August 15, 1988 12:00 PM

Jerry Hall had always wanted to be an actress; it just seemed so much more fun than being a plain old supermodel. But a budding thespian has to wait for the right offer. Hall knew it when she heard it: a proposal that she make her professional stage debut in a summer stock production in Montclair, N.J.

True, Montclair is what you might call really off-Broadway—about 15 miles from Manhattan, in fact. But Hall, who plays Mick Jagger’s leading lady in real life, was looking for an artistic challenge. And what could be more challenging than breaking in a role made famous by Marilyn Monroe: Cherie, the small-town floozy with big-city ambitions in William Inge’s Bus Stop. Seems the show’s artistic director, Phil Oesterman, had seen Hall on Letterman one night and exclaimed, “That’s my Cherie!” He called the next day, and Hall eagerly read for the role.

The rainstorm that soaked Montclair on opening night did nothing to discourage a near-capacity crowd, lured not only by Hall but by the chance of seeing Mick in the audience. Sure enough, Jagger, who had turned 45 that same day, slipped into a choice seat just as the lights went down. Several members of the crowd—an unlikely mix of shag-coiffed suburbanites and pale-faced New Yorkers—called out “Happy Birthday!” Mick cracked a very small smile.

Hall made her appearance 10 minutes into the play, wearing a purple dress that climbed toward uncharted altitudes on those endless legs. A garter belt and feather boa completed the ensemble—just the sort of couture she sported when her mother sent her off from Mesquite, Texas, to Paris at age 16 with a trunk full of homemade Frederick’s of Hollywood knockoffs.

Indeed, Hall has a lot in common with Cherie. “We both came from big families and small towns. We both read a lot of Hollywood magazines and dreamed about goin’ away,” says Hall. “I just tried to be honest in the character, using my past experience.” She also used the obliging Mick to help her memorize her lines. Says Hall: “He put on a real good accent.”

On opening night, critics may have quibbled with a few of Hall’s mannerisms, like flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder every few seconds. But fellow cast members were ready to nominate her for Miss Congeniality. “She is instantly likable,” says Apollo Dukakis—brother of Olympia, cousin of Mike—who has a major role in the play. “She has a wonderful, self-mocking humor about herself.” Hall was no prima donna, lunching with the cast and riding back to New York from rehearsals in the group van.

After the show, Mick and Jerry attended the cast party, where there was a large cake. One side sported a Ferrari and said “Happy Birthday, Mick”; the other side, decorated with a bus, read “Congratulations, Jerry.” There was no talk of a wedding cake. “The M word,” groaned Hall, when asked if she would ever marry the father of her two children. “Golly, I’m tryin’! Y’all quit rubbin’ it in!”

Hall would like to play Cherie on Broadway, then maybe in London. But for the moment, two weeks in Montclair will suffice. “I could hardly get to sleep [after opening night],” Hall said the next day. “It was over, and we didn’t mess up.”

—By Patricia Freeman, with Victoria Balfour in Montclair

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