

“There are some neat properties, ” she says. “And I find out about them first!”

After a surprise proposal in front of their L.A. home, the duo wed in June 2004 on top a hill at the Montana ranch, surrounded by just a few friends and family. And then settled into married life.

“We play house, ” Buffington says. “We don’t go to the Hollywood parties.”

Luckily, she also clicks with Jack, Quaid‘s 13-year-old son with ex-wife Meg Ryan.

“He’s an angel, ” she says.

But L.A. is not enough. For the future, Buffington found land they both can love on Lake Austin.

“You drive down through woods, then it opens up, ” Quaid says. “It’s a fantastic lot, and very close to town at the same time.”

They plan some big changes on the Lake Austin property. But when will they install themselves permanently on a lakeside porch?

“When Jack graduates from high school, ” Quaid says. “I’m trying to talk him into going to UT.”

They return to Austin every few months for holidays (last Thanksgiving), summer tubing, charity events, etc.

Sounds like paradise. Meanwhile, they devote their time to raising money for children’s causes through the Charity Weekend. Quaid launched the Weekend in 2002 after filming ‘The Rookie’ here.

What about that inevitable question for all newlyweds?

“Yeah, I want more kids, ” Quaid says.

“The sooner the better, ” Buffington says. “Before we get too old. Once we have kids, we are never going to be this wild and free again.”


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