Like Her Dad, Heidi Hagman Is Striking It Rich in Oil—on Canvas, That Is

updated 04/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

My father always says that being an actor is bad enough, but being an actress is worse," jokes Heidi Hagman. And when the father in question is no less a realist than Dallas' reptilian J.R., Larry Hagman, a sensible daughter takes her dad's advice to heart. So last month, in a scene that Southfork will never see, Heidi was making an auspicious debut in Palm Springs. At the Arthur Elrod Gallery, she had her first showing of her vibrant oil and watercolor paintings, selling 24 of 30 displayed works in just three weeks. The paintings brought from $150 to $1,800, reports Heidi, 23, who adds a characteristic Ewingism, "and the prices are still going up."

Her pop couldn't have been prouder. "I can't do a damn thing," he says. Besides, Hagman continues, "It's always good to have another vocation, especially since a woman's life as an actress is very short. All they want you for is T-and-A, and you outgrow that."

The exhibition marks a turning point for Heidi, a sometime TV actress whose showbiz legacy is longer than J.R.'s list of lovers. Her alliterative name was picked out by her grandmother, legendary actress Mary Martin, with a theater marquee in mind. At age 15, Heidi began a catering service with a school chum and earned $3,000, which financed a solo trip to Europe. The next year she packed off to San Francisco State to study dance therapy. To support herself, she took jobs as a model and janitor at the Academy of Art and as a cook in a vegetarian restaurant. When a college teacher suggested theater work during a summer break, Heidi went to North Carolina and hired on as a cast member in a stock production of The Sound of Music, a Broadway vehicle for her grandmother 18 years earlier.

Larry's initial reservations faded the moment he saw his daughter onstage. He later set up two cameo appearances on Dallas ("On one I said, 'Mr. Ewing, will you wait in the waiting room?' and 'The doctor will see you now' ") that were aired in 1979. Then a Hagman family friend, Carroll O'Connor, increased her exposure when she landed a bit part as Linda the waitress on Archie Bunker's Place.

With her TV role now in limbo, Heidi has settled into an L.A. home shared with her maternal aunt. "A lot of people think I'm extremely wealthy because of my parents, but I support myself," she asserts. "I'm on a budget. There are no illusions about fame for me. I don't think I'll hit a huge depression if I don't get my time in the sun. It comes and goes. Maybe that's why I have so many backups."

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