Jaclyn Smith has always played beautiful women, from Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy to Kelly Garrett on "Charlie's Angels." But her role as Hilary Walker, a television news executive in Danielle Steel's "Kaleidoscope" (Monday at 9 on NBC), is a bit of what actors call a stretch.

"It's different in the sense that I've never played such a tragic character," said Smith. "She's been physically and mentally abused. It's sort of interesting playing someone who has this tragic background. She's a survivor, but she's really a sad, sad character. I did find it difficult at times. She had all this pent-up anger."

In Steel's story, shot in Toronto, Smith plays one of three sisters who were separated as children after the strange deaths of their parents in a murder-suicide. Their parents' friend, businessman Arthur Patterson (Donald Moffat), had placed them with different families. But as Patterson is dying, he hires private detective John Chapman (Perry King) to track down the women.

Hilary, haunted by nightmares of murder, believes that it's too late to be reunited with her younger sisters, played by Patricia Kalember and Claudia Christian, and must be persuaded to join them. When she does, she learns old secrets that could destroy them all.

Colleen Dewhurst appears briefly as a Southern aristocrat who must tell one of the young women, her daughter, that she is adopted.

Smith said she's seen a number of movies made from Steel's best-sellers. "I love them because they're very romantic, and then I was offered this. It's romantic; it has mystery. Her stories usually have a happy ending. This one ... well, it does have a happy ending because you know that at long last, she's {Hilary Walker} on the right road {because} she's going to confront the past."

Smith said she has met novelist Steel, a mother of nine who lives and writes in San Francisco. She's also a friend of writer Sidney Sheldon, three of whose novels have been made into movies that starred her: "Windmills of the Gods," "Rage of Angels" and "Rage of Angels II."

In other TV movies, Smith has portrayed Florence Nightingale and starred in "Settle the Score" and "The Bourne Identity." In "George Washington," a 1984 miniseries made partly in this area, she was the delightful Sally Fairfax, wife of Lord Fairfax (David Dukes) and a woman whom George Washington found uncommonly attractive.

"That was a role very close to me," said Smith. "I loved her attitude and the time -- I probably should have been born in that time."

Instead, she was born in Houston, Tex., in October 1947, the daughter of Jack and Margaret Ellen Smith (who still live there) and attended Trinity University in San Antonio. After a career as a model, she appeared in several television commercials and began a television acting career that included series ("The Adventurers," "Get Christy Love," "McCloud," "The Rookies," "Love Boat" and "Switch") and television movies ("Escape From Bogen County," 1977; "The Users," 1978; "Nightkill," 1980; "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy," 1981; "Sentimental Journey," 1984, and "Florence Nightingale," 1985).

But it was her role as former showgirl Kelly Garrett in "Charlie's Angels" (September 1976 to August 1981), that teamed her with other appealing young actresses including fellow Texan Farrah Fawcett (then Fawcett-Majors), Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts. Of the group of police-trained detectives, Smith was the only one to stay with the series from start to finish.

Her last series was "Christine Cromwell," part of ABC's Saturday mystery wheel last season. But the network dropped it and Burt Reynolds' "B.L. Stryker," leaving only Peter Falk's "Columbo" to reappear this year.

"I knew when they changed the time slots from Monday to Saturday, we were in trouble," she said. "But everything happens for the best. I love doing different things. 'Christine Cromwell' was a wonderful experience, but you can't cry over that."

Anyway, Smith is already on to other projects, including "Lies Before Kisses," a two-hour television movie.