Eight Isn't Enough for Dianne Kay, So She's Rolling on into Movies Like 1941

updated 02/18/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/18/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jealousies are as unavoidable on Hollywood sets as craft unions, so even ABC's preternaturally harmonious Eight Is Enough came under the spell of the green-eyed monster last year. Stephen Spielberg, then casting his comedy Pearl Harbor, 1941, was trucking in blondes by the busload to audition for one of the juicier female roles. The selection was down to five when Spielberg got to chatting with one aspirant and discovered that she too attended Arcadia H.S. back in Scottsdale, Ariz. Of course, Spielberg, class of '65, would probably have settled anyway for the captivating Dianne Kay, '72, who plays Nancy Bradford on the ABC sitcom. The rest of America has.

The trouble was that Kay, 25, had stumbled into a role most of her Eight Is Enough sibling rivals would have killed for. "I wished it had happened to me," admits Laurie Walters, her older sister Joannie on the series. While shooting 1941 and Eight simultaneously, Dianne noticed the frostiness on the set, but then, she says, "everything reverted back to where it had been." Purrs Lani O'Grady, who plays eldest sister Mary: "If it had been anyone other than Dianne would have been insanely jealous."

By last month the TV show's female contingent swallowed their envy and trooped to a screening to cheer Dianne, who, as a jitterbugging USO girl, was pronounced "the best thing in the movie" by Daily Variety. (Critics were otherwise disappointed by co-stars like John Belushi and lambasted Spielberg's $33 million excesses.)

The daughter of a state legislator father and a market researcher mother, Dianne broke into school plays at 13. By 15 she had an agent and was selling honey to health food stores dressed as a bee. She went on to commercials (Dr Pepper, McDonald's) and the New Dick Van Dyke Show, then filmed in nearby Carefree, Ariz. At the University of Arizona, Dianne majored in communications and met steady boyfriend Kevin Inch in a film class. "He was behind the camera and I was acting in front of it." Then in June 1976, Kevin recounts: "We got our diplomas in the afternoon, had dinner with my parents and went right to California." She was planning on returning to Scottsdale, but Kevin found a job as an NBC page, and Dianne began landing guest shots on shows like Starsky and Hutch. Six months later she'd won her Eight Is Enough audition even though she forgot her lines at one point. "I believe to this day that my dramatic pause influenced the decision," she confesses.

Dianne and Kevin have just moved into a three-bedroom, two-story condo in Pacific Palisades. Though now laboring as a production assistant at Warner Bros., he professes to be un-worried about Dianne's greater stardom. Says Kevin: "I don't consider that I am in her shadow, though millions know her and no one knows me." Adds Dianne: "One of the reasons I love Kevin so much is that I realize it is difficult for some men to handle such a situation, but he is entirely supportive."

They're not thinking family yet, and not just because their condominium prohibits kids. "I like children, but my maternal instinct extends only as far as my cat now," says Dianne. "I'm too much of a child myself." Instead, she devotes herself to antiquing and compiling a scrapbook about her grandfather, a building contractor, Emanuel Krulewitch. (The family later Americanized its name.)

Politically, Kay is to the left of her Republican father, but thinks that as a Hollywood personality she shouldn't take public stands. She's for choice on abortion but won't commit herself on the Equal Rights Amendment or other issues. "I see lots of drugs used in show business, especially cocaine, and I'm strongly against them, but I don't want to tell anyone else how to lead his or her life."

Her credo is antistar. Though her Eight colleagues swoosh up to the MGM studio in fancy cars and limos, Dianne chugs through the gate in her '64 Chevy, much to the amusement of Adam Rich, 11, who plays her kid brother, Nicholas. "I told him I would give him the car when he graduates from high school," Dianne recounts. "He said, 'Get rid of it now!' "

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