An Angel Spreads Her Wings

With a Sizzling New Role in ABC's The Users, Jaclyn Smith Aims to Reshape Her Old-Fashioned Girl Image

In Hollywood, everyone else was engrossed, as it were, by The Users, Joyce Haber's salacious roman à clef, in which the names dropped like trousers. But actress Jaclyn Smith professed not "to have time" and found all the how-to-succeed reading she needed in Norman Vincent Peale.

For three years on and off the clamorous Charlie's Angels set, Jackie, 31, has played the beauteous-but-blah "nice" Angel—successively overshadowed by flamboyant Farrah, mercurial Kate and chesty Cheryl. That is, until genteel Jackie got "bored with that old-fashioned-girl image" and signed on to portray the lead in last Sunday's ABC adaptation of The Users as the ex-call girl who claws her way to the top of decadent Lotusland society. "I wanted to do something that was the opposite of me," she says of the quasi-fictional woman ABC hyped as having "something they all want. In a town where they trade love for power. And anything for pleasure."

The apparent result is that in Hollywood, as in the Nashville song, heaven really may be just a sin away. Never more lovely on camera, Smith enacts perhaps the most sympathetic fallen woman since Mary Magdalene, and Aaron Spelling, her producer, raves that she's "a combination of a young Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth." Photoplay just anointed Jackie—in an upset over the omniavailable Suzanne Somers—as its female sex symbol of the year (Burt Reynolds was the male). In any case, Jackie's unlikely casting and triumph in The Users will certainly help liberate her from invidious comparisons to the other Angels. "She didn't have to expose herself like that," appraises her showbiz-savvy co-star Tony Curtis. "She could have done a remake of Philadelphia Story. But she took a very demanding and difficult role. The Angels are all into one-upmanship, but she triple-upped them."

Jealousy, as it happens, is one emotion Jaclyn doesn't allow herself. "We're all fortunate," she says, and she genuinely welcomed back Farrah this season. After an edgy start of shooting, she reports, "We're on an even keel now." And unlike her Users alter ego, Jackie is a devoted family girl who still misses her Houston home and who faithfully calls her mother almost every night. By reflex, she avoids the "A" party scene and roles calling for nudity. Serene even when pressured by her dawn-to-dusk shooting schedule on Charlie's Angels, it takes something like an unnecessary early-morning location call to make Jackie furious enough to bang a hairbrush against her dressing room wall. "I yell and get angry like anybody else," she insists, but more frequently resorts to silent tears during on-set contretemps. "Sometimes I get so mad at Kate, I want to knock her down," Jackie admits, "and the next moment I love her—that's true friendship." Kate, in turn, treasures Jackie's "straightforward wisdom. She's honest and upfront about the way she feels. I ask her for an opinion, and she tells me what she really thinks, not what I want to hear."

Perhaps because of their long friendship, Jackie was the only Angel invited to the wedding when Kate eloped with Andrew Stevens last month—and the one most affected by it. "I was walking down the street the other day, and all of a sudden I felt like an old maid," Jackie muses. "Now I'm the only unmarried Angel." Which is not to say she's the only unattached Angel. For the past 18 months Jackie has been keeping steady company with actor Dennis Cole, 38. They met when Cole, a ubiquitous guest on the Fantasy Island / Love Boat  / Police Woman circuit, asked her out after an appearance on Charlie's Angels. She said no and ignored his calls, "but I didn't forget him." Finally he convinced Jackie to let him escort her to a March of Dimes ball while she was visiting her family in Houston. But when Cole brought her home long after midnight, her dentist father, who'd waited up, read the riot act. "It was like being 16 again," Cole chuckles, admiringly.

Divorced for 13 years, Dennis has a 17-year-old son, Joey, from that marriage, yet "accepts me for what I am," reports Jackie. That means understanding why she, who admits that her values are "from another generation," won't live with him—"that's for when you get married." Meanwhile Cole caters to her romantic penchant with flowers: a red rose for love, yellow for friendship and white for passion. The night before she started shooting The Users "I had butterflies in my stomach, and Dennis wrote a poem for me that was so spiritual," she sighs. "I felt like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The way to my heart is flowers and poetry." Marriage? "Sure, we're thinking about it," says Jackie, who longs for children and has even considered adopting as a single parent. "But I truly go day to day. We wouldn't even have time for a honeymoon right now. I want it to be right the next time."

The wrong time was back in New York where as a ballet dancer turned TV model (Listerine, Breck) she met and, after two dates, was proposed to by actor Roger Davis. "I was such an innocent," she says. "I was too much living for him, and I lost sight of myself." Two marriage counselors, the only therapy Jackie has ever sought, didn't help. "I wanted them to say, 'Go ahead and leave him,' but all they would say was, 'Why do you stay?' " They were finally divorced in 1975—after, she says, Davis had taught her "a lot about high ceilings and moldings and wainscoting."

That may sound like a double entendre, but Jackie really is talking about real estate. Her hobby is buying, refurbishing and reselling in the crap shoot of L.A. housing. Having finished her own Tara-style house in Coldwater Canyon, shared by a houseman and poodles Vivien Leigh and Albert, she and Dennis are renovating a place he's bought in Bel Air. (She had hoped to offer it to house-hunting Kate and Andrew Stevens, but Dennis has decided to move there from his condominium.) With a take of around $20,000 for each Angel show, and another $100,000 or more a year from Wella Balsam, Jackie can afford to wait out the best realty deals and decorate in the antiques she loves.

Jackie is under contract with ABC to do movies for her own G. H. Productions (named after her beloved grandfather, Gaston Hartsfield, a Methodist minister who died two years ago at the age of 101). She'd like to produce "a beautiful love story like Roman Holiday, something tear-jerking." Her image-changing campaign lately led her to accept an account with Martini and Rossi vermouth. "It's a bit more sexy than the Wella ad," says Smith, who herself drinks only wine with dinner or an occasional Hawaiian cocktail. She also has a contract to design five fashions for McCall's and would like to do sheets as well.

She steadfastly continues ballet exercises, practicing her pliés while brushing her teeth at night, and is getting her voice back in shape since she had a polyp removed six years ago. (A gap between her two front teeth is filled by a removable bridge.) Jackie has not given up on the Broadway career that once eluded her in New York. "I never even made the chorus line," she muses. "Charlie's Angels has made so many things possible. My career's just starting. It's all ahead of me." Users co-star Tony Curtis, who ought to know, agrees: "She's a divine young woman," he exults, "best of the breed." Whether in TV or movies, he concludes: "Jackie will be a major force."

BACKGROUND CHECK

By Lois Armstrong People Magazine October 9, 1978

"Sometimes I get so mad at Kate, I want to knock her down," Jackie admits, "and the next moment I love her—that's true friendship."

Kate, in turn, treasures Jackie's straightforward wisdom. "She's honest and upfront about the way she feels. I ask her for an opinion, and she tells me what she really thinks, not what I want to hear."