October 30, 2000 12:00 PM

Nearly 20 years after he burned up the screen as Brooke Shields‘s obsessed pyromaniac boyfriend in Endless Love, Martin Hewitt understands what it’s like to be the object of unnervingly ardent attention. That movie, his first, “touched a lot of people,” he says, citing an Italian man who continues to send letters pronouncing him the love of his life. “I still get some pretty funky fan mail.”

It’s a wonder fans can find him at all. Despite the buzz from Endless Love, he spent the ’80s shooting forgettable B movies and doing the occasional TV guest spot. Strapped for cash, he started digging ditches and learning carpentry from a friend. Now 42, married and the father of two, Hewitt lives in secluded Los Osos, Calif., 200 miles north of Los Angeles, and runs his own business inspecting homes for prospective buyers. “I really don’t miss it,” he says of his brief Hollywood heyday. “I’ve got my own company. I have a nice house in a nice area. I’ve got it all as far as I’m concerned.”

Once, having it all meant being a star. Born in San Jose, Calif., the second oldest of six kids of Peter Hewitt, now 67 and retired as owner of a medical-equipment manufacturing firm, and his wife, Heather, 68, Hewitt first acted at age 14 in a school production of The King and I. He studied business at a community college before switching to theater.

While enrolled in a drama program and working as a shoe salesman, Hewitt saw an ad for an open call for a film directed by Franco Zeffirelli and beat out 5,000 actors for the male lead. “Of course, my head swelled up like crazy,” he says. “Franco, who is very paternal, fed my ego so that I would be very confident.” Confident enough, at least, to share steamy scenes with the 15-year-old Shields, fresh from her coming-of-age role in The Blue Lagoon.

Like Christopher Atkins, her costar in Lagoon, Hewitt speaks highly of Shields. “She treated me like a friend,” he says. During filming in New York City, she invited the homesick Californian to spend the weekend at her house in New Jersey, where they played board games.

Later, as a newly minted It Boy, “I drank a lot and I partied too much,” he admits. “I got caught up in the coolness of it all.” And he was unprepared for what happened next: not a lot. His second movie, Monty Python’s Yellowbeard, barely made a splash. “I was kind of surprised that I didn’t hear his name much after that,” says Yellowbeard director Melvin Damski. “He was a talented kid.” Before long, Hewitt was doing straight-to-video flicks. “I started at the top,” he says, “and I hung on for dear life as I fell back down.”

While making Crime Lords in South Africa in 1989, he met German-born flight attendant Kerstin Gneiting, whom he married in 1990. The birth of daughter Guinevere, now 7, moved Hewitt to settle down and concentrate on construction work. (Son Cailean arrived in 1995.) Branching out into home inspection, he opened his own company in 1993. “Any time an agent would call and say, ‘We want you to read for this,’ ” he says, “I’d go, ‘Man, I’ve got an inspection.’ ”

Still, he hasn’t quite shaken the acting bug. “It would be nice,” says Kerstin, 33, now a county health inspector, “if he had something more for his artistic outlet.” Not long ago, Hewitt learned of an ad asking if anyone knew where he was. Some filmmakers, it turned out, thought he’d be perfect for a lead role in a movie about drugged-out gay prostitutes in “West Hollywood. “It was kind of scary,” he says with a laugh. “I politely declined.”

Julie K.L Dam

Johnny Dodd in Los Osos

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