Holding Her Own Against the Divine Miss M, Trini Alvarado Is Tugging Heartstrings in Stella

updated 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's hard to imagine anyone less likely to be mistaken for Bette Midler's daughter than Trini Alvarado. She's shy. She's soft-spoken. Why, she even blushes. "I lead kind of a quiet life," she says. "I just grew up that way." But it was precisely that innocence that attracted director John Erman when he was casting about for Midler's co-star in Stella, his remake of the 1937 tearjerker Stella Dallas. "Trini has held on to her childhood," says Erman. "She has a purity that actresses who travel in the fast lane don't"

While Stella snared mixed reviews, Trini says people have been stopping her in the streets "to say it made them cry," and her own performance has been widely praised. Maybe, she says, that's because she's a lot like her character. "I have the same kind of intense relationship with my mother," says Alvarado, 23. "Despite all the arguing, there's a strong bond there—although we do tend to be calmer."

Not that the cozy apartment in Queens, where she still lives with her parents, was exactly quiet Trim's father, Domingo, 59, is a flamenco singer from Spain who met Trim's mother, Sylvia, 54, when she was performing as a flamenco dancer at a New York City club. And Trini and her brother Tony, 31, were learning the family business by the time they were able to walk. "Even as a baby, she could sing her father's songs," says Sylvia. The early coaching paid off: Trini started performing with her father at age 7 and made her professional debut at 10 as Goldilocks in the syndicated TV series Unicorn Tales: "I wanted to be like Shirley Temple or Judy Garland."

Changing times made her own showbiz path a bit grittier. By age 11, Trini was on Broadway in Elizabeth Swados's Runaways, a 1978 Tony-nominated musical about rage-filled, runaway teens. "I had a burning desire back then to perform in any way, shape or form," says Alvarado, who attended Manhattan's Professional Children's School. "I think I was even more ambitious then." In 1984 she won a part opposite Diane Keaton in Mrs. Soffel.

But it's Stella that has made her a star, and she admits to being overwhelmed. "It's weird to go into the subway and see this huge poster of yourself," she says with a giggle. "I keep wondering what kind of mustache they're going to draw on me."

That would be a crime indeed. Trini's raven-haired beauty has led even the Divine Miss M to label her a young Elizabeth Taylor. And if Midler's screen character gave her daughter smother love, the actress offered an equally exuberant friendship offscreen. At one point Bette admonished director Erman for being too hard on Alvarado. "She said, 'I won't allow you to talk to her that way,' " Erman remembers. "At that moment I realized that they had fused." So much so that Trini carries photos of herself with Bette's 3-year-old daughter, Sophie.

During filming, the two stars would unwind by singing Beatles songs. "That's how I got the part," says Trini, who improvised a chorus of "If I Fell" during her screen test with Midler. Erman liked the bit so much, he put it in the film—though he changed the tune to the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin.' "

Trini's own dreams now involve Bette as role model. "I admire the way she's combined acting and singing," she says. Her future, she hopes, will also include what she calls the Sissy Spacek thing, taking a few years off from her career to have a family. "Not now, but someday." While she waits for that big-time love—and the next big role—she's content to spend time cooking with her dad, playing video games with her cousins and figuring out when she can get back to Fordham University. "It's taken me five years to finish one semester," she says. "At this rate I might have my degree by the time I'm 90." In other words, a good six decades after her Ph.D. in fame.

From Our Partners