By Fred Bernstein
March 09, 1987 12:00 PM

Something is nagging at Valerie Bertinelli. It shows. Bertinelli usually beams, bubbles, effervesces. But not today. Her glum look is especially surprising given her latest career coup. This week CBS is airing the eight-hour miniseries I’ll Take Manhattan, based on Judith Krantz’s kinky 1986 bestseller and starring Bertinelli as a magazine publishing heiress with a drop-dead wardrobe, three ex-husbands and a teenage daughter. You heard right. Our Val, Bonnie Franklin’s baby-faced daughter for nine seasons on One Day at a Time, is playing a grown-up, take-charge businesswoman. Even Krantz was skeptical at first. But after seeing Bertinelli in action on location in Toronto, Krantz was convinced. “It’s not the picture America has of this sweet little girl,” says the author. “She took over the role the way Vivien Leigh took over Scarlett O’Hara.” Val’s been around long enough to know hype when she hears it. “The show is well-done for what it is,” she says matter-of-factly, then shrugs, “but you know what the critics are going to say.”

Curled up on the couch of her Malibu beach house, Bertinelli runs a hand through her shaggy tresses and apologizes for sounding morose. Her husband, rocker Eddie Van Halen, after viewing the mini, admitted cheerfully, “I think the old lady looks really great on the show. I’d say it’s her steamiest role yet.” But Valerie won’t look at any of the steamy parts. She tried watching one scene where her character, Maxi Amberville, clad in a clinging red dress, tries to seduce one ex-husband, played by Jack Scalia. “Oh, I can’t watch,” she screamed to Eddie. “Turn it off.” Bertinelli owns up to a modest streak. “Most of the time I hate the way I look,” she says.

With Eddie off to work (he’s producing a solo album for the band’s Sammy Hagar), Valerie pads to the fridge for a snack only to frown at the diet chart taped to the door. Earlier her mother, Nancy, had commented: “Valerie could probably work on watching her weight a little more, and sometimes she has a hot temper. But she’s an outgoing person who really enjoys life.”

Valerie subscribes to all of the above. But now, at 26, she’s finding maturity something of a battle. “I used to think nothing bad would every happen to me,” she says. “Then I realized that I do not lead a charmed life, that I am not the luckiest person on earth.”

What changed her was a string of crises. Last March, Valerie, two months pregnant, suffered a miscarriage. “I’m still not over that one,” she says. Then in December Eddie’s father died. “Pa wanted grandchildren so badly,” says Valerie, whose bedside table is still piled high with books on child rearing. “Goddamit, I wish we hadn’t lost the baby so Pa could have at least seen the next generation.”

Like her husband, who found his escape in Van Halen’s 97-city tour, Valerie grabbed at I’ll Take Manhattan. “I was planning on drowning my sorrows, not working, so Manhattan came along at the perfect time,” she says. “Maxi was the perfect part for me after what I’d been through. I could dress up, put on makeup, get my nails done and wear glamorous clothes. I didn’t want to dwell on losing the baby.”

Still, the whys of the failed pregnancy haunt her. “It hurt so badly when I miscarried,” she says. “I think about it often and get down.” Valerie says she liked the feeling of being pregnant. “It was scary, but it was neat, too,” she says, suddenly ashamed for using a kid word like neat. “I just wanted to learn everything I could. I read all the time.” Valerie, who says she’d like two or three children, reports that she and Eddie, 30, have begun trying again. “If it happens, it happens,” she says, “but we’re not going to make ourselves crazy about it.”

Valerie is also determined not to let rumors about trouble in her marriage cut deep either. Those crises, she insists, “brought Ed and I closer than ever.” Valerie, who often accompanies Van Halen on tour, says that in six years she has never been apart from Eddie for more than three weeks. Observes Krantz: “She’s miserable when she’s not with him. Each seems to supply exactly what the other needs.”

To understand what such support entails, you have to check into Valerie’s background. The second oldest of four children, Valerie was born in Wilmington, Del. Her father was a GM exec obliged to move the family every couple of years. During one stint in L.A., a friend encouraged Valerie to try acting. “She was a shy little girl,” says her mother, “and we thought, ‘Maybe it will change her personality.’ ” After 75 unsuccessful interviews, Valerie began landing parts on commercials.

Then in 1974, when she was 14, Norman Lear chose Valerie from a cattle-call audition for the role of Barbara Cooper on One Day at a Time. Says Bertinelli: “I got a career handed to me whether I liked it or not. It completely changed my life.” By age 21 she was making a reported $20,000 a week. She attended the Hollywood Professional School with chums like co-star Mackenzie Phillips. Valerie insists she lost her naïveté fast. When Phillips started arriving on the set stoned, Valerie knew exactly what was going on. She says wryly, “I learned from Mac a lot of what not to do with your life.” That didn’t make her a prude. Valerie talks openly about losing her virginity in the back of a pickup truck, an experience she recalls as “disgusting.” She dated actor Scott (Porky’s Revenge) Colomby, who broke her heart when he called it quits. For a while she dated Dirk (The A-Team) Benedict and then had an affair with Steven Spielberg, whom she met while auditioning for a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I never felt comfortable with Steven,” she says. “The men I was involved with, they meant nothing, and I really don’t remember anything about them except that I was just going through the motions of life until I met Ed.”

That happened in Shreveport, La. Her brother had backstage passes to a Van Halen concert and invited her to tag along. When she saw Eddie, she says, “My heart melted, and I knew I didn’t want to be without him.” Valerie admits she wanted to sleep with Eddie. He made her wait a month, to get to know each other better.

When David Lee Roth left the band in 1986 after a much publicized feud with Ed, Valerie found her husband falling apart. “Ed developed headaches and an ulcer,” she says. “He was frightened of losing everything he had.” The problem was solved when Sammy Hagar joined Van Halen, which went on to release 5150, the group’s only No. 1 album. “My life has changed now that Ed’s a much happier man,” says Valerie. “Ed’s forgiven Dave already.” Valerie hasn’t. “I’m like a mother in that sense. Anyone who steps on Ed’s toes, they’re on my enemy list forever.”

Observes Valerie’s mother: “They’re a normal couple. And, thank God, they never let their work get in the way of their relationship. Edward is a little more inclined to think of his career. But I think half the time Valerie is just as happy being Susie Homemaker.”

Indeed, Valerie says, “The worst thing about me is that I’m so damned lazy.” Because her previous TV movies—Rockabye, Silent Witness, The Seduction of Gina and Shattered Vows—all won top Nielsen ratings, she can work whenever she gets the urge. She has tried to break into movies but was rejected for parts in Footloose and Ruthless People. “I’d love to be headstrong and a go-getter,” she says. “But if I was ambitious, I guess I’d just be working more. Yuk.”

These days the domestic life, and perhaps another pregnancy, are more of a lure. She and Eddie have two homes: One is a sprawling house in the Hollywood Hills, where Van Halen makes its records in a cluttered backyard studio. The other is a six-bedroom Malibu house that’s also home to Valerie’s mother, father and two of her three brothers. Says Valerie: “We’re lucky we’re a real close family.”

Her newfound domesticity also has a funny side. Valerie, who drives a black Mercedes, also clips supermarket coupons and often buys clothes from mail order catalogues. “Every so often,” she says, “I’ll go crazy and spend like a thousand bucks and feel guilty.” Recently she and Ed splurged on a Burmese cat named George. Despite the thrift, they are building their “dream house,” complete with four bedrooms, racquetball court and gym on a lot next to their Hollywood home.

While the world imagines a wild rock life for Mr. and Mrs. Edward Van Halen, spiked with fights and red-hot sex, the actress provides a glimpse of the real picture: On a typical homey evening, says Valerie, she and Eddie play video games until bedtime. Then, “I start reading. Ed falls asleep. Then I put the book down, turn off the light and the cat crawls under the covers.” The description makes Valerie smile. A baby would be the icing, but she’s happy with her life this way. Judith Krantz would be appalled.