Lois Chiles grew up in a Texas oil town called Alice near Corpus Christi, the daughter of a drilling contractor, but during those days she just wanted to cap those crude oil roots and make it out of the Lone Star State. She did, sort of, even though these days she appears in Dallas—or rather in CBS’ Dallas. At 36, after a lucrative New York modeling career and movies such as 1978’s Death on the Nile and 1979’s James Bond flick Moonraker (she played Holly Goodhead), Chiles has come full circle to hit a career gusher this season. As Dallas’ cunningly sultry Holly Harwood (suggestive of her Moonraker moniker), Chiles seems nearly a match for the formidable J.R. Ewing.
The latest in a long line of J.R. temptresses, Chiles plays the heiress executive of a Texas oil firm who cut J.R. in on 25 percent of her company’s corporate assets, which he figured entitled him to an even larger portion of her physical assets. That story line—blending sexual cat-and-mouse with gold-digging dog-eat-dog—has spiced up the Southfork Follies enough to keep Dallas as steamy as ABC rival Dynasty. Chiles already has held a gun to J.R.’s head, survived a sexual assault (off-camera), and tipped off Sue Ellen to her faithless husband. In the upcoming season cliffhanger, Chiles’ plans for J.R. may be enough to drive Sue Ellen back to the bottle.
For a huskily drawling, unassuming offscreen beauty, the olive-eyed, chestnut-haired Chiles fell into step with the Ewings rather quickly, though she had never seen the show when she got the part. “They dug up a tape fast,” says Lois. “I went down there pretty cold.” She is given only one script at a time, and often first runs through her lines while in makeup. “It was strange not knowing if Holly was a good or bad girl, or what she’d do next.” Neither does J.R. “She’s charming, a soft lady who plays a tough cookie,” says Hagman. “I just tell her, ‘Don’t worry about the lines, play the moment. That’s what you’re selling, not the words.’ ”
Growing up, Lois had seen more of the grit than the glamour of the oil business. “Our town was so flat you could see the next town 10 miles away,” Lois recalls. “These spidery rigs rose up in the plains at night, all lit up. It was heroic and almost romantic. Daddy would come home sometimes covered in mud from a blowout looking like a monster. It was exciting.” (Her father, Clay, and her younger brother, Bill, run Chiles Offshore Drilling in Houston.)
After high school, Lois studied history at UT, San Antonio, but switched to swanky Finch College in Manhattan (Tricia Nixon’s alma mater) in her senior year because, she says, “I always felt out of place in Texas. If you had creative urges, there was something wrong with you.” Four months later she strayed into a Glamour magazine model hunt at Finch. She soon was modeling regularly, strutting her stunning 5’8″, 125-pound frame for magazines and catalogs that led her to sign with the prestigious Wilhelmina agency.
She began acting classes and within a year lucked into the role of Robert Redford’s upper-crust girlfriend in 1973’s The Way We Were, and then played Jordan Baker in 1974’s The Great Gatsby. Those film roles got her major shoots with such top fashion photographers as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. One memorable week she had $16,000 in bookings. But Chiles told her agent “to cancel them all. I probably even felt guilty about acting with so little experience. I felt I just had no craft. Wilhelmina thought I was insane.”
She gave up modeling, committed herself full-time to her acting study, and moved to L.A. Then came calamity. Her younger brother, Clay, contracted Hodgkin’s disease, fighting a losing four-year battle before dying at 25 in 1979. During the last months of his illness, Chiles flew from L.A. to Texas every 10 days to give blood. “It brought us closer together as a family,” says Lois. “I learned a lot about living and dying and resolving pain.”
There was even more turmoil back at the Hotel California: a bittersweet three-year relationship with Eagles drummer/composer Don Henley. Though the romance is long over, Chiles still is rigorously vague about those days. “Sometimes you are just not right for each other. I don’t judge or condemn people’s life-styles,” she hedges. “I think everything is great in moderation.” Henley was busted in 1980—while two teenage girls were at his home—for possession of Quaaludes, cocaine and some pot. But Chiles, who had left him by then, says, “I was shocked to hear about it. He didn’t have drugs around the house. It was an accident, I’m sure.” (Henley’s drug charges were dropped when he agreed to a two-year probationary diversion program, but he was fined $2,500 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.)
Chiles flies solo these days. She rents a two-bedroom Santa Monica house and stays sleek with thrice-weekly two-hour ballet classes. Any man in her life, she says, would have to be comfortable with her independence. “I’m used to making my own money. I don’t take support from anybody else and I can’t live in somebody else’s scenes.” After six years in L.A., Chiles says she isn’t even “slightly interested in competition with other girls. It was shocking to see how people changed the way they acted towards me after I did Gatsby. I got scared by that. Consequently, no way my life’ll change with fame. I hate it when people pull that star trip.” Hear that, J.R.? Sounds like one Lone Starlet who means business.