Pity the plight of the instant celebrity.

After playing supporting actress in the political sex scandal of the year, Donna Rice arrived in Los Angeles last summer filled with hope. She had already declined more than a million dollars in offers and L.A. seemed a chance finally to market herself in a classy way.

At first, she spent her days meeting with potential agents, producers, lawyers and managers. But today, seven months after her celebrated weekend with presidential contender Gary Hart, her career hasn't budged. In fact, some friends say, she leads a rather hermitic existence, infrequently dating, rarely socializing.

Every Tuesday night, she attends a Bible study group.

If Rice's first 15 minutes of fame weren't all they could have been, so far this go-round seems no more promising. As the reborn Hart happily glad-hands in the towns of New Hampshire, several Rice acquaintances say that for the second time in a year she is sequestered, hesitant to entertain most requests for interviews and confused about her future.

As her ex-friend Lynn Armandt reportedly cashed in for nearly $200,000 -- selling photos of Hart and Rice in Bimini to The National Enquirer and a story to People -- Rice talked about writing a book exploring the news media and ethics. "It's a woman's story," she adamantlytold Washingtonian magazine. "Any stupid publisher who doesn't want it ..."

Rice did begin working with a Chicago-based collaborator on her story, but, according to a friend, she never got a contract because she refused to reveal the details of her relationship with Hart.

Recalls writer Rudy Maxa, who was prepared to offer Rice six figures on behalf of The Washingtonian and a national syndicate for the real story: "She kept saying, 'But if I talk to you it will hurt the book excerpts in the summer of '88' ... The summer of '88?"

But last Friday, in her one interview, Rice hinted to ABC's Barbara Walters that she may one day tell the story people want to read.

The summer of '88 isn't looking so bad, after all.

"It is painful for her to be seen as some sort of a home wrecker," says Diana Jarrett, an actress who shares her Los Angeles home with Rice.

"I talked to her several times in the past few days," says Ray Manzella, a personal manager who has been informally advising Rice. "She's still confused and mind-boggled."

Is she working at all? "Wouldn't you have heard about it?" he asks.

Rice declined to be interviewed for this story. But through friends, she wants it known that she has made her own choices.

In the months that followed the scandal, the kiss-and-tell invitations were plentiful. According to Tricia Erickson, her one-time agent, Rice was offered $100,000 by the Daily Mail of London, as well as a significant amount by ABC to tell the story of her relationship with Hart. There was Maxa's offer as well. Playboy reportedly promised her $500,000 for photos and a story. (Playboy would not "confirm or deny" the figure.) She turned them all down.

She was also approached by a poster company ($20,000 for shots in sportswear) and a lecture group ($3,000 to $5,000 per booking). She turned these down, as well.

She did accept one major business deal: a $50,000-plus contract with New Retail Concepts to model its No Excuses jean line.

But the 30-year-old Rice has seemed almost naive about her real options. For example, she has repeatedly been advised to audition for the soap operas, which would give her acting experience and visibility. Erickson and Jarrett both say that Rice has refused, fearing she wasn't ready. "She wants to be braced for the critiques," says Jarrett.

Her friends say she frets over being portrayed as some sort of siren. Yet she posed for the January issue of Life in a black-beaded dress showing a generous amount of thigh. She has insisted to friends that she doesn't want to use the scandal to boost her acting career, but she doesn't seem to understand the widespread view that the scandal is of more interest than her acting skills.

"Let's face it," says Manzella, "Madison Avenue isn't exactly knocking down her door. She can't exactly do a Wonder Bread commercial. At a certain point, she must understand her limitations and do what she can do ..."

Jarrett, though, says Rice does understand her options and "has just decided she won't be exploited."

Last summer, when Rice left Miami for Hollywood, Jarrett said a mutual friend asked if she would give Rice a room in her home. "I always knew I'd be coming here," Rice told the Los Angeles Times then. "It's just that I wanted to come with an audition tape under my arm and some money in the bank."

Professionals were happy to meet with her. Recalls Manzella, whose biggest client is Vanna White: "Burt Sugerman {a television and film producer} called and asked me to talk to her ... We thought there was some potential there. But it was a very tough job trying to structure a career for Donna because of her circumstances."

In short, her name recognition exceeded her talent.

"We're not talking with someone who studied acting -- someone who has some credits worthy of her household name," said Manzella.

"Huge profiles must be coupled with experience," says a publicist who advised Rice and asked that his name not be used. "It makes life much easier -- and it just wasn't there."

Against this backdrop was her refusal to divulge details of her relationship with Hart. Last month, her negotiations with ABC for a made-for-TV movie based on her life also collapsed. Again, her friends say it was because she would not reveal details. And according to a spokesman for the network, Rice demanded "creative control" of the project.

"She basically wanted the final word on every detail and we just don't do that," said Bob Wright, the spokesman. "The deal is dead." One friend, who has also advised her, saw her demand as yet another unrealistic move to protect her relationship with Hart.

"I had to ask myself why she was being so nice to this man," said the friend, who asked that his name not be used. "So I concluded that if you look at them as just a man and a woman who didn't work out -- and scrap the idea that he is this high-profiled politician -- well, it makes some sense."

Rice told ABC's Walters last week that she has not heard from Hart since May, when The Miami Herald observed them at Hart's Capitol Hill town house.

Jarrett says people have "read more into" Rice's silence and that it's simply a matter of discretion. "She doesn't want to be seen as some stiff-upper-lipper protecting Hart's image. That's an inaccurate romantic illusion ..."

According to those interviewed, Rice was shocked that Hart got back into the race. And as the press began calling her again, she started phoning friends and advisers. "She was upset -- scared," says Erickson. "I mean how much can this woman take?"

Within hours of Hart's reentry, Rice learned through news reports that New Retail Concepts had dropped her. A spokesman for the company said the timing was accidental: "Donna knew that she was going to be our No Excuses girl for a short period. We had always planned to follow it up with another high-profile woman, and in fact, had picked her replacement several weeks ago."

There have been no new offers with Hart's reemergence, says Erickson. "Mostly press calls," she says. Regardless, Erickson says, Rice would still be overly cautious. "If I was just cashing in, I would have done that already," she told the Los Angeles Times last summer. "Anyway, money is the least interesting element in all this." Of the first flurry of offers from the media, she agreed only to an earlier photo spread in Life (for which she was paid $4,000) and an interview on Spanish television (for roughly $20,000). She received no payment for her first talk with Walters last June.

Others suggest she is interested in fame and money -- but on her own terms. "She didn't understand how quickly the attention would pass and the offers would dry up," says Maxa, who attempted for two months to persuade her to accept his deal. He eventually wrote a piece called "The Courting of Donna Rice."

These days, Rice pursues a low-key life. She works twice a week with an acting coach. Jarrett says she also has dinner periodically with old friends. Other actresses join her in Jarrett's Bible study group. And after months of strain, she has mended relations with her family in South Carolina, Jarrett says.

Rice's decision to use Walters as her forum both now and last summer, some acquaintances say, has been her shrewdest professional choice. "You can't beat coming into someone's living room to explain who you are," says the publicist.

Rice told Walters last week that she hoped people would see her for who she really is, and not how the press has presented her. "I have hoped all along that my actions in the way I have chosen to handle this would be an indication of the type of person that I am," she said.

But when she hinted to Walters that she might be willing to talk more in the future, it was not clear what story she would be willing to tell.

The heretofore private details of the Hart/Rice liaison? Or what Rice told the Los Angeles Times she thinks people want to know -- "a sensitive story of survival ... to show the cost of compromising versus noncompromising ...

"Not that I have so much dignity or pretend to have so much integrity. But I didn't take the easy way out. My feeling is, this will pay off in the long run with the right kind of success."