From Berlin to Hollywood to the Eastern Shore again


February 23, 1992|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff writer

It was like a Cinderella story straight out of a Hollywood screenwriter's head:

Linda Harrison, small-town girl from Berlin, Md., wins a local beauty contest. Then boom. It's off to Hollywood, where she almost immediately lands a screen test, a seven-year movie studio contract and an introduction to Richard D. Zanuck, who heads 20th Century Fox.

After a four-year courtship, she and Mr. Zanuck are married at the top of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Linda Harrison is 24 years old.

"It seemed just normal to me," said Ms. Harrison, who is now divorced, 46, and back in the Eastern Shore town running the upscale consignment shop she owns. "My success happened instantaneously. I was very lucky, and I was very young to have so much happen in my life."

It was a success that encompassed appearing in seven movies -- including co-starring with Charleston Heston in two "Planet of the Apes" films -- raising two sons in tony Beverly Hills, and flying all over the world for 20th Century Fox premieres with her movie honcho husband.

It's been a glorious trip from Berlin to Beverly Hills and back to Berlin.

The woman who has had fate smile down on her for many, many years has no regrets about being back where it all began.

"I'm very excited about my future," she said with a wide smile. "I intend to still act some more. I will act until I take my last breath."

The actress' movie set is now Harrison's Peach Tree shop, located about a half-block off Main Street in Berlin, a town of

about 2,600 people, and roughly half a mile from the home where she was born. Her audience is customers who come in to browse or buy or meet the local woman who went to Hollywood and made good.

Sitting in the shop's cozy back room where she does makeup consultations and horoscopes -- which she got interested in after moving to California and constantly being asked what her sign was -- Ms. Harrison reflected on her life. She is still startlingly attractive with thick, long brown hair, huge brown eyes and a size 6 body that she keeps in shape with exercise.

Her energy is infectious. When sitting, she always appears to be on the verge of jumping out of her seat ready to do something. Movement is part of her philosophy of keeping fit.

"You always have to keep really positive. Stay very active and really move with life," she said. "You have to take those challenges and risks and be encouraging."

Then up she bounces and goes to a nearby shelf to pull down a large white box that is wrapped with a wide red ribbon. Inside the box is an old scrapbook filled with pages of yellowing newspaper clips that was put together by her late father, Burbage Harrison.

"The Beauty from Berlin: Linda Harrison Signed by Studio" is the headline from a 1966 News American article. "Beauty Gains Film Role" was The Sun's headline in 1967. "Another Zanuck" was how the New York Post announced her impending marriage to Richard Zanuck in 1969.

The newspaper photos show her in everything from bikinis to evening gowns. More than a few articles mentioned her 37-23-37 measurements.

She flips through the pages quickly, barely glancing at the recorded high points of her life. She had a feeling early on that her life would revolve around being in the public eye.

At the age of 5, Linda Harrison began taking acrobatics and ballet lessons. At the age of 6, she was already on a school stage, performing. "When you got me on that stage, I felt wonderful," she said.

Later, in the sitting room of the comfortable -- but not extravagant -- home where Linda was born, her mother agreed she was a little ham. "She was just a natural on that stage," said Ida Harrison, 78, who, with her husband, raised five daughters.

"She was always a little different from her sisters," Mrs. Harrison said of her middle child. "She was sort of a dreamer. It just seems like her destiny was to end up in California. She just wasn't the hometown girl."

No, she wasn't. Linda Harrison always had her sights set on acting. She was reluctant to tell anyone because, after all, Berlin is a long, long way from Hollywood. "I really had to keep that dream to myself," she said.

Ms. Harrison spent her teen years winning talent contests, appearing in school plays and working as a waitress during summers in Ocean City. After graduating from high school in Berlin, she enrolled for a summer semester at the University of Maryland at College Park.

"It was torture," Ms. Harrison says now. "I knew I wanted to be somewhere else."

She chucked the whole idea of a formal education after a few short stints at the University of Baltimore and a secretarial school in Baltimore.

The year was 1964, and her older sister, Kay, was off to the Big Apple. Little sister Linda decided to tag along. The idea was to try her hand at modeling.

"I had just graduated from college, and Linda had ambitions to be a model," said Kay Harrison, who now sells real estate in Ocean City. "We went to New York with $250 apiece and my mother's charge card. But we got by."

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