05/01/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
AS A CHILD OF OFFICIAL WASHINGTON, Paula Korologos, 24, was raised on Republicanism. She played hide-and-seek in the White House when her father, Tom, 61, served as a lobbyist for the Nixon and Ford Administrations; at 14, she was a page for Bob Dole. So it was a shock inside the Beltway last December when Korologos got her big break with a role on Murphy Brown—the CBS sitcom that conservatives, led by Dan Quayle, love to hate.
On hearing the news, Tom Korologos feigned horror. "He joked, 'What are you doing on that liberal show?' " Paula says. " 'You might as well do porno.' " The proud dad immediately called his friend Quayle, who was, for a change, speechless, and then Dole. Gerald Ford telephoned congratulations after the first episode. All his old pals are now glad, says Korologos. "We took it as a victory that we had a conservative on the show."
Though Paula's character, McGovern, wears miniskirts and talks frankly about sex, the reporter, modeled after MTV veejay Kennedy, sits squarely on the political right. The contrast between style and substance suits Korologos, who says she, like McGovern, has never quite fit in—even as a child in the cushy Washington suburb of Great Falls, Va.
In a family of goal-oriented workaholics, she says, "I'm the ditsy, neurotic, artsy one." While her father shaped public policy, her mother, Joy, 52—whom Korologos describes as a "pillar-of-the-community type"—was active on the local school board and in the Mormon church. Paula has two older siblings: Ann, 32, a D.C. archaeology student and mother of two, and Philip, 28, single and a lawyer in New York City. "I was alone a lot because I was the youngest," Korologos says. "I'd wrap a pillowcase around My head like a turban and do shows for my stuffed animals."
She also got a front-row seat on working Washington. Roaming the White House as a toddler, Korologos says, "I remember being scared of Richard Nixon. His voice was so deep; he was very majestic." Much of her awe of politicians wore off in 1989, when she worked as a Senate cloakroom assistant. "I saw which senators used hair spray and put bobby pins in their hair," she recalls.
That year was also a personal turning point. After graduating high school as "the perfect Republican daughter with a string of pearls," she longed to go to acting school. Instead, to please her family, she enrolled at Vanderbilt University, where, she says, the pressure to be "dutiful" finally got to her. "I exploded," Korologos says. "I gained 15 pounds and wouldn't shower for days. I got depressed, to the point of being suicidal." Hospitalized for clinical depression, Korologos recovered with the aid of Prozac. "Depression is still something I fight every day," she says. "It's very powerful."
Doing work she loves helps. After leaving Vanderbilt, Korologos enrolled in the Theatre School in Chicago. She graduated last year and soon won a role in comedian Steve Martin's play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, starring as the artist's mistress Suzanne. When the show reached L.A. last October, she made an immediate impression on Hollywood's elite. "In my first scene I take off my shirt," she explains. "Opening night, I'm standing there in my bra, and I see Warren Beatty in the audience."
Within weeks, Korologos was offered a part on Murphy Brown—casting she sees as providential. "The spotlight shines brightest on two places in this country: Washington and L.A.," Korologos says, sitting in her sparsely decorated apartment in the city's Westwood section. "My family is trying to conquer both." Korologos herself was won over recently, when she became engaged to Bennett Cale, 26, a folk rock musician. "I knew he was the one the first week," she says. They plan a summer wedding in D.C., but on other fronts, Korologos eyes the future with a shrug—including her prospects for Murphy Brown's upcoming final season. Candice Bergen, for one, "has no doubts about Korologos's potential. "Paula's not your typical Generation Xer, drowning in ennui," she says. "She's very smart, very poised. She'll be someone to be reckoned with." Korologos smiles at such talk. "Who knows what role I'll get next?" she says. "I'm just a geeky girl who got into acting so she'd have a safe place to cry and a safe place to laugh."
KURT PITZER in Los Angeles