Stud of Steel

updated 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FOR A GUY WHO'S FASTER THAN A SPEEDING bullet, Superman has never had much sex appeal—at least not in the nerdy old TV show or those bland, big-budge movies. But fear not, fair maidens of Metropolis! The new Man of Steel, star of the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, melts hearts with a single gaze and—at a muscular 6' and 190 lbs.—doesn't need any padding to fill out his Superman suit.

Still, it's not 27-year-old Dean Cain's brawn alone that has fans buzzing. "Dean has all the qualities that women look for in a man," says Lois & Clark creator Deborah Joy Le-Vine. "He's very good-looking, but he doesn't know it—or if he does, he doesn't show it." Modesty aside, Cain, a former Princeton football star, has the kind of ambition even kryptonite couldn't stop. "I'm ridiculously driven," he says. "I know my life reads nicely, but it wasn't easy."

Actually, Cain, growing up, was something of an outsider. His parents divorced before he was born, and his mother, Sharon, an actress, moved Dean and his older brother, Roger, from Detroit to Los Angeles, where she married aspiring film director Christopher Cain. Though the senior Cain would eventually direct films like 1988's Young Guns, at the time the family lived in a Malibu trailer park.

Young Dean, however, thrived on surfing and playing football with other neighborhood kids—future Brat Packers Rob Lowe, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Affectionately dubbed Pretty Boy by his teammates at Santa Monica High, Cain earned honor-roll grades and attracted 17 college football scholarship offers. He turned them all down for Princeton, which provides no athletic scholarships, but where he went on to become an all-American defensive back, set an NCAA Division 1-AA record for interceptions in a season and, for nearly two years, date fellow student Brooke Shields.

Signed by the Buffalo Bills alter graduation in 1988, Cain blew out his knee three days before his first preseason NFL game and moved back to California to recuperate. "It was a tough time for me," he says. "All I'd ever done was play sports and go to school. I was really good at both, and in a span of three months both those things were gone." In their place he took acting lessons, eventually guesting on ABC's Life Goes On and NBC's A Different World. Last year he got a big break with his memorably steamy turn as Brenda's Paris fling in four episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210.

He landed his role on Lois & Clark after three callbacks, and though the season is still young he is already winning raves from critics, even as he's losing his personal life. Cain's 14-hour days sometimes start at 4 a.m., or just about the time a lot of Hollywood guys his age are getting home. "I'm extremely single these days," he says. "I date now and again, nobody famous, but basically I'm just working on the show." A lot of his time is spent hanging around the studio—literally. Cain, who of course has to simulate flying. spends several hours each week suspended from the rafters in a harness.

At least he's getting more recognition than Clark Kent. "The other day someone asked me what room we'd like Dean's fan mail in," says LeVine. "That's how big we think he's going to be." Cain, meanwhile, says he would be happy just to play for a winner. "We're a team here," he says, "and I haven't had a sense of being on one since the Buffalo Bills."

LYNDA WRIGHT in Los Angeles

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