Joanne Kaufman
November 29, 1993 12:00 PM

IT IS NOON AT A SAN FRANCISCO SOUP kitchen, and actress-activist Linda Blair is ladling out lunch to the needy. Meanwhile, miles away in L.A., Blair’s beau, actor Wings Hauser, is ladling out trouble to his enemies on the set of the feature film Skins. “I’ve killed more people on cable than anybody else,” says Hauser, who would rather be taking it easy with Linda in San Francisco than taking aim in L.A., but, hey, a job is a job.

Such separations are nothing new for Blair, 34, best known as the vomitspewing, swivel-headed girl in the 1973 hit The Exorcist, and Hauser, 47, who, despite his 51 movies and his roles on China Beach and Roseanne, is best known for being unknown. Their year-old romance has been conducted mostly by phone and fax. Even so, says Blair, “we’re in love.”

The two got to know each other five years ago on the set of Bedroom Eyes II. But though Linda was smitten, Wings was married. “So we didn’t do anything,” she says.

“Liar,” he teases.

“Shut up,” she says.

When Blair called Hauser from New York City six months later, he told her that he had split from his third wife, actress Nancy Lock. The bad news: “I felt like nothing was working in the relationship area,” says Hauser. “So my attitude was to hide and do my thing.” Worse, Hauser had detected a lump on his chest and was waiting for a biopsy to see if he had breast cancer. (About 1,000 men are diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. each year.)

Holed up and unhappy on his 28-foot sailboat in Marina del Rey, Calif., Hauser didn’t really want to see anyone. But Blair turned up anyway—with a teddy bear, vitamins and herbal remedies—to a less than hospitable greeting. “I’m dying,” said Hauser. “Leave me alone.”

Blair refused, and Hauser was won over by her nurturing. “That’s what turned me on,” he says, “someone caring for me.” The lump proved benign, but even Blair couldn’t provide remedies for other problems. Hauser’s sense of mischief often collides with Blair’s sense of mission, and he can be quite contrary. “He likes to argue,” says Linda. “I think it’s stupid and I’m a bad arguer.”

“She’s really bad at it,” chuckles Hauser. “But, hey, when she gets mad, watch out.”

What gets Linda mad? For one thing, Wings’s reluctance to Make a Commitment. Concedes Hauser: “I tend to distrust women.” He thinks he has earned his wariness. In 1971 the California-bred son of screenwriter Dwight Hauser and homemaker Geraldine married singer Jane Boltinhouse. In 1973 the struggling actor moved out, taking their 13-month-old daughter, Bright, now 22 and a fledgling film producer, with him. “I had $30 and a box of Pampers,” he says. He married author Cass Sperling in 1974 and got divorced in 1977. Their marriage produced a son, Cole, now 18, who acted in Dazed and Confused. Soon after, he married Lock—a 12-year union that ultimately, he says, “knocked the hell out of me—emotionally and financially.”

A trip with Blair this summer to the Amazon jungle, where Hauser was shooting a thriller, The Watchers, helped their relationship. For six weeks they stayed in a shack without a door or electricity. “There were no distractions. Just each other,” says Wings, who originally had his doubts about “how a little girl from Connecticut is going to survive this.”

Of course the “little girl” from Westport, daughter of executive head-hunter James Blair and his wife, Elinore, a real estate agent, had grown up quickly. After The Exorcist, which she did at 13, Blair made a series of forgettable features such as Exorcist II: The Heretic in 1977. Her next big headline came at 18, when she was arrested for conspiracy to possess cocaine. She claimed she was framed and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. Blair won’t discuss her alleged involvement with drugs. But having dated musicians, including Rick James, she does say that she got firsthand views of the rock-and-roll high life: “Drugs were so prevalent then.”

Since then, Blair’s career has remained in low gear. And Linda says that’s fine with her. To pay the bills, the avowed vegetarian acts now and then (she recently appeared on Married…with Children) and does promotions for a Baltimore health-food company. In her free time, Blair, who has endured countless Exorcist vomit jokes, puts that sick humor to good use by autographing cans of pea soup for $5 a pop—and donating the proceeds to charity. And then there are her private good deeds—like the time she drove through a torrential rainstorm in the middle of the night to help her desperate boyfriend pump water out of the boat he (and, increasingly, she) calls home. “Now that’s love,” says Blair with a laugh. “We’re a good team.”

JOANNE KAUFMAN

JOHN HANNAH in Los Angeles

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