May 01, 1978 12:00 PM

Keith Carradine, 28, and Cristina Raines, 25, first teamed up in Grasslands seven years ago. It was an adventure movie shot in the wintry wilds of South Dakota; after being edited into four versions, it was mercifully shelved before reaching any public screen. The off-camera romance that began in Dakota isolation, however, has unreeled into one of Hollywood’s longer running affairs.

Raines (whose stage name was inspired by a drizzle) and Carradine (son of actor John Carradine) occupy a run-down one-story home in Los Angeles’ Topanga Canyon. They share household expenses and an aversion to marriage. “If you want to be with somebody, you want to be with somebody,” says Raines. “I don’t know if marriage would change that. I do know it’s really nice the way it is.” As for children, Carradine insists that the “stigma” of illegitimacy “is a man-made concept. No one questions it. I’m tempted to have a child outside marriage to show that he is not something less than another child.”

Keith is too busy these days to worry much about children, but it wasn’t always so. Despite his family connections and an effective performance in Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us, Carradine languished in near obscurity until 1975, when he appeared in Altman’s Nashville singing a folkish ballad titled I’m Easy. The tune, which was Carradine’s own composition, earned him a “best song” Oscar. Tina, as she is always called, appeared in that picture as Keith’s tenacious bedmate and backup singer.

Then last year The Duellists, which starred Carradine as a saber-rattling Napoleonic hussar (this time Raines was his wife), copped the “best picture” award at Cannes. Now he is the nominal star—nymphette Brooke Shields notwithstanding—of Pretty Baby, director Louis Malle’s movie about prostitution in old New Orleans that has aroused a lot of interest, much of it prurient. And, though Carradine’s reedy voice is an acquired taste, he has just released his second album, with Raines singing harmony.

Carradine’s reluctance about marriage is possibly traceable to his childhood. Born in San Mateo, Calif., he became the object of a custody fight when John Carradine and his second of four wives, actress Sonia Sorel, were divorced. A melancholy young Keith shuffled between Dad and a series of private schools and did not see his mother from the time he was 8 until he turned 15.

After a halfhearted stab at college (Colorado State), Carradine abandoned school in favor of a hippie’s life in Venice, Calif. He eventually moved in with half brother David (Kung Fu), then a virtual stranger and 13 years his senior. The pair set off for New York, where David was to audition for Hair with Keith as his pianist. Because of his age, David was rejected and the part given to little brother. (Three years ago David got his revenge when both brothers went after the Woody Guthrie role in Bound for Glory. This time Keith was too young.)

Despite his sometimes soporific acting style, Keith has done a dozen films since first appearing in McCabe and Mrs. Miller seven years ago. His father, a veteran of nearly 500 movies, “neither encouraged nor discouraged” his aspirations, says Keith. Still, père Carradine’s influence is clearly felt. Keith concedes: “The fact that the old man did it, and still does at 73, cannot be ignored.”

Raines once “thought acting was ridiculous.” Born in the Philippines, where her father, Peter Herazo, headed production in the Far East for Procter & Gamble, she was almost 5 when her parents divorced and she was sent to Florida to live with her grandmother and her aunt. Her first acting assignment was in a high school production of I Remember Mama. Raines recalls: “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.”

Later, while at Chandler School in Boston, she began modeling to help pay for tuition, and one day an assignment in New York turned into a screen test for Grasslands. Carradine, she says, was one of a group of “really strong, centered, creative people who pushed certain buttons that make you deal with yourself, but have fun too. I was suddenly dealing with things I wasn’t taught in college.”

She followed Keith to Los Angeles and for a year did commercials, print ads and TV walk-ons. In 1973 she won the plum role in Sunshine, a widely praised TV drama in which she played a young cancer-stricken mother. Small film roles led finally to a starring part in The Sentinel, a horror movie, and this February she won another choice TV role, a lead in a three-part adaptation of Sara Davidson’s 1960s memoir Loose Change. Unhappily the show was a disaster, technically (part of one segment was broadcast out of sequence) and in the ratings.

Their careers have not hampered the Carradine-Raines relationship, even when he was cutting his recent album and getting home at 4 a.m., just as she was leaving for the set of Loose Change. They like working together, even though “it throws other people off when we yell at each other,” Raines says. “But we know we can’t act differently just because we’re on a movie set.”

“There is so much mutual respect for each other professionally that they aren’t competitive,” says Chris Carradine, Keith’s 31-year-old designer brother. “Neither is afraid the other is going to get further along.” Adds Raines: “We don’t take anything for granted. When we are together, we spend the time with the attitude, ‘Okay, today is for us; this week is for us.’ ”

Away from Los Angeles, the pair go backpacking in the remote Sierras or on the Hawaiian out islands. At home Carradine is resuming formal piano lessons (he had a few as a child) on his grandparents’ 70-year-old Steinway grand in the Topanga living room. Raines cooks, casually but well—”a pinch of this, a handful of that, but it comes out all right.”

Two weeks ago Carradine began his 14th film, Old Boyfriends, which was written, and will be directed, by Nashville scriptwriter Joan Tewkesbury. Meanwhile Raines will be working at the L.A. Free Arts Clinic, teaching children’s classes in music, dance and pottery. “I love kids a lot and do want children of my own,” she says. Tina shows no more enthusiasm for wedlock than her housemate does though.

No matter. “Theirs is the best marriage I’ve ever seen,” says brother but not brother-in-law Chris, “with or without the piece of paper.”

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