Heart Condition

updated 10/31/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

WHEN REXA SOFER MET WALLACE Kurth on the set of ABC's General Hospital last November, only their characters were supposed to fall madly in love. Sofer was auditioning for the role of Lois Cerullo, the brassy Brooklyn-bred manager of a rock band. Kurth, already in his third year on the soap, plays the feckless Ned Ashton, heir to the Quartermaine family fortune, who was temporarily posing as a struggling rocker.

Kurth, a star on Days of Our Lives before joining GH, was bowled over when Sofer did a scene with him. "She had the moxie, the look, the demeanor, the accent," he marvels. The producers weren't so sure. They asked Sofer to do the scene one more time. Kurth protested, "You know she's right. Hire her and let's go home."

Sofer got the part. Not only has her portrayal of gutsy Lois helped give General Hospital a much-needed boost (once the top-rated soap in daytime, it had recently slipped to fourth but is now a solid No. 2 behind The Young and the Restless) and generated her an impressive 500 fan letters a month, but her on-set chemistry with Kurth has blossomed into an offscreen romance. For Sofer, 25, the New Jersey-reared daughter of a rabbi and a psychology professor, the sudden merger of her personal and professional lives has been an emotional windfall. When they met, Kurth, 36, had been separated from his actress wife, Cynthia, for four months. Their divorce-is still to be finalized, and Kurth continues to live in his own apartment, a short drive from Sofer's neatly furnished, one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. Still, life is good. "Wally makes me laugh harder than anyone ever in my life," she says. "He makes me feel safe. And he makes me extremely happy. That's not something I've ever felt before."

Nor did she ever imagine she'd get a role as liberating as Lois. Playing her, says the actress, "I can yell, scream, cry, fight—and be a child." Sofer, whose parents split when she was a toddler, feels strongly that she missed out on her childhood. As a young adult, she spent a great deal of time at self-help workshops and seminars and is currently seeing a psychotherapist.

Born in Arcadia, Calif., Sofer was only 2 and her brother David was 4 when their mother, Susan, feeling unfulfilled as a homemaker and rabbi's wife, left home and husband to pursue a college degree. The children remained in the care of their father, Martin. "She didn't abandon us," says Sofer, explaining that her mother kept in constant touch with her and David and saw them frequently. Neither parent remarried, and today Sofer maintains close relations with both her father, who presides at Temple Beth El in North Bergen, N.J., and her mother, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of North Carolina in Fayetteville.

"I grew up taking care of myself," says Sofer. "I wasn't a very confident child. I didn't feel I was beautiful or worth anything." Being the rabbi's daughter didn't help. "You are basically the symbol of what is right and wrong in a community," she explains. "If I walked into a store on the Sabbath, all the people would say, 'The rabbi's daughter is doing it; I guess we can.' It's a lot of responsibility to heap on a child," says Sofer.

Her first taste of the limelight came at 15. She was spotted in a Greenwich Village boutique by a scout for the Elite Petites modeling agency and went out on auditions for three weeks before quitting. "I hated the idea of being judged solely on looks," Sofer says. Acting proved more appealing. She took a drama class during her senior year at North Bergen High School and then, after less than a semester at Montclair State College, took acting lessons in New York.

"Even as a teenager, Rena had wit, vitality and charm," says Mark Teschner, a casting agent with whom Sofer first auditioned at 16. With Teschner's help, three years later she landed the role of Rocky McKenzie on ABC's Loving. She left the soap after two seasons to take a minor part as Shayna, a Hasidic Jew's French bride, in 1992's A Stranger Among Us, starring Melanie Griffith.

After that, Sofer, at 22, lit out solo for Los Angeles, driving cross-country in her Hyundai. Two years later she was auditioning to be Lois—and dazzling Kurth. It took a while for the rest of the GH cast to catch on. "If you didn't know they were seeing each other, you wouldn't know they were seeing each other," says Ellen Travolta (John's older sister), who plays Gloria, Lois's mother, on GH. "When Rena told me, I was surprised."

Away from the set, Sofer and Kurth—"a good old cowboy from Montana," Sofer calls him—relax (when they have time) by going to movies and running together. On their next vacation, they are planning to drive around the country in Sofer's Ford Explorer.

Which would be one more form of therapy for her. "Being behind the wheel of a car is soothing and meditative for me," Sofer explains. "When I'm depressed or anxious, I start driving and see where it takes me." With Kurth by her side, the road ahead looks wide open.

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
LOIS ARMSTRONG in Los Angeles

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