March 08, 1999 12:00 PM

If Alexandra Wentworth were to write her autobiography, she might have a hard time with a title, since the most fitting ones—The Official Preppy Handbook, The Way of the WASP—are already taken. With a Mayflower pedigree and well-connected parents, the zany comic grew up in a house where Jackie Onassis might drop by to give little Dabber (Alexandra’s precious nickname, borrowed from Dab-Dab, the motormouthed duck in Doctor Dolittle) vital haircut advice. Of course, if Dabber had been old enough to know who the lovely lady was, she might have treated her differently. “I would have stolen her shawl,” she says.

That impishness took Wentworth, 34, from improv comedy to Fox’s In Living Color, whose inner-city humor escaped her parents. “I was playing hookers and strippers, and my mother was just beside herself,” she recalls. Next came sketches on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and parts in Jerry Maguire (“When Tom Cruise walked on the set,” she says, “I almost fell down”), the new comedy feature Office Space and soon, a part on The WB as Felicity’s boss. “I’m surprised she’s not a huge star yet,” says Leno. “I think she will be.” The trick, adds Leno, is “keeping your femininity while you’re doing some incredibly gross or ridiculous thing.”

Wentworth got lots of practice choking down family meals—which for WASPs, she says, are “just there to help you drink more.” That idea led Wentworth, who ran a catering business at 17, to write 1997’s tongue-in-cheek The WASP Cookbook. The book is a loving gibe at Alexandra’s mother, Muffie Cabot, 63, a social secretary in the Reagan White House who now oversees arts funding for the Ford Motor Company. (Father Eric Wentworth, 64, was a Washington Post reporter and now works for a D.C. nonprofit agency; he and Muffie divorced when Alexandra was a baby.) Muffie, Alexandra says, would toss the week’s leftovers in the food processor, bake it under a crust of mashed potatoes and call the mess ‘Sunday supper—until, Wentworth says, she and her siblings said, “We are not eating this anymore. It’s disgusting.”

Complaining about the food was as revolutionary as it got in Went-worth’s Georgetown home, where Alexandra and her siblings—John, now 39, an L.A. screenwriter and director, and Elizabeth, 38, a producer for the Discovery Channel—were raised by Muffie and her second husband, the late Henry Brandon, Washington correspondent for The Times of London. Alexandra started performing to win attention from her fractured family (she also has three half-siblings) and danced for Richard Nixon when he visited.

By age 12, having caught the bug from such household guests as Carol Burnett and Peter Ustinov, Alexandra was taking acting classes, alarming those in her social set who regarded actors as circus freaks without the job security. “My parents were frightened,” says Wentworth, “and hoped it was just a phase.” A phase with longevity, as things turned out. Forsaking the Seven Sisters (Smith, Wellesley, etc.), she majored in drama at offbeat Bard College before graduating from New York University. As Muffie puts it today, “She wasn’t the traditional kind of rebel.”

But even Jackie O would approve of the traditionally tasteful, antique-filled two-bedroom house overlooking the Hollywood Hills where Wentworth plays Scrabble with her boyfriend, screenwriter and ex-In Living Color scribe Les Firestein, 36. Her career is still settling in with her parents. “WASPs are historically publicity shy,” muses her father. Probably just as well, then, that she didn’t do that pictorial she was offered in Playboy—”not out of some moral thing,” she says, “but because I know how I look naked.” That’s the kind of reasoning that’s sure to provoke her parents—into a calm, measured response. As her father puts it, “She’s got her own form of WASP chutzpah.”

Kyle Smith

Ulrica Wihlborg and Carolyn Ramsay in Los Angeles

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