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Stars in Her Eyes, Poverty at Her Throat : After 11 Years, Actress Lives in Hope That Big Break Won't Be of Her Heart

November 21, 1987|LLOYD GROVE | The Washington Post

Catherine Hearne is one of America's actresses.

She's 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 98 pounds, has sandy hair and sea-blue eyes. By the lights of a big-time casting director, "she's an average-looking girl, and this town is filled with them."

She is, according to her agent, "not your typical T&A beauty"--the term T&A being, in this town, the anatomical equivalent of talent. With professional detachment, she describes herself as "a little off-center, a little offbeat." Perky might also be a useful word.

She has been doing the Hollywood struggle for 11 years.

"It's gone by so fast," Hearne said, perkily. "It's like 11 months."

At 33, she can no longer pass for an ingenue, which is what she was when she starred in an episode of "James at 16," once a prime-time series on NBC.

High Point

"The whole show was about me," Hearne recalled with the hint of a Texas twang. "I played a girl from a small town who fell in love with James, but he was really mean and abused me. A real sad story." It was the high point of her career. "That was eight years ago." Actually, it was nine.

But Hearne will not be denied.

In the latest edition of the Academy Players Directory, Hollywood's Who's Who, she is listed with thousands of others under the category "female character." She seldom permits her thoughts to wander toward fame and fortune.

"I just want to make a decent living," she said. "I'm not bitter, not at all. But I'm tired. I've eaten a lot of beans and a lot of baked potatoes and a lot of lettuce."

Even now, in a smoke-filled restaurant near the beach, she poises her fork over a baked potato. "My boyfriend has money, and he takes me out to eat a lot. He's a business manager and accountant for a lot of successful actors. He basically pays for my food."

Her days and nights are perpetual worry--about not being able to make her rent, not being able to eat, not being able to survive. "What am I going to do when I become a senior citizen? There will be no pension. I think about that all the time." She added, "My boyfriend's clients all go to see psychiatrists. I need one, but I can't afford it."

She is helplessly besotted by the greasepaint and the crowd. Show business is her life.

"It's like a disease, and there's no cure," she said of the will to act. "It's the one thing that I feel like I do pretty well. When someone lets me do it--and then I get paid for it, too--it's the greatest feeling there is."

The Screen Actors Guild claims 65,000 members nationwide, about half of them in Hollywood. In 1986, according to the latest figures, fewer than 1% earned more than $100,000. A mere 9% made more than $15,000, barely a decent living.

The vast majority, 70%, earned less than $2,000. This is the group to which Cathy Hearne belongs.

"It's pretty depressing stuff," said Mark Locher, SAG's publicity director. "I would be hard-pressed to think of any other profession with worse odds."

Nonetheless, Hearne hopes to "break through."

'Tremendously Talented'

"She will have a career similar to Sissy Spacek when she breaks through," said her agent, Pat Amaral. "What happens in this town when one picture breaks through--just one film--when they can see that the person is really talented, then the other pictures come. I know people who didn't break through until they were in their 30s and 40s. It happens all the time. She's tremendously talented; she's a warm, lovely girl. I compare her to Joanne Woodward."

"I know her very well," said Ron Stephenson, head casting director of Universal Television. "Catherine is a cute character actress. She's a nice actress. It's a crapshoot; you've got to be lucky, and so much depends on timing. I'm a firm believer in timing."

"My gut feeling," said Hearne, "is that it hasn't been my time yet."

To make do, she works odd jobs, lately as a receptionist at a beauty salon and a secretary to an agent, and lives on and off in friends' apartments.

She declared bankruptcy last year after a brief and explosive marriage to another actor. Something like Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire," she is dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Her parents, who live in Highland Park, an affluent suburb of Dallas, have given her financial support, but less in the last year. Six months ago, she sold her inheritance of oil stocks to take care of $7,000 in credit-card debts and keep her career alive.

Parents Worried

"I think they'd still like me to pursue acting, but they want me to come back to Dallas and pursue it," Hearne said of her parents. "I've been really dealing with a lot of depression. That's one reason my parents wanted me to come home. They felt like I needed my family around me. They were worried about me emotionally--that I was going to go over the edge."

"I feel that Cathy is determined and persistent, and she knows what she wants," said her mother, Katie. "Her struggle is one that I have felt daily. I believe very strongly that she will be discovered. She is not what you would type as a raving sex beauty.

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