CHAPTER 2: Kristy's Starburst

Christina Ann McNichol burst into the world on September 9, 1962 [should be, Sept. 11], in Los Angeles, California. The arrival of the brown-eyed, brown-haired baby girl was eagerly awaited by mom Carollyne, dad Jim Jr., and fourteen-month-old Jim III. Two years later, Tommy was born, and the family was complete, at least for awhile.

When Kristy was just three, Jimmy four, and Tommy not yet two years old, Carollyne and Jimmy McNichol were divorced. The children were too young to realize what had happened or why, but it made a big change in their lives. For one thing, Daddy was no longer always there. For another, Mommy had to find a way to keep the family housed, clothed, and fed.

Although only twenty-two at the time, Carollyne McNichol jumped right in and took over. She sent Tommy to live with his grandparents in Burbank and got herself a job selling cosmetics. Soon after she moved on to a secretarial position at the William Morris Agency; she began auditioning for extra parts in TV and movies. She's a pretty woman, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and performing came easy to her. Also, the fact that she was able to take the two older children to the studios was a bonus. Of course, Jimmy and Kristy were fascinated by what was going on around them!

After a couple of years Jimmy decided he wanted to be part of the action, and at seven made his first commercial -- for the Band-Aid people.

"I've never been forced into show business," Kristy says. "When I was really little, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. (Jimmy wanted to be a veterinarian.) Then I changed my mind when I saw my mother and brother involved in show business."

"Not only were Mom and Jimmy enjoying what they were doing, but everyone around them was having a ball," Kristy goes on. "I thought to myself, 'Boy, that looks like fun.' I knew right away this was for me."

Kristy was almost an instant hit. Her very first interview won her a TV commercial -- for Kraft Cheese. But seven-year-old Kristy wasn't quite ready. She took one look at all the lights and cameras and started to cry. It could have been the end of a beginning, but fortunately Carollyne was nearby, and soothed her sobbing daughter into working shape. After that first case of stage fright, Kristy took everything in her stride.

For the next two years, Kristy made dozens of commercials -- for Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, and Hostess Cupcakes (she and Jimmy were cast together). The experience was invaluable. Both she and Jimmy claim they developed their remarkable photographic memories during their early years in TV commercials. It's a very special talent that lets them memorize lines in record time.

Looking back on those days, Kristy remembers them as fun -- sort of -- but not the kind of work she prefers today.

"I don't like going from one job to another," she says. "I enjoy getting to know people. It's fun going to work and being with people that you feel at home with. I don't think it's fair having to meet a whole new crew every day."

But that's show business, and it didn't take Kristy very long to get into the swing of things. When she was nine she was interviewed and cast for a segment of "Love American Style," and as she says, "I haven't stopped working yet.

Kristy soon began making guest appearances on some of the most popular TV series. She did one episode of "Bionic Woman," then two "Starsky and Hutch" shows, both as an orphaned petty thief who instantly won the hearts of not only its stars Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Hutch (David Soul), but of the entire crew on the series.

She was so impressive that when the 1974 series "Apple's Way" was being put together, Kristy was cast in the role of Patricia. "Apple's Way" was the story of the Apple family of Appleton, Iowa, and a really big career break for Kristy. She enjoyed doing the show immensely, but not as much as she loves playing Buddy on "Family."

"When I was cast in 'Apple's Way' with Ronnie Cox, I was thrilled," Kristy remembers. "I was sorry that the series was cancelled because it was fun, but I've been told that everything happens for the best, and I'm beginning to find that to be true."

From "Apple's Way" to "Family" wasn't a very big leap, and Kristy has managed to fit a lot of other performances in along the way.

When Kristy signed a contract with ABC to do "Family" she also agreed to appear in lots of specials -- "Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes," "Us Against the World," "Battle of the Network Stars" -- plus her own special with James that introduced ABC's "After-School" programs. To date she's done three "ABC After-School Specials" -- "Fawn," "Me and Dad's New Wife," and "Pinballs."

CBS snared her with an exclusive contract to do five made-for-TV movies in the next five years. Like Mom, Like Me, starring Kristy and Linda Lavin, was the first. These films are big-budget, high-quality projects that will make her even more visible as a performer.

For NBC (in a contract that she signed before the CBS deal), she starred in her very first romantic drama, The Summer of My German Soldier. She played a young Jewish girl in love with a German prisoner of war being detained in an American prisoner-of-war camp. She was superb, and her tender, moving portrayal of the confused young girl could win her an Emmy nomination.

A small role in the feature film, Black Sunday, was to be her big-screen debut, but unfortunately her scene wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Kristy has also taken two "Love Boat" cruises, actually going on location with the series to the coast of South America and to Acapulco. On one of them Kristy got her very first "on-screen" kiss from costar Scott Baio, who plays the wise-cracking, street-smart nephew of the Fonz on ABC's "Happy Days." Kristy says they have remained good friends ever since.

Kristy and Jimmy are really into sports, and they love doing TV sports shows, no matter how busy their schedules are. They are both competitive and usually excel at anything they set their minds to.

On one of Kristy's appearances on "Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes," she outdid Olympic decathlon winner Bruce Jenner -- on the skateboard! But skateboarding is just one of Kristy's many skills. She also got the best of Robert Conrad, star of "Black Sheep Squadron," in a "Battle of the Network Stars." That was in a kyack racing event!

"Those TV sports programs," Kristy confides gleefully, "that's not work. I think I should pay them because I enjoy it so much."

It's no secret that another show she would have gladly paid to be on was the "Donny and Marie Show."

"For the longest time," Kristy says, "I was trying to figure out a way to get Donny on our show, but the way luck had it, I appeared on his. It was such a ball, I felt guilty taking a paycheck."

Everyone connected with the show thought Kristy was dynamite. "She's one in a million," one member of the crew exclaimed. "Kristy is a pro. She not only knows her lines, she knows everyone else's. She's fun to have around and certainly sets the pace for everyone."

Kristy says she's had a crush on Donny since she was ten when she hung around the studio watching him tape the Osmonds' show in Hollywood. She announced her feelings for Donny while she was co-hosting the "Mike Douglas Show!" After that everyone on the "Family" set teased her about it.

"You know something funny," she says, "I'm only normal. How many other girls my age feel the same way about Donny as I do? There are many, and you might just say that I'm one of the group."

Being just one of the group isn't Kristy's usual way. She considers herself a leader, but in this case is a contented follower.

She's still hoping that "Family" scriptwriters will somehow come up with a role for Donny in the not-too-distant future. It would be quite a switch for Donny -- and a thrill for Kristy who now considers herself just another of Donny's many ardent fans.

One of the reasons Kristy enjoys Donny so much is that she admires the closeness in the Osmond family. "I guess you can say that the McNichol family is a great deal like the Osmonds," she says with pride. "We're very close, and do everything as a family. We really have fun out of life, which is what life is all about, isn't it?"

In addition to sports and being with people she likes, Kristy has a lot of fun dancing. She rarely passes up even a single opportunity to go out and disco.

When RCA Records gave Kristy and Jimmy a party at New York's top disco, Studio 54, celebrating the release of their first album, Kristy and Jimmy McNichol, it was truly fantastic. Kristy and James danced until dawn. Some of their favorite people were there: mother and brother Tommy, of course, their grandfather, too. Dick Clark stopped by to say hello, and had such a good time he decided to stay. Brooke Shields stayed for a dance or two, and Burt Reynolds proved to everyone he could do a mean hustle.

Burt Reynolds and Kristy McNichol are very special friends. He was first drawn to Kristy when he saw her on "Family," and decided to cast her in a new movie, The End, that he directed and starred in.

"Kristy is a tremendously instinctive actress," Burt has said. "She makes acting look terribly easy, which is the greatest compliment you can pay an actor."

That certainly is a pretty fine compliment, and Burt's feelings were a deciding factor in offering Kristy the role of Julie. It wasn't a terribly big part, but it was very important to the central theme of the movie.

In The End, Kristy played the perky young daughter of Burt and Joanne Woodward. Kristy was in very distinguished company in this movie. Besides Burt and Joanne, Robby Benson, Sally Field, Carl Reiner, Myrna Loy, and Pat O'Brien were in the cast. All are seasoned professionals, and Kristy held her own.

And Burt treated Kristy with the same consideration and respect he gave to all the stars in the cast. Kristy was very impressed, and honored by his consideration.

The feelings were indeed mutual.

"He does two things so well that I hope I will be able to do," Kristy says, "act in comedies and direct films. He's a credit to our profession. I hope the same thing can be said about me someday."

Obviously, Kristy sets her goals very high. Determined as she is, she really knows exactly what she wants.

"My life is great right now, but I don't want to play kids all my life," Kristy says, bursting with expectation. "I can't wait to get some glamorous roles. Right now I get all these scripts which aren't really for me... about kids that are involved with sex and drugs and booze. I hate all that. I know acting is pretending, but I can't even pretend to be that kind of kid. I don't know how."

One script Kristy was interested in was the original one for The Bad News Bears. She had her heart set on the part, but it went to Tatum O'Neal instead. It was a big disappointment for her, but now she's in the position of having to say "no" to film offers, not because she doesn't think the scripts are right for her, but because she's just too busy to accept any more work.

Kristy was recently finishing up Like Mom, Like Me, and was barely able to squeeze in a one-week vacation in the Caribbean before starting five weeks filming in Atlanta for The Summer of My German Soldier. She managed to get another week to herself before flying off to Utah to tape the all-star special for ABC that was produced by the Osmonds at their production facilities in their entertainment complex in Provo. Then it was back to California, with just a few days rest before "Family" started its fall schedule.

Kristy does want to do a lot more acting, and singing, too. With all she hopes to do, and with her current heavy work load, you might well wonder how Kristy has time for anything else. The truth is, she makes time.

Even though she works and goes to school five days a week, eight hours a day, her schedule really isn't all that outrageous. Usually, unless it's absolutely necessary, Kristy has her evenings and her weekends free. The special days, the ones Kristy treasures most, are those that she can spend with her family, exchanging laughs and love, free from the tensions of scripts, schedules, school, and social obligations.

"We try to keep our weekends free from work," she explains seriously. "We don't want our lives to be all work or all show business.

"The most important thing about my free time is that I get to be with my own family, rather than the television family. My family to me means love and security."