Caution: This Knight Rider may be Driving Too Hard

Rebecca Holden's relentess push for perfection does take its toll
By Ann Salisbury
TV Guide, April 14, 1984

Just like in the movies, conversation stops at the tables of the Beverly Hills restaurant patio while curious eyes watch a striking young woman alight from a sleek, black limousine. She is model-chic in white pants and white, nubby sweater trimmed in bright red, her long reddish hair cascading well past her shoulders.

Wearing rings and earrings that sparkle with gems deserving of that limousine, and carrying a gigantic Vuitton bag, she is the image of a glamorous Hollywood actress - with only one object failing to fit the picture: a well-used leather appointment book as thick as any insurance salesman's.

The actress is Rebecca Holden, this season's addition to the cast of NBC's "Knight Rider" - and the limousine is her own. She is married to oil company owner Bobby Vassallo.

Animated and friendly, she is reminiscent of Ann-Margaret, an actress Rebecca admires for her talent and multi-faceted career.

"I love working. I'm a workaholic," she explains. "I have to get up in the morning with a thousand things to do."

She indicates the fat appointment book. "There are 50 million lists. Every morning the houseboy gets a list; Bobby (her husband) gets a list. Everybody gets a list. I'm an organization freak."

"I've always been very goal-oriented." She frowns slightly. "If I have a really bad fault, it's that I'm a perfectionist. My husband always says 'You don't take time to smell the roses.' "

Her work ethic came from her upper middle class Texas family, where even her mother worked 12-hour days when Rebecca was a child, running a nursery school so she could be near her three daughters. And despite full-time jobs, her parents found time to raise dogs (40 at a time), which is probably why Rebecca includes her West Highland terrier Super, as an important member of her immediate family.

She remains close to her Texas clan, talking to them by phone several times a week. "To me, family is everything. I thank my lucky stars every day I have parents like mine."

The actress is equally enthusiastic about her marriage to Vassallo, who was her childhood sweetheart and whom she describes as her "best friend."

"I value his opinion more than anyone's, and he values mine. We discuss everything, every move. We dream and scheme and plan and calculate."

One of their favorite ways to spend time together, she says, is to head for Westwood, the movie center of Los Angeles, with one of her lists (this one of movies that are playing) and see one film after another.

"We sit in the movies and hold hands - just blocking out the world, being close and sharing."

The actress spends no energy fretting that the demands of her career might take a toll on their marriage. Bobby's even able to travel with her, she reports, having gotten his business to the point where he can arrange a flexible schedule with relative ease.

Is he threatened by a wife whose work determines where they live?

Not at all, she says quickly. "He's thrilled with the fact that I'm seeing my dreams come true."

She elaborates as she picks at her fruit salad.

"He's a very strong man. I think it's insecure men who resent a woman's career or are jealous of it."

"He knows I love him. Our marriage is as solid as a rock, so he doesn't have any of those insecurities. He knows my career is important. If I have a good role, he's thrilled."

Besides, she reminds you, they both knew what they were getting into when she left Texas to seek a singing career in New York. What they didn't know was that she would be "discovered" while she was waiting for a friend in the lobby of a commercial agency and would end up on commercials for a myriad of products ranging from deodorants to bras to shampoo.

She took a hiatus from modeling long enough to go home for a "big Texas wedding" four years ago, and the two of them lived in New York briefly before deciding she should pursue her acting career in Hollywood.

Once there, she began doing episodic television, even made a pilot - but decided to avoid the series route. Then "Knight Rider" came along. "It had already been on the air for a season and had done extremely well in the ratings and was guaranteed for another season." So, while Rebecca says nothing is safe in Hollywood, they thought this was as close as one might expect to come.

Through the acting, through all the modeling, she never interrupted her relationship with her first love, singing. And high on her list of goals is performing, recording, combining her singing career with her acting. "I practice my 'vocalies' every day." She

Rebecca Holden has a lot to smile about. She seems to have it all. In the story she tells about herself, she is 8 years old in Austin, Texas, and it's late at night and she's staying up way past bedtime to copy over a report for school. "Go to bed, Rebecca," her father tells her. "An A is good enough." And she answers, "No, I can't. I can't have any mistakes. It has to be an A-plus. It's got to be perfect."

It's been 22 years since third grade, but Rebecca Holden, cast this season in her first regular television role - as April Curtis on NBC's Knight Rider - is still striving for perfection. And, according to the campaign designed to make her a superstar, pretty much succeeding. Listen to Rebecca, her husband and managerm Bobby Vassallo, and her publicist and you will hear that:

* She has never experienced pain or any of those intense setbacks that offer some insight into the underside of life.

* She graduated from North Texas State University in Denton, Texas, with near straight A's, then went to New York, where she earned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a top model while being voached in opera by a Julliard professor and also appearing in nightvlubs as a country and western singer.

* She married her high-school sweetheart, a man who formed his own oil company and amassed a fortune so big that he was able to let the business run itself, move to L.A. to manage her career, and provide her with a Rolls-Royce, a Lincoln limousine, an Excalibur, several racehorses, a twin-engine Cessna 414 and lots of elegant and expensive jewelry.

* She awakens at 4:30 A.M. each day to burn 400 calories on an exercise bike and lift weights before getting to work at 6:30. She skips breakfast, eats only fresh fruit for lunch, and is intrigued by diet plans. She goes to dance class several times a week and also gets in-home instruction. She practices voice for an hour a day, plays the piano for relaxation and reads novels, biographies and nonfiction at intervals throughout the day.

* She rounds out this wholesome picture by raising champion West Highland white terriers.

"A lot of people say it seems like one of those too-good-to-be-true stories," says husband Bobby. "But 'perfection' - that's her middle name."

Or, more likely, her stage name.

Holden's schedule is filled with endless meetings, appointments, appearances. On Saturday, Entertainment Tonight wants to see her racehorses at Del Mar, Cal., and tape Holden at the stables. On Sunday, she's a presenter at the Emmy Awards banquet. She tapes Knight Rider on Monday and also does a TV GUIDE interview. Tuesday she goes to a sound studio for adjustments in the audio track of the Knight Rider episode. Wednesday there's an all-day photo session for the cover of a mechanics magazine. And on. And on. And on.

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