Sheree J. Wilson, who plays manipulative tramp April Stevens on Dallas, is uncomfortable talking about: her ex-boyfriend Mark Harmon; her more recent boyfriend C. Thomas Howell; any other boyfriends whatsoever. She is comfortable talking about: cows. "If you take a stroll around my apartment you might see that I've accumulated a few cows," Wilson says to the visitor who has just noticed the carved wooden bossy next to her fireplace, the brightly-colored heifers on the rug in her kitchen and the porcelain moo-moo in her dining room. (On the other hand, the cow emblazoned across her blue T-shirt was obvious the minute she opened the door to her Marina del Rey condo.) "Ever since I moved to New York in 1980, I've decorated with cows," says Wilson, "because growing up in Colorado, I had a pet cow."

It's not surprising that Sheree, 28, would rather talk about her pet Holstein named Dutchie than her more provocative associations. For one thing, she literally became famous overnight (specifically, the Friday night last October when she first appeared on Dallas), and months later she still hasn't mastered the art of giving a good interview. For another, she is nothing like her Dallas character—the practiced schemer with the Hedy Lamarr slink who has cooed her way into the hearts and bank accounts of Jack Ewing, Cliff Barnes and even J.R.

On the contrary, Wilson is as wholesome as, well, yes, cow's milk. A beach blonde who's often quite witty, she turns crimson and nearly dumbstruck when the subject of boyfriends comes up. She allows that she dated Harmon in 1985; introduced by their mutual publicist, they broke up several months before Harmon became infatuated with Pam Dawber. "Mark is one of the few actors I've dated," Wilson says hesitantly, though she can't completely camouflage the gleam in her eye. "He's a good guy, a very good guy."

She's even less forthcoming about C. Thomas (Soul Man) Howell, whom she met through their mutual agent, saying only that they broke up recently and she's in no hurry to find a replacement. "I'm looking forward to being married, but not right away," she says. "I don't want to stop the career flow."

According to Wilson, it's her heartland values that dissuade her from kissing and telling. Born in Rochester, Minn., Sheree J. Wilson (the J stands for Julienne) was raised from age 7 in Boulder, Colo. Her family now lives in Tuscon, Ariz., where her father is a project manager for IBM. "We're from good, sturdy Mid-western stock," she says, doing a very decent John Wayne imitation. "They grow 'em good in Colorado." Childhood memories include going on camping trips with her parents, older sister and younger brother. "We were out getting grubby like pioneers," she says. "Mom had to check our heads for ticks."

Graduating as a 4.0 student from both high school and Denver's Park College, where she earned a business degree in 1980, Wilson worked as a fashion buyer for a while before deciding she was on the wrong side of the runway. Moving to New York to become a model, she displayed plenty of Horatio Alger pluck. "One time I had laryngitis and I went to several auditions carrying an Etch A Sketch," she laughs. "They'd tell me to state my name and I'd break out the Etch A Sketch and spell it out."

In 1983 Wilson switched modeling for acting. A few small roles led to ABC's Our Family Honor, a 1986 series produced by Leonard Katzman, Dallas' executive producer. Although Honor was quickly axed, Katzman thought about Wilson when he began revamping Dallas after last season. "One of the elements I thought was missing was a young woman who was out to milk the Ewings for all they were worth," says Katzman. In Wilson, he says, he found "the elements of a female J.R. She has a little-girl innocence, but when she gives men those saucer blue eyes, they don't know what hit them." Maybe because Dallas is enjoying rejuvenated ratings, its cast members—frequently a testy lot—have accepted Wilson warmly. Occasionally Larry Hagman even chauffeurs her around the set on his "Dennis-the-Menace-style" scooter.

Off the set Wilson engages in her favorite hobby: eating. "I can eat like a truck driver," says the 5'71/2", 115-lb. actress. "I went out with a guy once who said, 'I like a woman who eats. I don't trust them if they don't.' I remember thinking, 'I know there's a compliment in there somewhere—where's the dessert tray?' "

Her love of face-feeding is one reason she's part owner of The American Sampler, a trendy Melrose Avenue restaurant. It's also why she runs three to five miles a day, lifts weights regularly and attends an aerobic class weekly. She also still goes camping. "I like getting outdoors and getting so dirty and grubby that I can't stand myself," she says. Of course it's tough for such a nature girl to be on Dallas and spend most of her time wearing thick layers of femme fatale makeup. But Wilson says she's learned to deal with the problem. "When I get home," she says, "I just take it off with a sand-blaster."

  • Contributors:
  • James Grant.