In addition to its continuing domination of the Nielsens, two things are predictable about CBS' Dallas: (1) J.R. will and (2) Pam Ewing won't. So far. In three seasons as Bobby Ewing's often tempted but never trysted wife, Victoria Principal and her agonizing reappraisals have given new life to 1950s morality—and brinkmanship. Joel Fabiani as Alex Ward, the hotshot publisher with unprintable designs, is just the latest would-be adulterer to realize that Victoria is Caesar's wife on Dallas, a looker-with-a-heart-of-gold.
"From the beginning I envisioned Pam as bright but limited, with a high school background," says Victoria. "She's always had to work and wanted more out of life, but got stuck until she got married. She developed from there." That sounds remarkably like Principal herself at 31, but there's a difference. "I wouldn't put up with the way Pam is treated by Bobby," snaps Victoria. Indeed, Principal recently separated from her husband of 20 months, bit actor Christopher Skinner, 24, because, she suggests, the ties were too binding. "Christopher gave me a sense of myself, peace and stability," says Victoria. "We married just before the incredible upsurge in Dallas' popularity. It was good for the first year and more, but he finally realized he wanted a more traditional marriage with a lady more available at home," she continues. "It's no secret that I have a career."
Nor is it exactly under wraps that Victoria has rebounded with boyish 23-year-old singer Andy Gibb. "It's not that I'm attracted to younger men," she pleads, "but to a certain kind of spirit. I love spontaneity, enthusiasm, courage and a positive, unjaded attitude." All of those surfaced when Victoria unexpectedly popped up at a taping of The John Davidson Show just as Gibb was gushing about his admiration for her. Recalls Davidson spokesman Paul Nichols: "He was acting like a 16-year-old." That did not prevent the Bee Gee baby brother—who has squired such beauties as Marie Osmond, Olivia Newton-John and Susan George—from acquiring her phone number.
"But I don't want to do anything that reflects discredit on my relationship with Christopher. That wasn't something undertaken lightly," says Principal. "I'm not exactly going out on the town." In fact, she and Andy confined their romance to discreet dinner and theater nights before going public. "Since I have met Victoria she's been a great source of inspiration and happiness to me," says Andy. "She's a very special lady." Victoria is clearly enjoying the fling, too, but is noncommittal about the future: "I anticipate that Andrew [as she calls him] and I will enjoy each other's company for a time."
The situation is a trifle ticklish for Victoria, since she's spent considerable effort dispelling her Hollywood "party girl" image. Once confessing a penchant for getting engaged every two years, she earned the rep by publicized relationships with financier Bernie Cornfeld, Frank Sinatra, football star Lance Rentzel, Desi Arnaz Jr., her doctor Mark Saginor, and Beverly Hills antique and custom car dealer Charles Schmitt. Press reports on her past use of drugs are other sources of anxiety. Admitting to some experimentation, she explains, "Sure, there was curiosity, but now I don't even smoke grass. Anything that alters the state of my mind I find uncomfortable."
Overall, Victoria remains philosophically unrepentant, but admits she has been "angry and hurt" by being taken for a total hedonist. "I've changed my living habits because I don't want that kind of image in terms of my work. I have to live a time as another sort of person before the message sinks in." Her close friend free-lance writer Francis X. Feighan also claims there's been a change. "I've been to parties at Victoria's, and things were so tame that people were playing Scrabble," he reports. "Her party girl reputation confuses her because she feels she is so much more—and rightly so."
The powers at Dallas and CBS concur. "As the one good girl on the show, Victoria has the most thankless task of all," says Dallas producer Leonard Katzman. "She fits into our ensemble marvelously." Whatever rivalries that may have once bristled have gone the way of Principal's changing coiffures. ("It's more aggressive hair," she says of her new tight curls on the show. "Men tend not to like it, but women do.") Victoria is now even known on the set as a jokester, entertaining Dallas cronies with wisecracks and funny accents. "I know it's corny," she says, "but there is no animosity. We celebrate each other's birthdays and new babies, and there's inevitably cake."
Victoria's new assurance on Dallas helped during the "traumatic month" after her marriage crumbled. For the first time she found herself falling back on female friends. Actress pal Debbie (Aloha Paradise) Cole even moved in. "I always thought it was a weakness to say 'I'm in trouble,' but just having Debbie there helped. Most nights I'd fall asleep on the sofa in the den," says Victoria. "Growing up, I was taught not to trust other girls because we'd be competing for a man. Now I think the most wonderful friendship is with another woman."
Friendships of any kind were difficult as a kid. Born in Fukuoka, Japan, the only child of an Irish mother named Ree Veal and Victor Principale, an Air Force sergeant major, Victoria spent early nomadic years on military bases in London, Puerto Rico, Massachusetts and Florida. "I was lonely, and I knew that any friends I made I'd have to leave. But it made me strong, and I developed the ability to entertain myself." At 15, she briefly found herself modeling hats in New York. At 16, her passion was stock car racing. Then she wanted to become a chiropractor. But just after enrolling at Miami-Dade Community College, she says, she wrecked a sports car, injuring a wrist and an ankle and breaking all but one rib. "Most teenagers think they're immortal," she says, "but I realized there was no time to waste."
Using modeling to support her "acting habit," she moved to Europe in 1968 and met mega-moneyman Cornfeld, spending the next three years at his luxurious London townhouse. "Life with Bernie was very much like a movie," Victoria once said. "I was insecure. He gave me direction." Not to mention a Rolls-Royce for her 19th birthday. But things soured in 1970, with Victoria claiming the financier, who later faced Swiss fraud charges, tried to strangle her in a fit of anger.
In 1971 she jetted into L.A.'s high life. Professionally, she got fine notices in her first feature, as Paul Newman's mistress in Judge Roy Bean. But then she bombed in The Naked Ape, despite posing nude to help with the promotion in Playboy. "Everything happened very quickly that first year," she recalls bitterly. "From the outside, it was very glamorous, but the lifestyle was quite shallow, with people who cared only about their image. Suddenly I found myself fighting to save my reputation as an actress." Despite roles in I Will, I Will...For Now, Vigilante Force (with Kris Kristofferson) and Earthquake, she says that by then, "My love affair with the industry was becoming rather thin."
And vice versa. After a recuperative few months at a beachhouse in unfashionable Oxnard ("I gardened for the first time—it was Shangri-La to me"), Victoria saw a shrink and in 1975 went to work as an agent for two years. Her eye on law school, she "took private lessons from an attorney," but never got there. "Out of the blue I was offered a role in the Fantasy Island pilot and I figured it would pay for my first year of law school. I got a second movie, and I realized I was loving it." Then came her fateful Dallas audition. "The scene called for me to dive into a lake," Victoria laughs, "so I flopped into an orange shag carpet and freestyled my way across the room."
The occasional waves notwithstanding, things are still going swimmingly. "If it lasts, I'll stay with Dallas another five years," she says. "I'm proud of the show." She has formed her own fledgling company, Pryce Hill Principal Productions, named after a blond, blue-eyed fantasy playmate that she had invented as a child. Her estimated $25,000-plus-per-episode take from Dallas (not to mention her lucrative commercials for Jhirmack shampoo) is paying to remodel her two-bedroom Benedict Canyon home into "French Regency with a touch of country." Despite her description, the place is understatedly elegant.
And so, finally, may be Principal herself. "The main thing about Victoria," says a friend, "is that she is honest. She doesn't cuddle up to everyone, and that's rare in this town." Andy Gibb may be a temporary exception, but Victoria insists there will be no return to her wild days. Nor regrets about them. "I would have been very unhappy if I hadn't done all that," she says. "It's better than to look at myself now and say, 'Oh, I missed that,' and go out and embarrass myself trying to relive my youth."