By J.D. Reed
May 24, 1993 12:00 PM

GRANTED, THE SIGHT OF OLIVER STONE, Oscar-winning director and grand master of conspiracy theories, is enough to make much of Hollywood quiver. But Angie Dickinson? She of the stunning legs? Of the bottomless baby browns? Of the throaty whisper said to have lured legends the likes of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson and President John F. Kennedy (which she still denies)? Yes, even Angie Dickinson. “I just bumbled all over the place and blushed,” she admits of the first time she met executive producer Stone on the set of Wild Palms, his lush, sinister miniseries (ABC, May 16-19) about a television network’s foray into mind control. “I mean, he’s sooo magnetic. It was unnerving. I thought, ‘Oh, God. Now I’m going to have to try and forget you’re here so I can get through this scene.’ ”

Of course, just as she did as the coolly professional Sgt. Pepper Anderson (on NBC’s career-making Police Woman, 1974-’78), Dickinson delivered—and how. As Palms’ evil dominatrix Josie Ito—dressed, once again, to kill (or, at the very least, to maim)—Dickinson offers up deliciously creepy TV. And as for Stone, 46—sorry, fella. You’re way too old. These days. Dickinson. 61, is keeping company with 25-year-old Scottish music-stage actor John Barrow-man, whom she met at a dinner party last summer and has been “great friends” with since. “He’s enchanting, funny, sweet—and naughty,” she says. Adds Dickinson, cryptically: “Obviously I’m sleeping alone—most of the time.” So what if Barrow-man is also nearly 40 years her junior? “I’m not embarrassed to be with a younger man,” says Dickinson with a laugh, “except when I drop him off at school.”

Truth told, Dickinson earned such self-assurance the hard way. Born Angeline Brown in Kulm, N.Dak., she spent a difficult childhood watching her newspaper editor father, Leo, battle alcoholism and her strong-willed mother, Frederica, struggle to raise her and her two sisters. “You just get through the day and hope it’s not worse the next day,” she says of those early years. She moved to California in 1942, worked as a secretary and had a short-lived early marriage to Glen-dale College football player Gene Dickinson. A beauty-pageant win propelled her into acting—and into the publicized affairs with, among others, Sinatra, Carson and, eventually, composer Burt Baeharach, whom she wed in 1965.

When the marriage to Baeharach ended in 1981 (they separated in 1976), she partially blamed herself and the long hours she spent on the Police Woman set. “What kind of a wife is that?” she says. “I would have left too.” (She and Baeharach remain on speaking terms.) Fourteen years earlier, she and Bacharach had had a daughter, Lea Nikki, born three months premature and weighing only 29 ounces. Nikki, whose vision is impaired, barely survived. And Dickinson admits that as a result, her mothering was less than perfect: “God, I almost lost her at birth. So I didn’t understand about teaching a child limits, about saying no.”

Beset by such problems in the 1980s, Dickinson worried about her appeal. “There’s just no way that a 50-year-old woman is attractive to some men,” she said. “Your appearance changes, and your desirability.” Still, says friend and Police Woman costar Earl Holliman, Dickinson never lost “her wonderful sensuality,” and indeed she was squired by talk show host Larry King, among others.

Part of the credit for Dickinson’s current confidence goes to her close relationship with Nikki, now 26 and a gregarious geology grad student who lives at school and spends most weekends with her mom in their eight-room ranch house in L.A.’s Coldwater Canyon. A talented drummer who remains close to her father, an indulgent Nikki “couldn’t care less about my flirtations,” says Angie. Indeed, Nikki is fond of Barrowman, with whom she and Angie visit museums and hang out at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Beverly Hills when he is in town from London. “He’s such a partier,” says Nikki, “but they’re only friends. I mean, he’s younger than me.” Barrowman, who is set to record his first album, agrees with that emotional weather report. “Getting engaged or married isn’t in the forecast,” he says, “but we’re having a sensational time now.”

Dickinson will concede that for some things she is too old. “I turn down roles that are just older versions of Pepper,” she says. But the actress, who in October will play a libidinous spa operator in the film Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, is less interested in what she cannot do than in what she can. Like turn heads in Hollywood with the dishy young Barrowman on her arm. “I wouldn’t call it a romance,” she confesses in that familiar purr, “but it sure is a nice reminder of one.”