March 08, 1999 12:00 PM

I didn’t understand the mystique,” says Dina Ruiz Eastwood of the pre-Clint phase of her life. That changed in 1993, when the then-KSBW TV news anchor in Salinas, Calif., was dispatched to nearby Carmel to interview the actor-director. His western Unforgiven had just won four Oscars. “The interview was supposed to be about 15 minutes, but we ended up doing more than 3 hours,” says Dina, 33, who had never seen an entire Eastwood film. “By then I knew why people found him so attractive.”

Clint Eastwood had made her day—and she his. “I thought she was a very interesting lady,” says the famously laconic Eastwood, 68. So interesting, in fact, that three years later he took Ruiz as his second wife. (He and Maggie Eastwood, mother of two of his five children, divorced in 1980.) Nine months after that, their daughter Morgan, now 2, was born. “They’re a very tight couple,” says Ruiz Eastwood’s friend Jennifer Hodges, a radio news anchor in San Francisco. Of course there’s that 35-year age gap. “But he’s always been in great shape,” says Ruiz Eastwood, host of Quest for Excellence, a half-hour series on California education issues. “And we clicked even though he’s low-key and I’m high-key.”

The wattage is on display on Quest, which airs on 18 cable stations in the state. Her KSBW anchor work caught the attention of a Quest producer, who asked her to audition for the show, which is funded by the California Teachers Association. As host she helps edit the script to root out jargon and introduces news segments on current educational issues (from bilingualism to gay teenage suicide). “Dina saves the day by keeping it direct and simple,” says Quest managing editor Rose Dean. “She is passionately committed to making life better for kids.”

And, where possible, more inspirational. As the wife of Dirty Harry, she can snag celebrities, from Oprah to Kevin Costner, for interviews about teachers who influenced them. “By letting someone famous talk about their teacher way back when,” she says, “we share the memory and maybe get inspired too.”

The Fremont, Calif., native was herself born for the camera, says father Mike Ruiz, 55, a Bay Area high school math teacher. “She has the gift of gab.” But young Dina (whose younger brother Kyle is a musician-actor in San Francisco) most keenly felt a lack. “I hated not being blonde,” says Ruiz Eastwood, whose father is half-black and half-Japanese and whose mother, Mary Lou Ruiz, is white. (They’re now divorced.) “I was usually the only brunette among my friends.” Her outlook changed when, as a high school senior, she saw Flash dance, the 1983 Jennifer Beals hit. “I thought, ‘Hey, she’s mixed. This color might be okay.’ ”

After graduating from San Francisco State in 1989 with a broadcast-journalism degree, Ruiz worked her way up through KSBW. “She was always joking and upbeat,” says a former KSBW boss, producer Chris Haubert. “Yet I’ve never seen anyone so professional. She never missed a beat.” Certainly not when she met up again, a year after their first encounter, with Eastwood at a fund-raiser in Carmel. She recalls, “A voice behind me says, ‘Is this taken?’ ‘No,’ I say. I turn around; it’s Clint. ‘Oh, you,’ I say. ‘Great.’ About 20 minutes later we were holding hands under the table.” They wed in Las Vegas in 1996.

Marriage to a star, says Haubert, “hasn’t gone to Dina’s head.” But then stardom doesn’t seem to have warped Clint either. Eastwood, who also has a 5-year-old daughter, Francesca, with Titanic star Frances Fisher, “does diapers and cooks,” says his wife, who lives with him in a modest three-bedroom house in Pebble Beach. “He even cleans up.”

Her own Quest duties are sufficiently light—eight hours a week during taping season—to allow Ruiz Eastwood to concentrate on raising Morgan (whom she calls “a handful of hyperactivity”). And to catch up on her husband’s oeuvre. “I’ve seen eight of his movies,” says Ruiz Eastwood, “and have about 40 to go.”

Tom Gliatto

Ron Arias in Carmel

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