She’s the milk-fresh sweetheart of CBS’ smash sitcom, One Day at a Time. He’s the guitarist of a heavy-metal band whose lead singer carries Lloyd’s of London insurance against paternity suits. So even Valerie Bertinelli, 21, admits that her marriage last April to Eddie Van Halen, 26, of the rock group that bears his surname, might conjure up images of Beauty beset by the Beast. Giggles Bertinelli, “Looks bad, doesn’t it?”
But those are the only appearances that are deceiving. In truth, Bertinelli bears a disarming resemblance to her semi-hip but fundamentally wholesome One Day counterpart, Barbara Cooper. “Barbara is 80 or 90 percent Valerie,” says Bertinelli, who herself had a 10:30 p.m. curfew until she was 16. And, like the virginal Cooper in a memorable One Day episode, Valerie felt out of sync with her sexually more adventurous high school classmates. “I went through the same peer pressure that Barbara went through, and I didn’t do all the things other people were doing,” she says. “When I look back on it, I was really boring.” Hardly. Over the years Valerie has dated actor Dirk (Battlestar Galactica) Benedict and director Steven Spielberg.
Still, Bertinelli is proud of her principles—and that her winsome CBS movie this week, The Princess and the Cabbie, contains “not one dirty word, not one sex scene and just one kiss.” So the question remains: What’s a nice girl like that doing with a guy who plays guitar with his teeth? Simple, says Valerie: “He’s not the typical rock star. It shocked me that he was so normal.”
When she first saw Eddie’s picture, in a finger-pointing pose on his 1980 LP Women and Children First, she thought, “What a cutie!”—and forgot about him. Then, during last year’s actors’ strike, Valerie visited her parents in Shreveport, La. and joined her brother Patrick, 17, who had passes to a local Van Halen concert. On meeting Eddie backstage, she says, “He gave me exactly the same finger-pointing pose, said, ‘You’re Valerie Bertin…,’ and I slid down the wall.” Eddie remembers, “I’d seen her on the show and thought…hmm, I’d like to meet her. When she turned up I was amazed. I thought, ‘There she is! I want it!’ No, actually I was very nervous.”
“After the concert,” Valerie continues, “we sat and talked for hours and hours. We realized we had a lot in common. We talked about our parents, Holland [where he was born], how strict our upbringings had been, what it’s like to be sensitive and scared of people. He has the same kind of scared feelings I have about the business.” The capper came when she found that, despite three platinum LPs and three world tours, Van Halen still lived at home in Pasadena with his Indonesian mother and his father, a professional musician. The family emigrated to the U.S. when Edward was 9. “As soon as I met them I could see why he was so normal,” says Valerie. “I mean, does Mick Jagger live with his mother?”
Van Halen, who speaks softly but carries a thundering Stratocaster, explains, “I’ve always been the quiet one in the band—the rest of the guys make up for me.” Especially lead singer David Lee Roth, a publicist’s dream and parent’s nightmare who has said that rock should give the “same kick as the first seven minutes of a porno flick.” “That’s not Eddie,” Valerie assures. “The image is only his by association.”
He doesn’t miss it. “I don’t think the other guys like [my getting married] too much. But I love it. Best thing I’ve ever done,” allows Van Halen. Elaborates the more demonstrative Bertinelli, “I’ve never felt better or more happy. Even when I feel sad now, I’ve never felt more fulfilled. It’s crazy. I never thought anything could be this wonderful. Everything, good or bad, is…euphoric!
“I’m looking forward to having kids, and Edward wants to be a father very much,” Valerie adds. “But we’re waiting a couple of years because he’s away on tour, and I still have a year left on the series. Both of us want to be home; we don’t want to be part-time parents.” Any kids will be raised with their parents’ Catholic values. “We don’t go to church all the time, only because we can never find the time,” says Bertinelli. “Well, that’s not a very good excuse. But I don’t think you have to go to church every week to keep the faith—and we do keep the faith.”
The third of four children of a General Motors executive, Bertinelli was a “GM brat” who shuttled from Wilmington, Del. to Clayton, Del. to Clarkston, Mich. to Northridge, Calif. to Oklahoma City and back to Northridge before she was 15. “We’d move, I’d cry, I’d take perhaps a couple of years to make friends and we’d have to move again,” she recalls. “It made me shy, but it also drew me closer to my three brothers—I was a bit of a tomboy.” Her mother enrolled her in acting lessons as a shyness cure, and at 11 Bertinelli landed a TV commercial for J.C. Penney’s. “The dress fit,” she shrugs, “so they said, ‘Okay, you got the job.’ ” She did six more commercials before attending a cattle-call audition at 14 held by producer Norman Lear, who had announced he was seeking a perfect American teenager for One Day at a Time. “I think he was looking for his daughter, Maggie,” believes Valerie. “I got the part because I looked most like her.”
Despite the show’s success, Bertinelli says she lived a relatively typical teenage life offscreen—doing chores at home, “hanging out with girlfriends” from Granada Hills High School (she graduated in 1978 with a B average), traumatically breaking with her first steady, TV actor Scott Colomby. The real drama was on the set. Last year co-star Mackenzie Phillips frequently showed up blitzed on drugs and eventually was fired. “I didn’t know what to do to help her,” Valerie recalls. “I just started crying. It was a hard thing for all of us.” After a much-publicized rehabilitation effort, Phillips has returned to tape a few episodes this season. “She looks good, she seems happy—same old Mac,” says a relieved Valerie. “It’s real normal again.”
So, as much as possible, is Bertinelli’s life. She sometimes flies out weekends to meet Eddie, who has just wrapped a six-month national tour, but Valerie frequently skips his show unless “it’s a big, important concert, because he gets nervous.” She’s learned to be wary “when he comes backstage and gives me a hug because I get sweat all down my front. Now I hold out a towel when I see him coming.” After a recent getaway to Mexico flopped—”It rained, the power went out and I got an earache,” reports Eddie—they cherish even more the few days each month they can relax together at the luxuriously rustic (indoor sauna, sunken bath, pool) three-bedroom Hollywood Hills hideaway she bought last year. “We hardly ever go out,” notes Valerie, but exceptions include small dinners with friends or expeditions to watch Edward’s lederhosen-clad father play sax and clarinet with a polka band in San Fernando.
“I know I have a high-paying, high-visibility job, but aside from that I’m no different from anyone else,” assesses Valerie, who reportedly earns $20,000 per One Day episode. “Sometimes, when we fight, I think the world is going to end. But we make up, and making up is part of life. When people express doubts about us, it drives us crazy. We’re both monogamous people. I trust him, he trusts me, and there’s no way anything would ever happen. Maybe I’m in the clouds too much,” allows Bertinelli, “but I’m just happy.”