Donna Dixon, Donna Dixon, Donna Dixon. It has a ring to it. Like a cash register. Like Farrah Fawcett. Suzanne Somers. Mona Lisa. Oscar Mayer. If powers that be have their way, and they often do, Donna Dixon will be the next big IT. She'll be the new sweetheart of the great audience to whom such creatures are created in the test tubes of Hollywood. A new national plaything.
Already Dixon is starring in a network TV series -- ABC's "Bosom Buddies"; has been hailed as the new sex goddess for the '80s by no less than Rona Barrett; and has been pegged for stardom by Hollywood mastermind and accomplished packager of fantasies, Jay Bernstein.
At 23, Donna Dixon is about to be marketed for mass consumption. She is on a conveyor belt to fame that has been ridden before, and will no doubt be ridden again. Hollywood trades in over-the-counter female futures, and there are fortunes to be made. It's supposed to be a meat grinder, lives have been ruined by it, soap opera tragedies are made of it, but Dixon wants it anyway.
"It's still very hard for me to believe," Dixon says in a half-whispered Marilyn Monroe voice. "Everything has happened so fast."
It could get faster.
"I think Donna can go further than Farrah," proclaims Bernstein, the high-powered superagent who has delivered the goods before -- prepping both Fawcett and Somers for superstardom. "Donna is willing to work very hard. Farrah didn't feel that it was necessary," says Bernstein. "I made $18 million for Farrah, and I hope to do a helluva lot better for Donna."
Eighteen million dollars? Why, it was just a couple of years ago that Dixon was like any other gorgeous, honey-blond pre-med student from Alexandria, Va. If it weren't for a proud and pushy papa who urged her to enter a beauty contest, she wouldn't have won. And gone on to enter another. And won again.
Modeling work and television commercials came quickly after that, and it wasn't long before the hopeful from Alexandria faced the hopefuls from Everytown, U.S.A., in the big proverbial talent search. "They had over 20,000 pictures, and it was a cattle call for days," Dixon recalls. "They finally gave 60 of us screen tests -- it was my first -- and from that offered 10 contracts. I got one of them."
If Donna Dixon were a Playboy centerfold -- and she probably won't be -- her vitae would go something like this: Five feet nine inches tall and born under the sign of Cancer, she loves horseback-riding and driving fast cars. Dixon loves to dance but won't go to discos because they're "phony," and can hardly smile without giggling, too.
In short: Everything anybody would want in a sex symbol."
"An actor is a commodity that has to be merchandized like any other product," says Joyce Selznick, casting agent and recruiter extraordinaire for ABC. "You don't invent a Donna Dixon. Donna Dixon is just there.
"She was just great in front of the camera," raves Selznick of Dixon's screen test. "She had a bubbly personality, somewhat off the wall, with a lot of energy."
Off the wall, and off the farm. This innocent lamb, this hazy-eyed youngster, this Hallmark greeting card, had left the normal world for a shot at the loony bin. The Hollywood Hills suddenly replaced the Virginia flats. And the phone calls home which she used to make at least once a day now come only once every two weeks.
"Things are so busy now," sighs Dixon. "I'm lucky if I get a chance to call at all. I can't tell you how many times I have come home at 12:30 in the morning and would have liked to have regressed to my childhood. I'm so tired I wish I had my mom to pick me up and put me to bed."
"I just need to know that she's doing all right," Dixon's blond mother says. "I feel like I'm sharing her with the rest of the world now."
Hence, the paradox. On the one hand, a down-home girl who even brings her mother along to a lunchtime interview. Close to Daddy, fond of little sis and brother. On the other hand, the promise of a fast-paced, glitter-set career, a spotlight of her own. A burgeoning bank account.
"All I'm thinking about is today and tomorrow," Donna says defensively. "It's hard for me to conceive of the money that can be made, but that's not that important. I need for someone to think about where I'm going to be four years from now, and that why I got Jay."
"Neither of us wants this to be a flash-in-the pan thing," agrees Bernstein. "It's going to be a long-range career. I've learned a lot of lessons over the years and I want to take advantage of them with Donna. I'm looking for the thing that legends are made of, like Harlow and the rest, and I know that there's no time pressure."
Nonetheless, one might assume a certain vulnerability on Dixon's part, casting body and soul to the winds of promotion. How does she relate to this new image? How will this new image affect her? The pressure in letting everyone know that you want it all. It could be downright scary. But if it is, Dixon's not admitting it. "No, I'm not scared. I have no reason to be. I know what I want to do." Clean and simple.
How much she will rely on Bernstein -- and partner Larry Thompson ("I'm the show, and Larry's the biz," says Bernstein) -- to reach her goals remains uncertain. Bernstein thinks of himself as Dixon's guide through the gauntlet of show business."Right through the jungle," he says. "I know how to go through -- between the crocodiles, cannibals and quicksand."
The quicksand, and possibly a cannibal or two, snagged him before, though, when Fawcett dumped him after a year and a half. But that didn't dissuade Dixon. "Jay was pursuing me for months. I needed someone and he was the best. I had him checked out, and he believes in me. I think I'm different than Farrah. She didn't really want it and she hadn't studied acting. With me there's a commitment."
She is very committed:
"You're born in this world without any rights, and the only ones you get are the ones you make for yourself," she says. "Whatever is worth having is worth fighting for. I'm a stubborn person and this arrangement with Jay is probably going to be very difficult. He can't tell me such-and-such and then I do it. Anything he does, he has to ask me first.
"I don't need to make unnecessary mistakes. The only thing I can go by is good instinct. I was in the supermarket and I got recognized, and it hasn't sunk in yet. I get flattered and embarrassed. But you have to push yourself."
And you have to take the opportunity that seems wise at the time -- like a tacky NBC special, "Women Who Rate a 10", on which Dixon appeared.
"When the show finally aired, I was so mortified that I hid my face in a pillow. But my lawyer pointed out that I was on with some big-name stars, and that doesn't hurt a bit.
"I don't think of myself as a '10.' I think Raquel Welch, Lynda Carter and Linda Evans are, although it takes more than looks. If you see a '10' and she opens her mouth and there is no personality, she becomes ugly," says Dixon.
Obviously, ABC execs believe they've got a '10' on their hands; as a gesture of confidence, they've already put out a sexy picture of Dixon (jean top, nothing underneath, bikini bathing suit bottom) as a promotional poster. She is not pleased.
"I did a photo session with ABC and a month later a friend called and said, 'I love your poster,'" she pouts. "I said, 'What poster?' -- since I've turned down all the offers for one. What happened was that ABC took my signature off my contract and stuck it on one of the photos from the session and made it into a poster."
"Bosom Buddies" is not exactly one of the big smashes of the season. There have been nice things said about it, but according to the god Nielsen, it has one foot in the grave, usually hovering in the 25 share range. As yet, there has been no official word on its renewal. "I would be hurt bad if it got canceled, but I think it will get picked up. I'd like to do another season or two. At the cast party, I started crying and the director came up to me and asked why I was crying. Because I knew that I would be working someplace, I just told him that I was real sad, and that I wasn't ready to move on and I wanted to stay with the show," Dixon says.
Show or no show, forces are at work to make sure that Dixon doesn't disappear from the public eye.
"The name of the game remains exposure," says Selznick. "The more exposure the more opportunity. Brooke [Shields] is one look. Bo [Derek] is another. Donna is still yet another; Marilyn Monroe probably comes the closest to her. But remember you're talking about a baby."
Donna Dixon will no doubt get more than her share of offers. Producers at "The Love Boat" were anxious for her to climb aboard for an episode, but she didn't like the character. "Running around in a bikini, making goo-goo eyes at everyone? Nuh uh. But I noticed there was a part for an anthropologist and I auditioned and got it; the big bonus is that I get to wear clothes. Mom's coming with me on the cruise."
Beautiful young stars are often expected -- and invariably asked if they would be willing -- to appear on-screen in The Nude. Dixon sounds reluctant but not adamant. "I just don't think it's necessary right now," she says. "It just depends on the script."
As for Bernstein, he doesn't say no: "Why limit ourselves before we're offered?" Selznick doesn't see birthday suits as necessary for Dixon. "If I were her manager, I wouldn't get her messed up with nude scenes. Why should she? The first day we had her on the set, everyone was going 'oooh' and 'aaah' and she was fully dressed! With 'Bosom Buddies,' she has more than her foot in the door."
"But I really do want to be a film actress," Dixon insists. "If the show gets canceled, I'm not going home and I'm not going to give up. I've made my decision."