THERE ARE SCENES FROM A MALL AND then there are scenes from a mall—like what happened when teen throb Mario Lopez, 19, of NBC’s Saturday-morning sitcom Saved by the Bell, ambled in for a promotional appearance in San Antonio and female fans began pelting him with bras and panties. “You’d think they’d all be teenagers, but their moms were throwing stuff too,” recalls Lopez. “I didn’t think anybody watched the show.”
Wrong. Bell was the top-rated Saturday-morning series among teens last year, and its performance has prompted a Nov. 27 prime-time special, Saved by the Bell—Hawaiian Style. If Lopez’s admirers somehow fail to catch him there, they get another chance on Name Your Adventure, the travel-oriented show he hosts on Saturdays right after Bell. Certainly they would love to be in the running shoes of Elizabeth Berkley, Mario’s love interest on Bell. Yes, even she thinks her 5’11”, 175-lb. costar is a hunk. “But he’s so personable that it’s not hard to get past the way he looks,” she says.
Bell‘s executive producer, Peter Engel, seconds that, acknowledging that the role of high school superjock Albert Clifford Slater had not been written with a Hispanic in mind. “But he had that character’s confidence and smile,” says Engle, “so we said, ‘What’s the difference?’ ”
It’s Adventure, though, that gets Lopez really revved up. “It’s the ultimate job,” he says of his role on the show, which allows him to accompany kids on their fantasy adventures, like swimming with dolphins. Toughest episode: attending a Utah survival school, where he slept under leaves and ate roasted grasshoppers. “It was torture,” he says, “but it was cool.”
Cool would be Mario’s theme. “I have the coolest parents,” he says of Mario Sr., who drives heavy equipment for the municipality of National City, near San Diego, and Elvia, a former telephone company staff clerk who now helps Mario manage his career. (The Mexican-born Lopezes also have a 16-year-old daughter, Marisa.) A dancer since he was a tot, Mario, at 12, was spotted by a talent agent and cast in Norman Lear’s short-lived 1984 sitcom a.k.a. Pablo. Even while playing in that and landing small movie parts (Colors), he was able to continue at San Diego’s Chula Vista High, where he was an A student and a champion wrestler.
Lopez still lives at home, in a jukebox-equipped guesthouse behind his parents’ residence. But when work calls, he jumps into his red ’66 Mustang convertible and heads for Burbank, where he keeps an apartment. He stays buffed by dancing, playing racquetball and doing push-ups.
There’s not one special girl in his life right now. “I’m looking for that perfect woman,” says Mario, “but it’s hard because I want someone who’ll like me for me—not just the guy she sees on TV.” Lopez definitely has his own sights set beyond the tube. “I’d like to get into film,” says Lopez. “I’d love to have a talk show like Arsenio. I’d like to go to the Olympics [to wrestle]…but I want to go to college too.” He pauses under the weight of it all. “OK, I’ve got it! I want to go to college to study film to learn how to direct after I’ve gone to the Olympics!… Maybe I better just play it by ear.” Sounds cool.
LEAH FELDON-MITCHELL in Los Angeles