A few weeks ago on Dallas the normally obedient Charlie Wade (Shalane McCall) finally decided to follow her hormones down the path of least resistance. Consequently, she got caught making out with a fellow high school student, and her mother (Priscilla Presley) had a fit. That may be the way prime-time parents typically act, but things play a bit differently in the tri-level San Fernando Valley condo that McCall, 15, shares with her real mother. Sprawled on the living room couch, the 5'5", 112-lb., sweats-and-sneakers-clad beauty hears the word "boyfriend" and grimaces. The subject, it seems, is off-limits for discussion. Then a head pokes through the kitchen passageway. "Shalane," Cherie Holton admonishes her daughter, "you've had pictures taken with Ahmet Zappa. People know you're seen with him." As the four-year Dallas veteran, fresh from her first video kiss, laughingly agrees, her mother's voice softens: "It's okay for you to name friends who happen to be boys."

If a scriptwriter had conjured up The Shalane McCall Story, it would probably run on cable. Her life is a tad too unusual for network standards—and not simply because her mother encourages her to be candid about boyfriends. A forthright, independent woman, Cherie not only delivered Shalane at home with just the help of a friend, she raised her without a father—and usually in surroundings that were one step below seedy. And the product of this unorthodox upbringing is an outspoken, reality-rooted kid. "I'm a love child and proud of it," says Shalane. "My mother chose not to get married. It's something different I have that a lot of other people don't. It's not an edge exactly, just something special about me that I like."

She also has something special that the Dallas producers liked when they spotted the model's photo—the same facial structure and honey-colored hair as Priscilla Presley. Such comparisons befuddled McCall when the neophyte actress won the role four years ago. "All I could remember about Priscilla was her black beehive hairdo and all that makeup from her pictures when she was married to Elvis." Since then McCall has found Presley to be "very warm and caring," and Presley has found McCall to be "totally unaffected. For someone who's been raised in a one-parent family, which is difficult, Shalane's got a great head on her shoulders."

For Priscilla, who produced her own love child, Navarone Anthony, by live-in boyfriend Marco Garibaldi just 10 months ago, Shalane may be an inspiration. For her mother, Cherie, who admits to a "very screwed-up adolescence," Shalane is a revelation. "I look at how happy she is and say, 'Wow! Is this what you're supposed to be like in your teens?' "

By the time Cherie Holton was 16, the Modesto, Calif., native's parents had been divorced for 10 years, and she was "a troubled teenager unceremoniously dumped on a father who hadn't seen me since I was 6." She was 21 and working in a San Francisco department store when she met fellow employee Clark McCall, 24. After two months of dating she became pregnant, and despite Clark's offer of marriage—"He was your nice, ail-American Catholic boy"—Cherie felt the match wouldn't work. "I decided, this is my kid, I'll take care of her."

That care began with the desire to be part of the back-to-nature movement and to deliver the baby herself. "It was the '70s, I was young," says Cherie, who moved to Los Angeles the year Shalane was born. "My mom thought I was crazy, but what could she do or say about it? My parents never really questioned or criticized me because they knew I was a very determined person who made my own decisions. They had no say in how I ran my life. Besides, I'd read so many birthing books, I considered myself an obstetrician." And she would have practiced by herself, but a friend happened to drop in 10 minutes before Shalane did. The 7-lb., 13-oz. baby came into the world with a trouble-free, four-handed delivery.

Refusing money from Clark, except for Shalane's private school tuition, and relying on her mother for baby-sitting, Cherie worked as a photo printer to support her only child. "We've lived in trailers, super-low-rent scummy apartments," says Cherie. "Sometimes we were one step away from the homeless. But we had each other. I'd do anything as long as that kid loved me." The financial situation improved somewhat when Shalane began modeling in commercials at age 9. But the tough times before that, Cherie believes, are the reason her daughter "is such a responsible, practical kid."

"I'm so proud of her," echoes Shalane's father, now a department store operations manager in Lynnwood, Wash. "I'm amazed at how sophisticated she is." Clark has acknowledged Shalane as his daughter since her birth, and his family—wife Kathy, Justin, 4, and Kathy's son, Christopher, 11—has always shared time with her. "Christopher tells everybody he meets that his sister is on TV," says Clark, "and nobody believes him. So when Shalane was here last year, she went to his school. That was a great thing to do."

Next time she goes back to Lynn-wood, people will probably be asking about her steamy Dallas relationship—an affair that turns her relatively minor character into one of the show's smoochers and shakers. Over the next few months, plot twists aplenty will complicate her liaison with new character Randy, played by Brad Pitt, 21. "I met him an hour before shooting," McCall says of her first love scene. "But it wasn't awkward. We were laughing and kidding around." Cherie, however, remembers the day differently. "I can tell you there was anxiety on Shalane's part. It's not cool at her age to admit how inexperienced you are. She's only kissed about three boys in her life."

There hasn't been time to kiss many more. Besides acting, McCall maintains a B-plus average at an alternative school for working kids, the Independent Study Center in Van Nuys, and until two months ago was waitressing two nights a week in a San Fernando Valley espresso bar. The latter wasn't done for money (she'll make $200,000 this year on Dallas), but "to see how people treat me if they don't know I'm on TV. I like people to treat me special because they think I'm smart or funny, not because I'm on a show."

Even if her schedule permitted, McCall wouldn't be messing around. "I don't set any rules for her because I don't have to," says Cherie. "She's very responsible. I've told her, 'Don't pattern your life after me.' "

There's a lot of open give-and-take between mother and daughter, and the advice about sex that Cherie gives, Shalane takes. "Most teenage girls are all excited about romance and love, but they're not prepared for sex," says McCall. "If a girl goes and has sex when she's young, she's lost that part of her, and there's so much more to learn." Among McCall's dates are Frank Zappa's aforementioned son, Ahmet, 13, and actor Christian (Gloria) Jacobs, 15, and they'd better give credence to what she says. "If a boy told me, 'If you don't want to have sex with me, then you don't love me,' I'd just say, 'Shine it on, honey. I don't need you in my life.' " Maybe McCall won't follow in her mother's footsteps, but she sure has inherited her leather.

  • Contributors:
  • Suzanne Adelson.