June 20, 1983 12:00 PM

When our name begins with a “Z,” you get used to being last on the roll call—any roll call. And until he was cast as Vince Romano, the hell-raiser turned rookie cop on NBC’s hit series T.J. Hooker, Adrian Zmed was beginning to wonder if they stopped handing out success after “T” for Travolta. Bad-boy roles in the failed movie Grease II and the failed TV series Flat-bush kept him working but did little to get him noticed. Still, Zmed enjoyed the experience. “I like playing the sexy misfit,” he says. “I had to be such a good kid growing up that I enjoyed acting out my fantasies in street-punk roles.”

With his dark eyes and lithe 155-pound body, Zmed, 29, has become a new sex symbol for the teen set, who have been writing him 200 letters per week since T.J. Hooker began last fall. What Zmed’s fans probably don’t know is that the object of their fantasies had a strict upbringing as the son of a preacher. The elder Zmed is a Romanian Orthodox priest, retiring June 26, who is the head of Holy Nativity Church in Chicago. Playing greasers and JDs was a relief from the burden of having “a father who is your father,” as Adrian puts it.

He has already posed for a sexy summertime poster, which will show him shirtless in a swimming pool with steam rising around him, but Adrian professes to see no conflict between being a sex symbol and the son of a holy man. “If you lead a good life, you’re not hurting anybody, and if you’re not polluting your body, that’s good enough.” Nevertheless, he admits that he resisted the notion that he is a successful example of “beefcake” on network television’s “year of the hunk.” “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why am I showing my bare chest in a poster?’ I guess you could say that I just got tired of saying ‘no’ all the time. If I go with this ‘hunk’ trend, it may enable me to do the serious dramatic work that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Adrian’s approach may be working. This summer he is branching out into music, cutting an album on which he sings with backup by Rick Derringer and his band. On T.J. Hooker next season, Vince will move into his own apartment after graduation from the police academy. He will still be the young cop opposite William (Star Trek) Shatner’s veteran police honcho. But Hooker producer Rick Husky insists Zmed “is not the raw rookie anymore.” Of Adrian’s future, Husky adds, “There’s a lot of fan mail from girls aged 12 to 20, but he also appeals to all age ranges. We feel that Adrian has all kinds of potential to be a big star.”

In his Chicago high school days, Adrian was a popular jock who never thought of acting until he shattered his leg playing football in 1968. The fracture was so severe that the doctors at first wanted to amputate. Adrian spent four months immobilized in a body cast. He went from star halfback to “a skinny, introverted, crippled kid” who walked with a cane. His football friends deserted him. “I learned something about values—the importance of being nice to people—from all that suffering.” When a drama teacher asked him to try out for Guys and Dolls, he discovered in acting “something that I could do well again.”

After graduating from Chicago’s Goodman School of Drama, Adrian won a part in the national touring company of Grease. In 1977 he moved to Los Angeles, where he did guest shots on TV series such as Bosom Buddies and Angle. Then came Grease II, which the public ignored. But his performance was one of the few things about the film fiasco praised by the critics.

Adrian lives in a two-bedroom house in Studio City with his high school sweetheart, wife Barbara, 29, and their son, Zachary Adrian, 7 months. (Adrian’s father and mother recently paid a visit to see the baby and to watch T.J. Hooker being filmed.) Barbara says she fell for Adrian watching him in a high school production of South Pacific. “I was fascinated by the way he moved his body,” says Barbara. “But when I went backstage to meet him, he was totally different from onstage, very sensitive and quiet. No matter what part he plays, that compassion comes through.”

Despite the posters and the beefcake hype, Zmed is hoping others will see that side of him as well. “Even though I’ve let down the gates, I can’t say I’m enjoying it,” says Zmed. “I’m an actor, not a hunk.”

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