After Her E.T. Success, Dee Wallace Is Hollywood's Favorite Mom—Even Without a Child of Her Own
12/06/1982 at 01:00 AM EST
Three kids and an adorable alien: It's not easy for an actress to be noticed around such scene-stealers. Yet Dee Wallace, 33, was thrilled to play the suburban mother in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie E.T "I've played every kind of mother—plain mothers, pretty mothers, understanding mothers, even mothers who are hookers," she says with a laugh. But the E.T. role was something to phone home about. "Mary was a rounded character, a real hip mother who's got a terrific relationship with her kids." Appearing next month as, natch, a working mother married to a house husband in the NBC movie Wait Till Your Mother Gets Home, and currently filming the starring role as a terrorized mother in Stephen King's Cujo, Wallace clearly has established herself as one of Hollywood's leading maternal images.
Though Wallace was unemployed when the director called to offer the E.T. role, she was dismayed when "secretive" Spielberg refused to show her the script. When he relented and let her read it behind locked doors, she was hooked. "The character was struggling, emotional, strong, with a sense of humor. And she was pretty, not beautiful." The latter hit a nerve with Dee. "When I came out to L.A. seven years ago, I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now  and I had short, dark hair," she reveals. At auditions, she heard one recurring complaint: "You're not pretty enough."
Dee quickly lost weight, dyed her hair blond and started again. Her first big movie role, as Dudley Moore's resort bar pickup in "10", was no help, not with Bo Derek around to measure herself against. She wrote her mother, complaining, "I feel so ugly and no one thinks I'm pretty." Even now, she says, "I was absolutely devastated." Although Wallace won many TV guest roles, she frequently lost parts to more explosive blond bombshells, such as Morgan Fairchild and Donna Mills. "Three times this year I haven't been pretty enough to do parts for the networks," she complains.
Her faltering self-confidence got a major boost in 1979. Appearing in an episode of NBC's CHiPs, Dee made a big impression on another guest star, Christopher Stone. Although she remained a bit aloof—"I'm usually not attracted to very good-looking men"—Dee's resistance weakened when she received two dozen roses from the divorced actor the next day. "It was like high school," says Stone, 40. After a first date at Le Petit Chateau, Dee arrived the following weekend at a Malibu beach house that Stone had rented. When she walked in, she found the lights off, the fireplace flickering and Stone wearing a floor-length caftan. "I thought, 'Dee, you got yourself into more than you can handle.' " They were married a year later.
The couple live in the L.A. suburb of Woodland Hills in a three-bedroom ranch-style house they bought six months after their wedding. It's the Sun Belt version of the middle-class Kansas City neighborhood where Dee grew up as the second of three children. Her father, who died in 1966, was a coffee salesman; her mother is now executive secretary of the fund-raising Cancer Action, Inc. in Kansas City. After majoring in theater and education at the University of Kansas, teaching high school English in Kansas for a year, marrying and then divorcing a teacher, Dee arrived in New York in 1973. She landed her first TV commercial job (United Airlines) when she had just $4.10 in her bank account. Two years and about 150 commercials later she went out to L.A. and used homemade chocolate chip cookies to bribe casting agents into auditioning her.
Such maneuvers are now unnecessary. Determined to work together as often as possible, Wallace and Stone co-starred in both last year's werewolf flick, The Howling, and the upcoming Cujo. That solves the separation problem plaguing most two-career acting couples. But will Dee ever have children of her own? Wallace worries. "Can I have children and allow myself to enjoy them and still have a career? I want to make sure I've dealt with all my guilt before I make the commitment. I keep fighting the thing I was raised with," she confides, "to grow up, get married and have babies. I don't have the patience, time or inclination to do it the way my mother did. I'm in a real quandary."