From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
IT COULD HAVE BEEN A MAGIC MOMENT FROM A Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie, only the principals weren't staging this fine romance for the cameras. At 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning a few months ago, a longtime New Yorker glanced out her apartment window and noticed a couple dancing cheek to cheek on a rooftop terrace across the way. The man, tall, dark and sculpted, wore boxer shorts and a sensational torso. The woman, clad in a short nightgown, "looked like a Grecian goddess," says the witness. "They were doing this little love play. He was tickling her, and she'd run away. Then he'd catch her, and they'd dance around. Even if you didn't know who they were, you'd be entranced."

But, of course, how could anybody not know who they were? John F. Kennedy Jr., resident of the terrace apartment, can't set Rollerblade to pavement in New York City without leaving a trail of breathless women in his wake. His ladylove, actress Daryl Hannah, may think she's traveling the streets incognito in her trademark bas couture, but tatty jeans and baseball caps can't hide her luminous beauty. Mix his ineffable Kennedy charm, I'm-just-a-regular-guy attitude and dazzling smile with her actress-cum-activist persona and you get an ail-American powerhouse, a red-hot-and-blue combination that has set both coasts abuzz with rumors of pending nuptials.

Rather than marry, however, the pair simply look off for the South Seas, island hopping from Palau to the Philippines. At the same time family members and a California court clerk deny last month's tabloid reports that the couple obtained a confidential marriage license in Los Angeles. "They like each other, but I don't think they're ready to get married," says Hannah's stepuncle, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who saw the pair recently. And Hannah's mother, Sue Wexler, told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet, "They're adults and can do whatever they please. But I'm sure she would have informed me." As for speculation that Kennedy's mother, Jackie Onassis, disapproves of the match, Sue Wexler scoffed. "The stories I've heard are just unbelievable," she said. "Daryl told me [Onassis] has been very warm and affectionate."

Kennedy, 32, and Hannah, 32, first met in the early 1980s when both were vacationing in St. Martin in the Caribbean with their families, then locked looks again at the 1988 wedding of his aunt Lee Radziwill to director Herb Ross, who had worked with Hannah in Steel Magnolias. Though John and Daryl were seen together after that, Kennedy also continued to date his longtime sweetheart, actress Christina Haag, model Julie Baker and Sarah Jessica Parker, among others.

Hannah too was otherwise engaged. For almost a decade the actress maintained a bicoastal relationship with singer Jackson Browne, 43, whom she first met as a teenager when he pulled her onstage from the audience at one of his Chicago-area concerts.

It was the tempestuous ending to her romance with Browne that seems to have catapulted Hannah into Kennedy's arms. Last September a domestic quarrel at Browne and Hannah's $2.5 million Santa Monica home erupted in violence. According to close friends of Hannah, she ended up with a black eye, a broken finger and numerous bruises, although she never pressed charges against Browne. "I saw her shortly after in the hospital," says Wexler. "I saw the damage that was done to her. The doctor was very concerned. Jackson was a very, very good friend of mine, but when I saw Daryl, I just felt betrayed." Kennedy immediately flew to her side and brought her back to New York City.

Since then it has been John and Daryl biking in Central Park; John and Daryl eating apple pancakes at their favorite Chicago breakfast spot, the Original Pancake House; John and Daryl cooing at Manhattan's China Grill; John and Daryl nuzzling and teasing each other on an Amtrak train headed for Providence, site of his 10th reunion at Brown University (where they played touch football with other alumni); John visiting Daryl on the L.A. set of her latest movie, HBO's Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.

Clearly, big changes are afoot for Kennedy. Though he has carefully and gracefully tried to guard his private life while pursuing his low-profile work as one of 600 Manhattan assistant district attorneys, he stepped down from that $40,000-a-year job last month after four years. (He threw a party for six of his male work friends at New York City's Old Homestead steak house, and Daryl later joined the boys for dessert and cigars.) At around the same time, John moved out of his downtown penthouse and into Hannah's sprawling Upper West Side flat—thereby throwing his entire future up for grabs and convincing some observers that he was clearing the decks for marriage.

At first glance, the almost painfully shy actress and the heir apparent to this country's most ceaselessly publicized political family seem an odd match. The truth is that John and Daryl may have more in common than fame and height (he's 6'1", she's 5'10"). Both love all manner of outdoor activity: biking, skiing, camping. Kennedy has always loved acting. He performed in high school and college productions as well as making a cameo appearance in a friend's movie and doing a brief run in an Off-Broadway play eight years ago. Both maintain a commitment to liberal causes. Hannah made numerous visits to Nicaragua in the 1980s and is on the board of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a watchdog group, while Kennedy is active in assorted family and nonfamily charity foundations.

And, like Kennedy, Daryl Hannah comes from a wealth, prominent and politically active family. Born in Chicago in 1960, the second of three children of Sue, a former schoolteacher, and Don Hannah. owner of a tugboat and barge company, she was 7 when her parents divorced. Daryl was so upset by the split that school counselors thought the young girl was "semiautistic," Hannah has said. "I used to see witches and leprechauns and stuff," she told an interviewer in 1986. "I kind of like to leave that time alone and not rip it apart."

In the late '60s, her mother married Jerrold Wexler, a financier and real estate magnate who, before his death last year at 68, helped build an estimated $2.5 billion empire. Suddenly, Hannah found herself living in a huge duplex penthouse apartment on Lake Shore Drive. "I had what you might call a paranoid imagination that it wasn't real," she once explained. The change made her retreat further into what she once called her dream world. Her mother hit upon an unconventional remedy: She look her daughter to the Bahamas for an indefinite period to do whatever Daryl wanted. "I'd bring my teddy bear to the beach and to dinner," she said. "Mom let me work it all out." They didn't return home until Hannah was ready.

Hannah eventually grew to love her stepfather and her large extended family, which includes four stepsisters and a half sister. (Her older brother. Don, lives in New York, and her sister Page, 29, is an actress living in L.A.) The Wexlers were famously generous, throwing lavish catered parties for their children's classmates from Chicago's elite Francis W. Parker School and flying them out to the family's house in Telluride, Colo. When Jerry Wexler died of lymphoma last November. Daryl spoke at the Chicago memorial service, which John attended.

As a child, Daryl studied ballet in Chicago with former New York City Ballet star Maria Tallchief and soon decided she wanted to act. At age 12, she had a small part in a Chicago production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wool? Even as a teenager, her lanky good looks made her stand out (though Hannah, typically, insists that she never thought she was beautiful). "I remember walking into the Pump Room [a noted Chicago restaurant] with her, and every guy's head whipping around to look at her," says a schoolmate. David Manilow, who had dinner there with the Wexlers. "And in my senior year, Daryl was one of the few girls who had two dates to the prom." Chris Bensinger, now in real estate, will never forget their first kiss, during junior year. "Daryl initiated it," he says. "She grabbed me. It was a bit awkward, and we almost fell into the bushes, but after that things worked out fine."

In 1979, after high school, Hannah moved to Los Angeles to study literature at the University of Southern California and to try to break into movies. It didn't take her long. Two months after she arrived she went to a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel and walked out with 25 business cards from producers and agents. "I must have looked like I just got off the bus, which I had," she has said. "But one thing they do well in L.A. is smell out fresh meat."

She landed small roles in seven films, including Blade Runner, before making her big Splash in 1984. Since then, she has wobbled between some notable hits (Wall Street, Roxanne) and misses (Clan of the Cave Bear, Memoirs of an Invisible Man). "She's able to do a lot better than the roles she's [gotten]," says her stepuncle. "Unfortunately, she's encased in the kind of body and face that stops people from seeing beyond it."

Kennedy too may be in search of a better role. He was well liked and diligent at the district attorney's office, where he most recently worked in the trials division arguing low-level crime cases. And lately he has been more visible in Kennedy family affairs, going out of his way to promote the annual John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award.

Since giving up his job, Kennedy has been seen in Washington several times lately, touring the Labor and Justice Department offices, fanning speculation he has been offered a job by the Clinton Administration. And he recently admitted that he thinks about running for office. But as he told a friend last year, "If your father was a doctor, and your uncles are doctors, and all your cousins are doctors, and all the family ever talks about is medicine, there's a good chance maybe you're going to be a doctor too. But maybe you want to be a baker."

Or maybe you just want to get away from it all. Still, even on the remote beaches of Palau in Micronesia last week, the scuba-diving sweethearts were dogged by paparazzi as they began a long Asian adventure holiday. Whether the trip is a precursor to a life journey together isn't at all clear. "I think there's a pretty good chance," says an acquaintance, "that even John and Daryl don't know."

ELIZABETH GLEICK
TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles, BARBARA SANDLER in Chicago, ALLISON LYNN and MARY HUZINEC in New York City and bureau reports

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Cunneff,
  • Barbara Sandler,
  • Allison Lynn,
  • Mary Huzinec.