Langenkamp. Translated from the Dutch, it means "long struggle"—not exactly a fitting name for a budding ingenue whose biggest claim to fame is a role as Nancy, the horror heroine of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Twenty-four and freckle-faced, Heather Langenkamp spent no anguishing years in summer stock, no dues-paying years waitressing to support an acting virus. Now a regular on ABC's new sitcom Just the Ten of Us, where she plays the eldest child of a huge family, it seems that she simply sallied into Hollywood from her native Tulsa, Okla.

But the guileless Heather, senior sibling in a family of achievers, has actually been toeing the mark for years. "My parents had really high expectations for us, and they always let us know about them," she says. "When got a in junior high, my dad sat me down and said, 'We will never again get a C, will we?' I never did."

In 1978 the Langenkamps and their four children moved to Washington, D.C., when Dad, a prominent attorney, was tapped by Jimmy Carter to be a Department of Energy official. It was an especially tough relocation for the 14-year-old Heather: "Because I was from Oklahoma, it took about a year and a half for me to prove to people that I wasn't a hick."

Back in Tulsa three years later, she spent the summer as a copy aide at the local paper before heading for Stanford University (she turned down an acceptance from Harvard for the prospect of some California sun). As a lark, she answered a want ad for movie extras—and wound up with bits in two 1983 Francis Ford Coppola films, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Both scenes were later cut.

Mom and Dad weren't pleased with 18-year-old Heather's newfound acting pursuits—especially her first nude love scene, in 1984's forgettable Nickel Mountain. When it hit the small screen in Tulsa, "Heather's little sister was in the room," recalls her father, Dobie, "and I hustled her out. That movie was not widely discussed around here. It was a low budget production and it had a lot of defects."

"It was a huge trauma for me," says the young actress, "but I felt like I had no power to control it. When you're that young, you feel that if you say no to people of importance, you're going to get your name on some blacklist and never work again."

A year later, Heather landed her first Nightmare role—that of a student tormented by a scar-faced killer from her dreams—which brought her cult status among her peers and prompted a walkout by her gore-gorged mother. "It didn't bother me that it was a horror movie," says Heather, who also appeared in the Nightmare 3 sequel. "I just wanted the work. It wasn't like I was doing Sophie's Choice."

An even bigger nightmare for the senior Langenkamps came two years afterward, when, after a year's courtship, their 20-year-old daughter married 32-year-old Alan Pasqua, an L.A. studio musician. Her parents "were ready to strangle me," she says ruefully. "They never once said, 'Congratulations.' "

"I was worried," says Mary Alice, her mother. "I worried that she would be expected to live a middle-aged life before she was middle-aged...I worried that she would realize that and be unhappy."

Less than three years later, Mary Alice's fears were borne out. "He was ready to have kids and a family," says Heather. "Our ideas of our life together were not meshing." Now divorced, she hasn't soured on the institution of marriage. "I think it's wonderful. But not for a while." A likely candidate is her live-in boyfriend, Dave Anderson, a special-effects makeup man she met at a party last Christmas. "He's wonderful," she burbles. He is also only 23.

Recently moved from a shabby Hollywood neighborhood to an apartment on a Malibu estate within sight of David Letterman's house, Langenkamp seems to have worked out a plan that might please both herself and her parents. While on hiatus from Just the Ten of Us, she attends Stanford, where she is 10 units shy of graduating with a degree in English.

True, her parents haven't yet come out for a visit, but the irrepressible Heather is taking it philosophically. "When I decided to become an actress, I think I let some people down," she says. "It was a kind of rebellion. But after all those years, I finally did what I wanted."

—Susan Schindehette, and Michael Alexander in Los Angeles