Her Family Lost the Crown of Yugoslavia So Catherine Oxenberg Opts for a TV Dynasty
Blond and bewitching, she acts like a little princess. She beds her mummy's fiancé and then pouts when the guy has the gall to go ahead and marry Mummy. She pouts when Mummy suggests that she move out of the house. She settles into Daddy's mansion and pouts there, too. Although the Carrington clan on Dynasty often carries on like royalty, in the case of Amanda, the long-lost daughter of Alexis and Blake, the casting is apropos: Catherine Oxenberg, 23, has a genealogy that even outclasses the Carringtons. She is second cousin (once removed) to Prince Charles. Her mother, who lives in England, is Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia. And her maternal grandparents were Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Princess Olga of Greece. Those royal credits may indeed get you into Club A, but they won't necessarily get you onto Dynasty. For her role as Amanda, "I had to do about five readings between casting directors and producers," says the actress. "They told me it was between me and another girl. But when I got the screen test, I asked the makeup person who the other girl was and she said, 'There is no other girl!' "
Apparently, Oxenberg is an heir to happy endings. Three years ago, with no screen or TV experience, she landed the role of Lady Diana in a CBS-TV movie, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana. Criticism from some members of the royal family was "nasty, very nasty," she says. But her politic mother sent Charles a copy of the script. "He said he knew it was going to be done whether I accepted the role or not and at least I could bring some dignity to it," says Catherine. "Wasn't that a lovely way of putting it?" Charles might not have proved such a prince of a fellow if Oxenberg had gotten the other TV-movie role she was up for at the time: the murdered Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten.
Like the battle between Blake and Alexis over Amanda, Oxenberg's own history features a family struggle for her affections. An American citizen, Oxenberg was born in New York. Her retired father, Howard, owned a Manhattan clothing-manufacturing business when he married her mother in 1960. When Catherine was 3, the couple separated. Her mother was briefly engaged to Richard Burton in 1974 in London, and Burton made a lasting impact on Catherine's career choice. "I remember realizing at 13 that here is this brilliant man being destroyed by drinking. And that it would be wonderful to center yourself before coming into acting so that you can handle the pressure." During a Christmas vacation with her father in New York, Catherine decided to move to America. "My mother was furious," she says. "She took it as if I was not happy with my life with her."
After graduating from St. Paul's School, where the preppies mocked her English accent, Catherine and her father fought over her next move. Scratching plans for Harvard, she went to New York to start modeling. "My father told me I couldn't possibly be a model because I was too short," says the 5'6" actress. "He's very protective. I did it partly to prove him wrong." While working days in fashion modeling, she spent nights studying philosophy at Columbia.
It was Mummy who persuaded her at 19 to take acting lessons and introduced her to a coach. An aristocrat, the grand Princess Elisabeth did not disdain acting. "People have to be themselves," says Oxenberg's mother. But after playing Diana, Oxenberg dropped out of the business for more than a year. The reason: her former fiancé, Manuel de Prado, 31, a Spanish banker with whom she lived in Madrid. When she talks about the romance, Oxenberg even sounds like a character in a prime-time soap. "I knew that I was going to have to leave this man, because you cannot give of yourself in a relationship when you feel half of you is missing. I wanted to give him all of me. The circumstances were wrong, and it's a very sad thing to discover. I experienced a lot of hostility; I used to call the city 'Madread.' " Although she left de Prado for Hollywood in 1983, "I am still madly in love with him," she claims. "There is a bond between us that will never be severed, whether I'm with or without him."
Since she is pulling in some $5,000 an episode and living in a rented Beverly Hills home, Oxenberg's future seems secure, but for Amanda things are cloudy. Whether the character follows her wicked mummy's footsteps "depends if I'm tortured enough," says Catherine. "At this point I think the producers are more interested in whether I'm acting well enough." So is Oxenberg. Watching a recent Dynasty, "I saw myself walking down a Carrington hallway like a duck." For a woman raised on pride and privilege, that moment provided a royal surprise.
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