As co-hosts of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the ABC series launched last September, Jack and Holly Palance are network TV’s only father-daughter team. That’s kind of a Ripley item itself, considering their past. Growing up in Beverly Hills, Holly found her world “disgustingly affluent.” She also felt her now divorced parents “kept me away from acting” so completely that at 17 she spurned a chance at a Fox contract because she had no idea she could be an actress. In fact, after high school she went to Oxford on a six-month exchange program, fell in love with another undergraduate, and ended up staying in Britain 10 years. But in 1971, when she finally did decide she wanted to act, Jack encouraged her work—and critiqued it, he says, “with as little hurt as possible.”
Now, at 30, Holly is clearly a chip off the chiseled old block that is her 63-year-old father. She had become a semi-expatriate partly because she was always off with Jack on location—Berlin when she was 6, Geneva at 8, and Rome at 10. “Some children play in the park,” she says. “We went sightseeing around the world. My father would take us to castles and ruins. My mother [Virginia Baker, an actress turned film producer] dragged us to galleries and museums. He taught me to have compassion, to be curious about other people and not wait for life to happen—just get out there and take a bite from it.” The lesson took. “Holly has a sense of life,” Jack says. “She’s been careful, perhaps too careful, in her career. I see a brooding intensity in her that I’ve been accused of having.”
But she can also be detached. “I wasn’t surprised when my parents split 14 years ago,” she says. “They had stayed together for us [she has a sister, Brooke, 28, and a brother, Cody, 26]. It’s hard to pack two large spirits in one house.” Holly’s own housemate is British director Roger (Terror Train) Spottiswoode, 38, whom she wed this month. “The idea of being a wife is gorgeous,” Holly says. “But it’s not written in stone, though I think we have a good chance of making it.”
That goes for her acting, too. After drama school and some acting in England, she returned to the U.S. in 1979. (“I didn’t want to turn into a Henry James lady.”) Yet her goal wasn’t to hit Hollywood but to do stage work, so she performed in Romantic Comedy on Broadway for a year. Of Ripley’s, she says, “I first heard of the job nearly two years ago when my father said in passing he was looking for a co-host. There was no invitation in that declaration.” And when she was asked to audition, she initially refused.
Today Holly feels “ready” for L.A. at last, both personally and professionally. Notwithstanding her $7,000 a week salary, “I’m not a TV type,” she says. “On Ripley’s you don’t interact, you talk to the viewer on a one-to-one basis. It’s a new skill, but now I’m in love with the TelePrompTer.” Her main ambitions lie elsewhere. Of her career, she says, “You can’t go to bed with it or raise kids on it or take a walk in the country with it. A thousand elements go into a life, not just your name above the title.” Believe it or not.