08/24/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
EVERYONE LOVES AN UGLY DUCKLING story, but—face it—some swans just start out baby swans. One Life to Live knockout Yasmine Bleeth began her modeling career when she was 6 months old. Her earliest memory, in fact, is of a Downy Fabric Softener commercial she did when she was about 5. "I guess I was pretty cute," says Bleeth, 24, who speaks with the same charming tentativeness as her soap character, Lee Ann Demerest—"this Southern thing from Sweetwater, Tex.," as Bleeth describes her, "basically a hick, a fool for love."
Well, Lee Ann may be foolish, but she's not stupid. In a ground-breaking story line this year, she taught her squeeze, Jason (Mark Brettschneider), an illiterate photographer, how to read. And one couldn't say that Bleeth has been a romantic dolt either, having dated two of the hot princes of Aaron Spelling Land, Beverly Hills, 90210's Luke Perry and Grant Show of the new summer hit Melrose Place.
This, of course, was back when all three were working on soap operas in New York City, where Yasmine (pronounced yes-MEEN) was born and raised, the daughter of Carina, an Algerian model, and Philip Bleeth, who runs a business that rents vans to fashion photographers for on-location shoots. (Her parents, who separated when she was 7, finally divorced when she was 18.) Like Ryan Fenelli, the part she played for four years on ABC's Ryan's Hope starting in 1985, Bleeth was, she says, "a cosmopolitan girl who went to private schools." Her own was the United Nations International School in Manhattan. As a student she continued to model, crossing over into acting. In her senior year she joined the cast of Ryan's Hope. "That show was my college," she says. "It's where I grew up."
Hope was canceled in 1989, and a few months later Yasmine received a sterner blow: Her mother was found to be suffering from breast cancer. When Carina died within a year, Bleeth says, "I went into a little thing"—meaning grief. "I stayed home, watching cooking shows, taking walks." She turned down acting offers for eight months, then auditioned for Lee Ann.
Three months later she met Ricky Paull Goldin, also a soap actor (Another World). "He courted me," she says, "like you would not believe." Bleeth is not crazy about discussing those two now famous suitors from her past: Perry, onetime star of Loving, and Show, her costar on Ryan's Hope. She has remained chummier with Show ("We were friends on Ryan's Hope before and after we went out") than with Perry ("We're on speaking terms. I think he feels the same way").
Bleeth and boyfriend Goldin may end up out in Hollywood themselves after their contracts expire next year. For now the couple live together in a two-bedroom Manhattan co-op. The second bedroom is where they keep Goldin's pet, a boa constrictor named Antaeus (after a cologne). "At first I wasn't a big fan of Antaeus," says Bleeth. "I tried to get Ricky to give him to the Bronx Zoo." But, as a lifelong Beauty, she must have known that at some point there would also be a Beast.
MARIA EFTIMIADES in New York City