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Focus : Catching the Acting Gene

October 30, 1994|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clark Gable may have been Vivien Leigh's leading man in "Gone With the Wind," but his son doesn't get anywhere with Shannen Doherty in "Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story," the bio of the author airing Nov. 7 on NBC.

John Clark Gable, 33, plays a soldier who flirts with Doherty as "GWTW" author Margaret Mitchell, but frankly he has only five lines and her character doesn't give a damn.

The young Gable is one of a second generation of actors trying to make their mark in the shadow of their luminary parents. But while their pedigree may have helped get their foot in the door, they're on their own, playing roles that may not exactly be TV's choicest parts--yet.

Jennifer Grant, daughter of Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon, appears in the upcoming USA Network sitcom "Super Dave's Vegas Extravaganza," starring stuntman Dave Osborne. Natasha Gregson Wagner, the daughter of Natalie Wood, stars in the Nov. 12 remake of "The Shaggy Dog" on ABC. Jennifer Youngs, daughter of actor John Savage, plays the immigrant Ingrid in a recurring role on CBS' "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

They can look up to a handful of stars in prime time who have established their own careers. TV's long-running "Murphy Brown," Candice Bergen, grew up in the shadow of her father, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Tyne Daly and Tim Daly, children of the late distinguished actor James Daly, best known to TV audiences for "Medical Center," have both been in high-profile series. Tyne Daly co-starred in "Cagney & Lacey" from 1981 to '88 and will soon be seen in the series' upcoming reunion movie on CBS; she currently co-stars in the midseason replacement "Christy." Tim Daly co-stars on "Wings," which has been on NBC since 1990. Adam Arkin, son of Alan Arkin, co-stars in the CBS drama "Chicago Hope" and earlier co-starred in "Big Wave Dave's" and "Northern Exposure" for CBS.

"Nepotism is a huge part of the entertainment industry," says Dom DeLuise's son Peter, 27, who joined the cast of "seaQuest DSV" this season along with his brother, Michael. "But once you get inside the casting office, if you can't prove yourself, you won't go anywhere. These people are spending a lot of money, and they are in no position to give people a free ride."

It was "seaQuest" executive producer Patrick Hasburgh--who worked with both when they were on "21 Jump Street" on Fox--who helped them snare spots on the submarine series.

Peter plays Dagwood, the sub's janitor, who comes from a genetically engineered race known as Daggers. Michael, 25, plays Tony Piccolo, a misfit who was physically altered in a scientific experiment.

"When I first started making the rounds (in auditions), everyone expected me to be a younger version of my father," Peter DeLuise says. "They already had a preconceived notion. But I don't think I could come close to what he does. He's a master. What I do is special and different."

Having the DeLuise name "at one time was added pressure in an audition," says Michael DeLuise, 25, who also aspires to a career as a director. "It's something to live up to. Now I get a big kick out of it."

But both brothers--who share an apartment near the Orlando, Fla., "seaQuest" set--never considered any other career. As kids, their father would help them produce Super 8 home-movie spoofs of "Dracula" and "Robinson Crusoe," and gave them parts in some of his movies, including "Hot Stuff" and "Fatso."

"It represented fun to them," says Dom DeLuise. "They grew up seeing Burt Reynolds and my other friends, relaxed in front of the camera.

"(Michael) was 7 years old and he said to me, 'I can't get an agent.' So he wrote this letter that said, 'I have talent. Give me 10%.' It was so sweet."

All of their careers converged last month, when the DeLuise patriarch guest-starred on the show as-- surprise, surprise-- Tony Piccolo's father. Another sibling, David, also had a part in the episode.

"I had to smoke 12 cigars for the episode," Dom DeLuise says in a voice of mock indignation. "I did that for my sons."

"Diagnosis Murder" will soon be mixing generations as well. Carey Van Dyke, 18, appears as an injured surfer with father Barry Van Dyke and grandfather, Dick Van Dyke, in a two-part episode Nov. 11 and 18.

"It was pretty terrifying," says Van Dyke, a theatre arts major at Moorpark College. "(My dad) has been real encouraging. It was harder for him to grow up with the name than me. He just told me it goes with the territory."

And on an upcoming "Christy," Kathryne Brown, 23, appears with her mother, Tyne Daly, as a schoolteacher and romantic interest to LeVar Burton.

"It was nice to prove people wrong," says Brown, whose father is actor-director Georg Stanford Brown. "It was nice to have them say, 'Wow, she can do this. She's not here just because of her mom.' "

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