Daryl Hannah: Rich Little Rich Girl

Will the Steel Magnolias star who one wanted to be "just like Shirley Temple" now follow her role model off the screen into a committed life public good works?

Three-year-old Daryl Hannah was thought by doctors to suffer from "flexibility problems." Her mother, Susan, prescribed ballet classes-nothing less than dance lessons conducted by her friend and fellow prominent Chicagoan, Maria Tallchief, the New York City Ballet prima ballerina and former Mrs. George Balanchine. Under Tallchief's riveting gaze, little Daryl pirouetted and jeted away her musculoskeletal cricks.

Born to affluence in Chicago's North Side, Daryl Hannah was a closed-off, faraway kid who sought release in dance, fairy tales, athletics, and "The Late, Late Show." At age seven, she went into a tailspin when her mother divorced Donald Hannah, a tugboat and barge tycoon. The breakup, according to a lifelong friend of the family's, embraced "some really rough times." Susan then married Jerrold Wexler, father of five, and captain of Jupiter Industries, a $3 billion Chicago-based empire that encompasses two public companies and interests in trucking, construction, manufacturing and finance. Young Daryl entered the rarefied realm of Serious Money: private planes, lavish estates in Telluride, Colorado, and at Long Grove, outside of Chicago. Hannah, brother Donald and sister Page spent a year living with their mother at the Knickerbocker Hotel, one of dozens owned by Wexler, while construction crews completed the Lakeshore Drive apartment building to which the family would later move. Daryl hid in laundry carts, sneaked into pantries, and spied on ballroom parties, half imagining herself the model for the heroine of the Eloise storybooks, the little rich girl who called the Plaza Hotel home.

But teachers at the progressive, $4,000-a-year Francis W. Parker School detected a child who signaled her inner distress through growing detachment and ritualistic rocking. Daryl's behavior, described in Rolling Stone as "semi-autistic," prompted suggestions to her parents from teachers that she be removed from classes for therapy. Again, her mother prescribed an unorthodox cure: a year of Caribbean island-hopping. "It was my mom's philosophy," Hannah says, "that may be I just needed to run free in my fantasies in order to exorcise the little demons at play in me. When I came back, I found it a lot easier to cope and keep my private, secret world to myself. I learned how to play the game of associating with people."

Daryl returned to the Parker School, which she claims to have "hated." By puberty, she had evolved into a fullblown space oddity classmates dubbed "Tooth-picks" and "Beanpole." Her hair spilled in stringy shocks over a mask of moonstruck dreaminess; she was lanky, rawboned, and athletic in a school top-heavy with self-assured thoroughbreds. "She was somewhat eccentric," former principal Dren Geer says of the kid who sealed her fate by becoming the only girl who played on the soccer team. Classmates and teachers recall her unexpectedly surfacing from cloud cuckooland with such self-mocking gestures as an impromptu after-class boogaloo. "She had a very wry, almost New Englander's sense of humor," Geer recalls. "You'd say hello to her walking down the hall and she'd pull a funny face and do a little antic thing." Still, the principal once asked Hannah's mother: "Is she drunk?" Laughed a parent long attuned to her child's quirks: "Well, you know, that's just Daryl."

It may be difficult for us to reconcile the mermaid naif Lorelei of Splash or the burnished love object, Roxanne, with the geek manque lurking in Daryl Hannah's offscreen past. Or is it? An aide to her manager arranges for Hannah and me to meet at a neighborhood deli less than four blocks from her home. When I first glimpse Hannah -- in a bulky cardigan, fashionably nerdy sunglasses, jeans, hair yanked back from her face -- all 5'9" of her is doubled-over, chaining her 10-speed Vega to a signpost. As we make our introductions, I can barely understand a word she is saying until Hannah slips off the retainer her orthodontist has just tightened. She crosses the restaurant with a striking combination of grace and lumbering shuffle -- the dancer and the jock.

Up close, Daryl Hannah appears winsome, far less strapping and squared-off than the way the camera often reads her. As we converse, she fidgets with her hair, giggles--her face hidden behind her hands--noshes a bagel (cream cheese seems irresistibly attracted to her cheeks) and apologizes for talking with her mouth full. Very much in evidence is the fragile, oddly endearing and fiercely private child that she and others describe.

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