08/07/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
THERE HAVE BEEN TWO JIMMY OLSENS ON ABC'S Sunday-night hit Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. In the show's first season, Michael Landes, 22, played the Daily Planet cub reporter in the classic tradition: as an eager beaver in bow tie, neat hair and penny loafers. Then network honchos—who can be as sternly powerful as Superman pére Jor-El—decided to hip Jimmy up. Now we have 20-year-old Justin Whalin's Jimmy O.—gen-X cute with his shirt untucked and hair falling in his eyes. "This Jimmy is a lot more like what people are like now," says Whalin, who these days has the young female readers of Tiger Beat and The Big Bopper sighing happily. "Instead of saying, 'Gee!' now he says, 'Hey, whassup?' "
Whalin, it seems, is always up. "He keeps things light on the set," says Dean Cain, who plays Superman.
His story wasn't always so pleasant. Whalin, a native of San Francisco, recalls how his father struggled to make ends meet by working odd jobs. "I grew up with this thing that I don't ever want to be poor," says Whalin. His father, Craig Whalin, and his mother, Terry Villanueva, a teacher, divorced when he was 7. "Then it was me and Mom all the time," says Whalin. When Justin was 8, Terry recalls, "he had a mad crush on this adorable girl who was taking an acting class" and he joined up too. Thus was a career launched. At 13, after winning the part of bratty Alan Quarter-maine Jr. on daytime's General Hospital, he moved with his mom to Los Angeles, where she oversaw his tutoring on the set.
Now he and Terry, 42, share a three-bedroom home, which he bought her a year ago, in the Los Feliz area of L.A. "My mom is my best friend," he says. In 1992 he helped her start a school for gifted children in La Canada Flintridge, outside L.A. He also remains close to his father, 46, a real estate appraiser in San Francisco. And—sorry, Tiger Beat readers—he has a girlfriend, Stacey Lowen, 19, a premed student at UCLA. He likes to tool around in his black Mazda RX-7—and, occasionally, speak to kids, as he recently did at the Kids on Camera acting school. "I told them," says Whalin, "that now is the time to mess up and do stupid things."