A blond Scandinavian beauty, who is living with a Beverly Hills horse breeder she met on a brief visit to America, auditions for one of the most coveted Hollywood acting roles of the year. Her first reading is unimpressive. Dismissing her, the producer, director and casting agents see 700 other promising actresses, but none is right. One month later the producer remembers the glamorous, 5’8″ blonde. She is summoned back and, having meanwhile studied speech and acting, she performs better. Two weeks elapse, and she goes through one more screen test. At this point, in a nervous frenzy, she leaves town for Las Vegas so that if the news is bad, she won’t have to face her friends. The telephone call comes. The news, of course, is good.
Blending shmaltz with chic, it’s a story that might have been concocted by novelist Judith Krantz—and in a way, it was. For the plum role that Merete Van Kamp, 21, snatched was the title character in Princess Daisy, the four-hour, all-star (Robert Urich, Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach) NBC miniseries of Krantz’s best-selling novel about a dazzling European princess who surmounts baroque childhood traumas to become the million-dollar face in a cosmetics ad campaign. Due to air in November, Princess Daisy is a $5 million-plus extravaganza centered on a woman who, as producer Lillian Gallo says, “is uniquely beautiful, as opposed to girl-next-door beautiful or Hollywood beautiful—very European, well-dressed, classy.” In short, Merete.
At a press conference announcing the results of this two-year worldwide search for Cinderella, Merete—whose previous acting credits consist of bit parts in a TV movie and one Italian film—was asked why she thought she had won. “I think I was perfect for the role,” she replied. As reported in newspaper columns, the remark sounded conceited and smug. “I was actually joking,” she now explains. “What did they want me to say? How did I know why I was picked? I wasn’t the one who picked me.”
Although it would be hard to fault her looks, blue-eyed Merete does not have the striking dark orbs to go with the regulation blond hair that Krantz specified for Daisy. “I understand that Judith Krantz thought they would probably have to take a dark-haired actress and dye her hair blond in order to get those black eyes,” she shrugs. “But no one ever talked about that when they selected me. I suppose my eyes were good enough.”
Her European upbringing, Van Kamp points out, does resemble the background of Krantz’s heroine. Like Princess Daisy, Merete was the daughter of divorced parents—in Merete’s case, they split when she was 8. Born in Kolding, Denmark to a former German ballerina and the president of an international aluminum company, Merete—who speaks fluent French, English and German along with her native Danish—graduated from a Swiss boarding school and then moved to Paris. She quickly found work as a model, though she did not enjoy it. “You soon discover that the agency people look upon women as objects,” she says. “You are not allowed to speak. You just sit and look pretty. They cut your hair, change your makeup and your clothes, and sell you as that object.”
What kept Merete in Paris was her “first serious love affair,” with the son of a movie producer. It began when she was 18. “We lived on the top of this beautiful apartment building, hidden up under the roof,” she recalls. “It was very romantic. You could sit in the bathtub and look at the Eiffel Tower.” A lovers’ quarrel prompted Merete’s first visit to the U.S. “I was so madly in love that I would have jumped down from the Eiffel Tower for him,” she says. “At that age, I wasn’t very clever. After that big fight, I woke up tired of everything and decided to come to New York and Los Angeles to see if it was possible for me to live over here.”
When she returned to Paris after a four-week American visit, she found her boyfriend, following her example, had gone off to San Francisco. “I decided then that I really had to get out of there,” says Merete. What cinched it was the ardent courtship of horse breeder Edward Nahem, whom she had met during her Los Angeles sojourn. “When I returned to Paris, he followed me on the Concorde,” she says. “He obviously fell madly in love with me, so he took the plane to Paris and came knocking at my door. He was afraid I wouldn’t come back.” He needn’t have worried. Six months later, in the fall of 1981, Merete moved into his lavish Coldwater Canyon home.
Since Merete has thrown herself into acting (Daisy wraps this week), her lover sees her only at 5 a.m., when he gets up to make her breakfast. Recently he gave her a racehorse. “I only want to talk about acting,” she says. “He hopes that this horse is going to be a champ so that I’m really going to love horse racing.” Nahem, who is 10 years older than she, wants to stay out of Merete’s spotlight. “He doesn’t want to be part of this,” she says. “Horse breeding is what he’s into, heart and soul.” Marriage, of course, would make his distance from showbiz harder to maintain. But Merete hasn’t written marriage into her agenda. “He would like that, but I’m young and I find that I really don’t believe that much in marriage unless you have children. You only get in trouble. Now I’m in a position where I can say, ‘I don’t like you,’ and I can move out tomorrow morning.” Princess Daisy couldn’t have said it better.