updated 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

"Think of the adjectives that go with 'rich,' " suggests author John Sedgwick. "There's only one: 'filthy.' " Nevertheless Sedgwick, 31, whose own background is comfortably Brahmin, has sympathetically taken up the cause of the maligned moneyed set in Rich Kids: America's Young Heirs and Heiresses, How They Love and Hate Their Money (William Morrow, $17.95).

For his look inside a cosseted world, Sedgwick interviewed 57 overindulged and under-40 subjects (including members of the Rockefeller, Mellon and Pillsbury families). He found these kids are often denied credit (they have no loan history) and suffer from poor sex lives: "Insecurity and ambivalence don't make for good sex," Sedgwick explains. "Yet," he adds, "they marry well and eat well."

John is a member of the same clan that produced Edie Sedgwick, the heiress and Warhol superstar who died of a drug overdose in 1971. He grew up in a Boston suburb and was guided toward the "right schools," Groton and Harvard, by his dad, an investment counselor. Though never as rich as first cousin Edie, he came into $70,000 when he was 21. In 1977 John began a writing career and in 1982 published Night Vision, a biography of Boston investigator Gil Lewis. He is now writing about the Philadelphia Zoo and living in a Spartan Boston condo with his wife, Megan, a writer, and their 2-year-old, Sara. "I think it's important," he explains, "to live off your own earnings."

"You think it's tough for women and blacks in Hollywood? Try being a 57" Japanese-American named Gedde Watanabe," jokes the 30-year-old actor who sports that height and handle. Watanabe, who now boasts screen credits in Sixteen Candles, Volunteers and the new comedy Gung Ho, is not complaining, mind you. "There are a lot of Japanese-American actors," he notes. "Not all of us work."

Born in Ogden, Utah, Watanabe endured ethnic jabs from schoolmates, then fled to San Francisco where he began singing and playing guitar on street corners. While enrolled in San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, he was cast for Broadway's Pacific Overtures and quickly acquired an agent, an entourage ("I take my friends everywhere") and then a few more stage credits. In 1983 he signed for the role of Long Due Dong in Sixteen Candles ("I heard Matt Dillon was up for the part," he quips), and his movie career was launched. Volunteers then threw the actor opposite comic kingpins Tom Hanks and John Candy. "He held his own," says the latter. "Unlike a lot of comic actors, he's as funny offscreen as he is on."

His screen success pays for bachelor apartments in New York and West Hollywood, but it hasn't sheltered Watanabe from worries over ethno-typecasting. "We are either portrayed as evil dragon people or as bumbling illiterates," he complains. "I'm not quitting until I get a part that was written for a blond."

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