October 18, 1976 12:00 PM

Her week-long tryout for the Today show almost ended nightmarishly for Jane Pauley. “I lay down in the hotel to take a nap. The next thing I know I’m waking up, it’s daylight out, and the clock says 6. I called the doorman to hold a cab, and dressed so fast I ran my fist through my only pantyhose. I raced to get my makeup on, and then it dawned on me. It was 6 p.m., and I’d just waked up from my nap.”

As early-rising America now knows, Pauley survived that harrowing on-air trial, outrated more seasoned contenders like Betty Furness and Cassie Mackin in NBC audience surveys, and this week became the 34th of what used to be called “the Today girls.” But the suggestion that Jane is moving into the long eyeshadow of No. 33, Barbara Walters, puts her dukes up. “That job went to Tom Brokaw,” protests kid Pauley, who won’t be 26 until Halloween. “I’m just a member of the staff.”

Sure, but a staff member signed only after a veritable Scarlett O’Hara search and a week’s haggling which boosted her contract into six figures. The ordeal cracked Pauley’s wonted cool. “I am very uncomfortable in the celebrity role,” she finds. “I want to guard my privacy to the hilt, and I can already feel myself paying a terrible price.” To join Today, Jane has forsaken her safer $55,000-a-year co-anchor spot at Chicago’s WMAQ and temporarily orphaned off her two cats with her Aunt Martha in Indianapolis. More poignant, Pauley is also leaving behind in her Indiana hometown “my absolute best friend in the world.” He is Bill Shaw, 28, statehouse reporter for the Star and her man since they met three years ago covering a murder. No wonder that Pauley puffs a pack and a half of Kools a day.

Less than two years ago Jane was a nonsmoker and just another pretty voice reading news for $13,500 a year on the appropriately named WISH-TV, NBC’s Indianapolis affiliate. When she was raided away to become Chicago’s first evening-news anchor-woman, caustic local reviewers checked her size-8 Kappa Kappa Gamma cuteness and her crisp Barbara Walters soundalike diction. Among other insults, they dismissed her as having “the IQ of a cantaloupe.” Pauley had a good cry at the time and still fumes that remarks like that “just cut me off at the knees.”

To be fair, Jane had enough under her honey-blond coif to finish seventh in a national high school debating contest and to graduate a semester early with honors in poli sci from Indiana U. She then sailed through substitute teaching, John Lindsay’s ill-fated presidential campaign and a stint as a press aide with the Indiana Democratic party. She claims she “lucked into” her first TV job, but says candidly that “the people who make it in this business have to be tough and super-hyper-ambitious.”

Jane, who once delivered eggs from her grandfather’s farm, worries that she may not be resilient enough for the Big Apple. The new job has already caused some abrasion with her boyfriend. “I’ll be 800 miles away,” she says, “and I don’t expect him to live his whole life by long-distance.” Indianapolis city room scuttlebutt, in fact, had Bill recently eyeing another local TV newswoman. Pauley just muses, “Imagine being 25 and single and coming to New York with this kind of job. The sum total sounds like lonely.” As for all the merciless publicity, Jane notes, “I suspect I might have been left alone if I were a man.” But then she adds realistically, “Of course, I wouldn’t have gotten the job then.”

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