By Tom Gliatto
Updated April 01, 1991 12:00 PM

Lane Davis is reliving every actor’s cherished moment—the big call for the big part. The 14-year-old holds an imaginary phone to his ear. “Okay, I didn’t ‘get it, right?…What? You mean I got it?” Got it he did, all right—a starring role in a CBS movie, A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story, airing on April 2 (9 P.M. ET, see page 11). “I cried,” Lane says. “I cried with joy.”

This was Lane’s own triumph. Two years ago the up-and-coming child actor—who had filmed a small part (as a boyhood friend of Ron Kovic’s) in Born on the Fourth of July and had just been cast in both She-Devil and the Broadway revival of Gypsy—was hit by a car while bicycling in his suburban Miami neighborhood. His brain was lacerated by bones from his skull. The injury partially paralyzed his right side and left his speech severely impaired.

“We never expected Lane to be acting again,” says his mother. Donna, 44, who runs a medical-transcribing business from their home. “Our whole lives changed.” Since the 1989 accident, life in the Davis household—which includes father Bob, 44, a Dade County fireman—has been focused on whatever recovery Lane could attain. After nearly two years of physical therapy, he has limited mobility in his right arm and leg. His speech has improved but remains halting.

Last fall the eighth grader rejoined regular classes at Palmetto Middle School and is doing well. As for the imagination and energy that Lane had devoted to acting since age 7, “we tried to find something to fill the void,” says Donna. One blissful new activity has been a monthly trip to Key Largo, Fla., where Lane swims with dolphins in a program for handicapped children. “They’re wonderful,” says Lane. “Beautiful.”

But if Lane for a time forgot about showbiz, showbiz—or at least Nancy Carson, Lane’s New York City agent—didn’t forget about him. “I came home one night,” says Donna, “and there was a message from Nancy, saying something about casting for a movie.” The movie was Triumph of the Heart, about Ricky Bell, the all-American running back from the University of Southern California who later starred for the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and died of polymyositis, a degenerative muscle disease, in 1984. (Bell is played by Mario Van Peebles, director of the current film hit New Jack City.) Carson had proposed Lane for the part of Ryan Blanken-ship, a handicapped boy whom Bell had befriended in 1980.

In December, Donna flew with Lane to Houston, where the production was being cast. “We know that nothing’s wrong with his memory,” says Donna. “So I figured, okay, we’ll memorize his lines on the airplane.” But nerves got the best of him. “As soon as he got there, the lines went right out of his head,” says his mother.

Despite the butterflies, executive producer Alan Landsburg couldn’t get Lane out of his head. “We knew we wanted Lane,” he says, “because of his sensitivity.”

“Very few people have had to face what Lane has faced so early in life,” says Van Peebles. “He’s a hero.” And a super trouper, as he proved when filming Ryan’s climactic run in a Special Olympics race. It was impressive enough that Lane was running at all—he hadn’t done that since the accident. But, Lane remembers, “I was running as fast as I could, and I tripped and fell.”

He broke his right arm but insisted that the day’s filming be completed. “The doctors just put a splint on the arm,” says Donna. “He shot the rest of the day with no painkillers, nothing.”

After the fall, Lane wore a camouflaged cast. That sort of cast doesn’t matter to him anyway. It’s the other kind he cares about, the actors—Polly (Flo) Holliday (“I love her”), Susan (L.A. Law) Ruttan (“She’s so nice, so funny and sweet!”) and Van Peebles. Summing up Mario, Lane lapses into teenspeak. “He’s so cool.” (Lane had been similarly enthralled by The Fourth of July cast, many of whom sent greetings after the accident—star Tom Cruise sent a huge care package.)

“Lane and I,” says Van Peebles, “are both kids at heart.” They even kidded during one take of a poignant scene between Ryan and an ailing Bell. “It was a long shot of them walking across a field,” says Donna, “and they were talking quietly to each other. All of a sudden they started undoing their sweatpants. They kept on doing the scene in their underwear.”

“We should have mooned them,” Lane says.

Even now, reminded of his tearful goodbyes to cast and crew, Lane cries a little. “I don’t know which you love more,” his mother says, “making movies or the people.” “Both,” Lane replies.

It would be more accurate to say that Lane loves movies, movie people and—ever since his therapy—those dolphins. “If I make it as an actor,” Lane says, “I want to be an actor and a marine biologist.” Or he might want to try directing.

Only time will tell whether his medical condition improves. One sure thing in Lane’s future right now is his 15th birthday, coming up April 8, when he’ll be old enough to get his driver’s permit. Lane may need some special equipment because of his right arm, but he already knows what car he wants. “White outside. White interior. Sunroof. LeBaron,” he says.

Tom Gliatto, Cindy Dampier in Miami