By John Stark
June 13, 1988 12:00 PM

Once upon a time, Andrea Marcovicci liked keeping her private life private. Then she met Henry Jaglom, the writer-director-actor who enjoys turning the emotional highs of his life into low-budget movies. Two years ago, in Always, Jaglom relived the breakup of his six-year marriage to actress Patrice Townsend; they both played themselves. After Always, Jaglom was distraught. Enter Andrea, the actress-singer, to help ease his loneliness. Jaglom’s new movie is Someone to Love, with the filmmaker and Marcovicci playing characters similar to themselves.

In the movie’s first scene, shot in the bedroom of Marcovicci’s Art Deco, Hollywood apartment, he argues commitment; she wants career.

So far, so accurate. Then the Andrea character refuses to let Henry spend the night, telling him she loves him but prefers to sleep alone.

Not quite true, says Andrea. In real life, she lets Henry stay over. Sometimes. Has the Jaglom influence made her more publicly candid? Not really. When Jaglom pushes Andrea to open up emotionally in the film, she shrieks, “Who do I have to f— to get out of this picture?” Onscreen and off, they seem a wildly unsuited couple.

“Finding the right words to describe our relationship is pretty hilarious,” admits Marcovicci, 39, who has never been married. “We’ve known each other for 13 years.” They met when Andrea auditioned for Henry’s film Tracks. Although she didn’t get the part, they stayed friends—not lovers. “Two years ago, we started spending a lot of time together after the end of his marriage and my last tragic love affair. We just have this terrific connection.” Jaglom, 50, would like the connection to be more terrific; he wants children. Andrea, he says, “has a whole different agenda.”

Even Mr. Magoo could see that. For the past three years Marcovicci has sung regularly at Hollywood’s Gardenia club, where her midnight appearances have drawn the celebrity likes of Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Bruce Willis. Earlier this year she brought her act to New York’s Algonquin Hotel, where she was cheered by such devout fans as Joan Rivers, John Malkovich and Walter Cronkite. Declared the New York Times: “She’s the cabaret personification of the sort of glamour Audrey Hepburn represented in films 20 years ago.”

Credit is due, in part, to Henry, who as advised and encouraged her transformation. “He’s the most supportive man I’ve ever met,” Andrea says. Blunt, too. “I first heard Andrea sing six years ago,” he recalls. “She had a partner then and was doing these cutesy, fake, ‘I love you, you love me’ kind of songs. The next day she asked me what I thought. I told her she was terrible, the worst thing I’d ever seen in my life. She cried for 30 seconds, then said, ‘I know. Now what’ll I do about it?’ ” With Henry as her adviser, Andrea began assembling a new act—actually five separate acts—dipping into her repertoire of 276 songs. Most are old, many obscure, all achingly romantic. “I’m going to make myself a wreck for you,” she tells her audiences. This week her first solo album, Marcovicci Sings Movies, hits the stores. “I can’t believe it’s finally happening,” she says.

Marcovicci’s success has not come without the requisite setbacks. She’s been on the verge of a major career breakthrough since 1972, when she got a 2½-year gig as Dr. Betsy Chernak on the daytime soap Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. In 1976 she was cast as Woody Allen’s girlfriend in The Front. The film bombed. After several years without a decent film offer, she decided to take what she could get. In Oliver Stone’s 1981 horror film, The Hand, Marcovicci got hunted down and strangled by Michael Caine’s severed eponymous extremity. “But,” she says, “the highlight of my film career was being eaten by a dessert in The Stuff [a 1985 horror flick].”

Then there was the stage. Andrea had starring roles in 1977’s Nefertiti and 1983’s Chaplin, both of which closed before reaching Broadway. TV treated her better. Movie of the week (Cry Rape), series (The Berrengers) and guest spots (Trapper John, M.D.) kept her working if not fulfilled. “I usually get the wounded-bird role,” she says. “Why I’m not some tough cookie is beyond me.”

It was probably her ultracivilized Manhattan upbringing. Her late father, Eugene Marcovicci, was a Rumanian-born doctor educated in Vienna. “He was 63 when I was born,” says Andrea, whose brother, Peter, 41, owns a racing-engine firm. Her mother, Helen Stuart, 29 when Andrea was born, is a retired singer. “She’s my biggest influence,” says Andrea. “While I was growing up, she’d sing torch songs at the breakfast table.”

From her old-world father, who played the piano and loved to waltz, Andrea acquired an elegant demeanor. He sent her to a finishing school in Switzerland, but she dropped out of North Carolina’s Bennett College after one year for show business.

Those who know Andrea say her niceness and childlike enthusiasm for life are indeed genuine. “You don’t have a drop of cynicism in you,” says Henry to Andrea, who’s sitting across from him in the living room of his spacious, sparsely furnished Upper East Side co-op. “Andrea has taught me to lighten up,” he says. “I was so committed to honesty, I drove people crazy.” Jaglom is currently writing a film to showcase Andrea’s talents called Nightclub, about (what else?) a torch singer. “Henry’s taught me that just being myself onstage, without makeup or a costume is enough,” says Andrea. He has another goal. “Andrea truly does not know she’s beautiful,” Henry argues. “Often I take her face, force it against the mirror and say, ‘Look! Don’t you know?’ ” Whether Andrea ever knows or not, you can bet the family farm that scene will turn up in a Henry Jaglom movie.