Beverly Hills' Unseen Star

UPDATED 12/21/1992 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/21/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

FITZGERALD HAD HIS ZELDA. HEMINGway had that war wound. And Darren Star, well, he had Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., and that loose-ends period back in the mid-'80s when he lived with a bunch of twentysomethings "in an apartment building in West Hollywood that was like a Motel 6 with a swimming pool."

Like those great authors before him, 31-year-old Darren Star (yes, it's his real name) spun his grist into gold—in this case, as the creator of two of the most talked about prime-time shows of his generation: Beverly Hills, 90210 and its spinoff, Melrose Place. The secret of his success? Says Aaron Spelling, whose company produces both shows: "Darren is a self-starter, very prolific and a dedicated workaholic." He is also saturated with showbiz. As the progeny of orthodontist Norman Star and his freelance writer wife, Debra, Darren, the youngest of three, watched sitcoms and got a job at 13 as an usher at his local multiplex so he could see all the movies for free. (By the way, his mother says that Melrose Place's amiably loose Billy Campbell, played by Andrew Shue, "is the character most like Darren.")

After leaving home for Los Angeles in 1979, Star graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English. (One college roommate—a platonic one—was actress Daphne Zuniga, who recently joined the Melrose cast.) Three years ago, Star was approached by Fox television to write a series about a Hollywood high school. In 2½ weeks he submitted a script that he tilled Class of Beverly Hills only to see then Fox president Barry Diller add zip to its moniker. "It was the worst title I'd ever heard," says Star. "I kept telling myself, 'They can't.' "

But they did—and that led to the pressurized, 15-hour workdays that leave Star little time for social life. It's not the requisite black Porsche or the three-bedroom Spanish-style home once owned by Clark Gable that make it all worthwhile. "Sure, I got more money and all that stuff," says Star. "But the goal as a writer is to get your stuff made, and that's happening to me every week."

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