January 29, 2001 12:00 PM

Six years of bad hair!” That’s how Stepfanie Kramer describes her mid-’80s stint as Sgt. Dee Dee McCall on the NBC police drama Hunter. “One year I did some frizzy Afro style,” she recalls with a cringe. “Oh, and thick makeup. Wow, you could slather it off me with a spatula.” Not to mention the Me Decade’s signature boxy suits. “Was there even a body in there, hidden underneath all those big coats and shoulder pads?” asks the 44-year-old Los Angeles native. Then, she adds in mock horror, “I hear all that is coming back. I think some people are still living in the ’80s!”

Not Kramer. Since exiting Hunter in 1990 after six seasons, she has focused on raising her daughter Lily, 6, and on cultivating her career as a musician. In 1999 she released her first pop CD, One Dream, on an independent label, and she is working on a second album. “I like both acting and singing,” says the classically trained mezzo soprano, “but music is more freeing for me.”

Yet while Kramer has left Hunter behind, fans of the show have stayed loyal. Now in syndication, it ranks as the highest-rated daytime show on the TBS network and enjoys even wider popularity abroad, especially in China. As a result, Kramer’s Hunter costar, Fred Dryer, is considering producing a Hunter feature film to be distributed directly to China. Kramer says she’d happily participate. “I think,” she says, “it would be a hoot!”

Considering the frenzy surrounding her first China visit in 1987, Kramer would do well to keep a low profile on any return trips. “I tried to walk in Beijing and didn’t make it more than half a block before I was recognized,” she recalls. “I had sunglasses on, no makeup and was wearing a baseball cap. It didn’t matter. I was mobbed.”

Life was considerably quieter for Kramer in the mountains of Colorado, where she moved in 1991 shortly after meeting financial planner Mark Richards, whom she married a year later. The two were introduced when both were attending the Colorado State Fair. “We met at the pig races—go figure!” says Kramer. “We pretty much dated right away.”

Last September they separated, and their divorce was finalized in January. “It just didn’t work out,” she says. Kramer has since relocated to L.A., where she and Richards share custody of Lily. “Stepfanie is very patient with Lily,” says actress Earlene Davis, 44, Kramer’s best friend. “Certain people are meant to be mothers, and Stepfanie is one of them.” Agrees Kramer: “I was absolutely willing to be a full-time mom. I wanted it.”

She also wanted, since age 6, to be a performer. The daughter of Grace Kramer, an artist, and her husband, Oscar, a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Kramer and her brother Wes, 45, a Web site designer, grew up in an enriching environment. “When I was little, I couldn’t take a nap unless I was listening to the 1812 Overture,” she recalls. Then, at age 12, tragedy struck. “My father died of a blood clot to the heart—just like that,” she says. “It was hard for me to deal with.”

After graduating from high school, Kramer studied music and acting at L.A.’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Over the next several years, she won various TV roles while also singing at local bars.

Then, in 1984, she landed the costarring role opposite Dryer on Hunter. As the show’s sole female star, Kramer “was a flower among thorns,” says Dryer, 54, with a laugh. “One time one of the guys showed up with a fart machine and kept farting during the take. She’d lose it during a scene, while I could hold my mug for a little longer.”

After six seasons on Hunter, Kramer turned in her badge. “I wanted to focus on my music,” she says. “And I wanted my life back. The show took 80 hours a week.”

These days, Kramer devotes most of her time to raising Lily and writing songs for her next album. She also makes occasional TV appearances. “From the time I left Hunter till now, I have been through seven different lifetimes!” she says. “But I don’t mind taking risks. If you don’t, you’re never going to know what might’ve happened.”

Michelle Tauber

Paula Yoo and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles

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