November 12, 1979 12:00 PM

In an unpretentious house in suburban L.A. live two girls, their mother, father and baby sister. Melissa Gold (called Missy), 9, just got a hamster named “Benson.” Tracey Gold, 10, got a Teddy bear named “Shirley.” Are the Golds simply a typical Nielsen family hooked on the new fall TV schedule? Nope, the sisters named their mascots after the shows they star in. Television, too, is in the midst of a Gold rush.

When Soap went into spin-off cycle, ABC’s Benson emerged as the season’s first hit, with Missy as the governor’s daughter befriending the new butler, Robert Guillaume. “I’m not playing Amy Carter,” insists Missy, despite her long blond hair and blue eyes. Says Guillaume: “None of the clichés about child actors applies. She’s professional, loving and outgoing.” Tracey’s company is no less illustrious—she plays Shirley Jones’ genius daughter on NBC’s new Shirley. “Tracey is seasoned, an old pro,” approves Jones (who’s had some experience with showbiz kids—like son Shaun Cassidy). “We’re becoming a family.”

Each sister also auditioned for the other’s role, but they don’t feel competitive and don’t seem in danger of becoming the Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland of their generation. “If one gets it, we’re happy for her,” explains Tracey, the first to toddle into acting—albeit inadvertently. At 4 she tagged along on a Pepsi commercial call in New York with father Harry, 29, a busy actor himself (his latest TV movie with Julie Harris just wrapped). “I was eating a lollipop, and the man didn’t know I wasn’t sent on the commercial,” recalls Tracey. (Dad reports that then she said “commersicle.” as in Popsicle.) Harry missed, but Tracey was hired: “I was kinda young, but I knew I wanted to do it, and thought if I was good I’d do it again.”

By the time the family moved to California four-and-a-half years ago, both girls had sold enough cereal and burgers so that TV casting directors had discovered Golds in them thar’ shills. Tracey made what she calls her “legit” acting debut in Roots (“It was great, and I got to kiss Robert Reed,” glows the Brady Bunch fan), while Missy bowed in NBC’s Captains and Kings.

A combined total of 25 credits later, both have learned the only skill they lacked—writing rather than printing their autographs. Mother Bonnie, 32, an ex-advertising exec, finds ferrying her children to soundstages a full-time chore. “This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. The stage mother thing sickens me,” she says, referring to other, pushier women she sees on the set. But, she figures, “The girls love it, and financially they’ll be set. Their college educations will be paid for.”

Now that both are working five days a week, they’ve dropped public school and are tutored individually. Though still shy when other kids recognize them from TV, their mother says that showbiz is not trammeling their childhood. “You see mixed-up kids because of mixed-up parents,” she says. Failure to get a role creates a sense of rejection only “if the parent feels it and funnels it down.” If their acting ambitions don’t work out, Missy would like to be a scientist and invent “watermelon juice.” Tracey would become a teacher. In the meantime they rollerskate, read Judy Blume books, swim in their backyard pool and play with Barbie dolls just like real kids. The sisters even share a room, “but we have our own beds,” they explain in unison. “Except,” adds Missy, “when I have a nightmare.”

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