Looking Like a Sure Winner, Eleanor Mondale, Child of Fritz, Opens Her Campaign to Take Hollywood

updated 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

History will record, if only as a footnote, that in January 1981 a young phys ed major from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., whose father was Vice-President of the United States, went to L.A. to try showbiz and made her debut on the ABC-TV series 240-Robert. She played a bank teller, and her only line was, "Here's Miss Harper's file, Mr. Talmadge."

Unfortunately, for this would-be starlet, that was about as far as the good news went. "I thought my career would really take off," Eleanor Mon-dale admits. "Well, it didn't. I didn't know how hard it would be and how much I would have to study." That bank teller part was all she did for two years, and even that didn't turn out to be such a hot memory. "The night after I finished working on 240-Robert," she recalls, "there was a clip on TV of our home and moving trucks and a voice saying, 'There's George and Barbara Bush moving into their new house.' "

But neither Eleanor nor Fritz Mon-dale is one to let adversity get in the way: In fact, they're both job hunting with a vengeance. Today, at 23, Eleanor is a 5'9", blue-eyed blond actress of, ah, 125 pounds. "Actually, I'm 130," she says, "but 125 is what I put on my résumé because that's what I look like I weigh." She's still aspiring, and Fritz, Joan and brothers Ted, 26, and William, 21, are all for it. "My parents are always supportive of anything their kids do," Eleanor says. "They point out the pros and cons, but they let you make your own decisions, and when it's bad they stick by you."

As with most parents of young actors, the Mondales' moral support has been needed. When she arrived in L.A. for keeps last January, Eleanor landed in the movie Nickel Mountain. "My contract said I had a speaking part, but in the end I was just a girl on a horse and I was more like background noise," she concedes, and the movie still hasn't been released. But lately things have been picking up, if not quite dramatically: She had five lines in the dud series Matt Houston, four in the TV movie Sunset Limousine last month, and, most recently, she was an aerobics instructor—she got to jump and talk at the same time—on CBS's nighttime soap, Emerald Point N.A.S. She views the last as potentially her big break. "On the soaps, anything can happen," says Eleanor. "Who knows? Maybe I'll get written into the script."

Eleanor has thought of being an actress ever since she played a boy's part in the third grade in Washington, D.C. America first tuned in to The Eleanor Mondale Story when she caused a minor fashion scandal as a 17-year-old by wearing a tux to the 1977 Inaugural Ball, and the last time she got much publicity was when she was a chunky 19-year-old (she hit 165 pounds in college) on roller skates in a conga line of skating Chinese during her father's visit to the People's Republic. While at college she worked two summers for Rastar Productions in Hollywood. Then, after her drop-out phase, Eleanor went back to St. Lawrence University, and got her degree in 1982. "Dad spoke at the graduation," she says. "He was very good. He kept it short."

To earn the $2,500 she figured she needed to get started in Hollywood, Eleanor stayed in Washington and worked as a bartender at Childe Harold for three months. Since the move, she has supported herself and paid for her acting classes as an aerobics teacher (she refers to her students as "my victims"), health club receptionist and cleaner, telephone answering service operator and, currently, as an account executive with an agency that gets brand-name products into movies and TV—she specializes in Ivory and Tide, among others. She rarely tells anybody who her dad is, and when she did mention him to a casting director recently, he didn't believe her. He said he had a friend named Reagan who used the same gambit.

"L.A. is really lonely unless you have good friends, so I brought mine with me," she jokes. A close college friend is among her three female roommates in a house in Hollywood. She dates regularly and says, "Right now I'm not looking for a steady boyfriend."

She has always campaigned hard for her father and these days she is organizing small fund raisers for him in L.A. "The day after we lost in 1980," she reveals, "Dad had a family meeting and told us he was planning to run for President." She says the politicking is good for her. "When I get turned down for a part, I just turn my sights to something else—I do a campaign stop or go out and help one of my clients—and I feel good again. I just feel good about myself these days. I'm totally self-supporting. Actually," she adds, in a stage whisper, "I'm supporting my Dad."

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