Life of the Party

UPDATED 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/28/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

I'M HOT," SAYS MATTHEW FOX. THE Party of Five star is complaining about the weather—it's a humid 85 degrees as he suns himself on the patio outside his two-bedroom L.A. apartment. But Fox, 29, who plays Charlie Salinger, the eldest of five siblings forced to fend for themselves after their parents die in a car crash, might as well be acknowledging the adulation heaped on him by millions of Partygoers—mostly teenage girls—who have embraced the highly praised if low-rated Fox network show and would dearly love to wrap their arms around Fox the actor.

Last fall that dream almost came true for some 2,000 female fans who stormed the stage at New York City's Webster Hall, where the 6'2" Fox and his equally to-die-for costar Scott Wolf, 27, who plays his kid brother Bailey, were on a promotional tour. As the shrieking girls rushed past security guards and grabbed for them, Fox and Wolf made a rabbitlike dash to the exit.

Fox is none too keen on being the object of such teen idolatry. "It's so far removed from who I really am," he says. Which is, says Wolf, "just a guy—real down-to-earth and easygoing." Fox and his wife, Margherita, 27, attend weekly dinners with his TV castmates Wolf, Scott Grimes, Neve Campbell and Paula Devicq. When it's the Foxes' turn to host, the Italian-born Margherita dishes up lasagna. Last month the couple spent two weeks in Fox's native Wyoming, where he indulged in some serious fly-fishing. "I'll always feel like a country boy," he says, "and I feel most at home when I'm there."

Home is Crowheart, Wyo., where Fox's Philadelphia-born father, Francis, runs a 120-acre ranch. His mother, Loretta, teaches in Crowheart's one-room schoolhouse, whose students have included Matt and his brother Bayard, 26, a sales consultant. Eldest sib Francis Jr., 34, is a sculptor. At Wind River High School, where Matt excelled at football, basketball and track, he pondered becoming a farmer like his dad. "I thought he could do better," says Francis Sr., who encouraged Matt to go East. First stop was Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, where Fox took a year of college prep courses in 1984. "I felt completely out of my element," he says. "I was a total hick. I chewed tobacco." His classmates voted him "Most Likely to Appear on Hee Haw."

Fox got the last laugh, thanks to a football scholarship to Columbia University, where a girlfriend's mother encouraged the hunky wide receiver (and economics major) to try fashion modeling. Assignments at the Ford agency led to TV commercials. Fox was soon hooked on acting—and on Margherita Ronchi, a Venetian beauty who was visiting New York City in 1987 when a mutual friend introduced them. The couple wed in August 1992. That same year, while studying at David Mamet's Atlantic Theater company, Fox landed a guest shot on NBC's Wings, costarred on a short-lived sitcom, Freshman Dorm, and made his film debut as a high school student in 1993's My Boyfriend's Back. In 1994 he impressed Party of Five executive producer Amy Lippman with what she calls "his quiet, intense manner." Maybe too quiet. Fox, a movie buff, prefers matinees because, he explains, "I don't like crowded theaters. In fact," says the country boy, "if I had my way, it would be just me."

Party of one? His teenage fans would be soooo disappointed.

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
MONICA KIZZO in Los Angeles

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