FOR TWO SEASONS IN THE '80S SHE tried to shock nighttime soap audiences as Dynasty's amoral vixen Amanda Carrington. But never did Amanda give anyone the jolt that Catherine Oxenberg received herself in November 1990, when she learned she was pregnant. "I didn't think I could conceive," says Oxenberg, then 29. With no intention of marrying her boyfriend, a businessman she declines to identify, Oxenberg found herself terrified. "I'm totally prochoice, so having an abortion wasn't a moral issue," she says. "But I thought, 'What if this never happens again?' My body took over and said, 'OK, it's time.' "

Now, as she twirls her 11-month-old daughter, India, over her head in their two-bedroom Southwestern-style Los Angeles house, the British-bred actress has no regrets about choosing single motherhood: "It's the closest thing to divinity I've ever experienced," she says.

Celestial or not, there are plenty of single mothers in Hollywood—with little stigma attached to their status. Actresses Susan Sarandon, Brooke Adams, Dianne Wiest and spiritual guru and best-selling author Marianne Williamson are marquee moms who have opted for parenthood without a male presence. (The tradition may go back to Loretta Young, who as an unmarried woman in the '30s adopted a daughter years before marrying advertising exec Thomas Lewis.) And yet, even for Murphy Brown-like celebrities—known for liberating salaries and freedom of lifestyle—doing it alone can be a decidedly down-to-earth business.

For former CBS news correspondent (West 57th) and single mom Jane Wallace, the momentous decision stemmed from an all-too-common conundrum: finding Mr. Right. "I always wanted children," says Wallace, 37, herself one of six kids in a "big Catholic family" from St. Paul. "But," she adds, only half in jest, "the proposals I've gotten in my life have come from convicts and 12-year-olds." And so, in 1989, financially secure as the host of Lifetime Television's now defunct The Jane Wallace Show, Wallace adopted newborn Zachariah Max. "I used to wear high heels and ask tough questions," says the Miami-based TV journalist. "Now I run around with vomit on my shirt."

Both Wallace and Oxenberg have full-time nannies—but they are hardly insulated from parenthood's worries. Last October, while Wallace was in Philadelphia filming the recently canceled Jane Wallace Live for Group W, Zach, who always accompanies her on assignment, fell ill with pneumonia and after developing complications spent two days in a hospital bed with a 106°F fever. "I was scared to death," says Wallace, who raced back and forth between Zach's bedside and the studio. "It was the one time I thought, 'God, have I bitten off more than I can chew?' I would have liked a husband there then, just to hug."

It is a sentiment Oxenberg understands. She is no longer romantically involved with India's dad (or anyone else), but is thankful that he is "spiritually and emotionally involved" in India's life, visiting his daughter regularly. "India has a great father," she says. "He's the one who pushed me to keep her." Though she has now put her career in a lower gear, Oxenberg believes motherhood will help her as an actress. She receives supportive letters from her fans, and she says, "I'm going to be able to access an emotional depth that will enrich my roles."

Wallace also focuses on motherhood's rewards. "The reality of today's family is that having one good strong, loving parent is a luxury," she says, as if in answer to Dan Quayle. Optimally, says Wallace, who is developing a television show for Multimedia, "I would love for Zach to have a father." Nor would she mind meeting a Prince Charming for herself. "If I hear hooves in the drive," she says, laughing, "I'll probably go to the door." In the meanwhile, she says, "Zach is happy, and I am happy. We're a family. An unconventional one—but a pretty good one."

KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles and MEG GRANT in Miami

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Cunneff,
  • Meg Grant.