It was like a Cinderella story straight out of a Hollywood screenwriter's head:
Linda Harrison, small-town girl from Berlin, Md., wins a local beauty contest. Then boom. It's off to Hollywood, where she almost immediately lands a screen test, a seven-year movie studio contract and an introduction to Richard D. Zanuck, who heads 20th Century Fox.
After a four-year courtship, she and Mr. Zanuck are married at the top of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Linda Harrison is 24 years old.
"It seemed just normal to me," said Ms. Harrison, who is now divorced, 46, and back in the Eastern Shore town running the upscale consignment shop she owns. "My success happened instantaneously. I was very lucky, and I was very young to have so much happen in my life."
It was a success that encompassed appearing in seven movies -- including co-starring with Charleston Heston in two "Planet of the Apes" films -- raising two sons in tony Beverly Hills, and flying all over the world for 20th Century Fox premieres with her movie honcho husband.
It's been a glorious trip from Berlin to Beverly Hills and back to Berlin.
The woman who has had fate smile down on her for many, many years has no regrets about being back where it all began.
"I'm very excited about my future," she said with a wide smile. "I intend to still act some more. I will act until I take my last breath."
The actress' movie set is now Harrison's Peach Tree shop, located about a half-block off Main Street in Berlin, a town of
about 2,600 people, and roughly half a mile from the home where she was born. Her audience is customers who come in to browse or buy or meet the local woman who went to Hollywood and made good.
Sitting in the shop's cozy back room where she does makeup consultations and horoscopes -- which she got interested in after moving to California and constantly being asked what her sign was -- Ms. Harrison reflected on her life. She is still startlingly attractive with thick, long brown hair, huge brown eyes and a size 6 body that she keeps in shape with exercise.
Her energy is infectious. When sitting, she always appears to be on the verge of jumping out of her seat ready to do something. Movement is part of her philosophy of keeping fit.
"You always have to keep really positive. Stay very active and really move with life," she said. "You have to take those challenges and risks and be encouraging."
Then up she bounces and goes to a nearby shelf to pull down a large white box that is wrapped with a wide red ribbon. Inside the box is an old scrapbook filled with pages of yellowing newspaper clips that was put together by her late father, Burbage Harrison.
"The Beauty from Berlin: Linda Harrison Signed by Studio" is the headline from a 1966 News American article. "Beauty Gains Film Role" was The Sun's headline in 1967. "Another Zanuck" was how the New York Post announced her impending marriage to Richard Zanuck in 1969.
The newspaper photos show her in everything from bikinis to evening gowns. More than a few articles mentioned her 37-23-37 measurements.
She flips through the pages quickly, barely glancing at the recorded high points of her life. She had a feeling early on that her life would revolve around being in the public eye.
At the age of 5, Linda Harrison began taking acrobatics and ballet lessons. At the age of 6, she was already on a school stage, performing. "When you got me on that stage, I felt wonderful," she said.
Later, in the sitting room of the comfortable -- but not extravagant -- home where Linda was born, her mother agreed she was a little ham. "She was just a natural on that stage," said Ida Harrison, 78, who, with her husband, raised five daughters.
"She was always a little different from her sisters," Mrs. Harrison said of her middle child. "She was sort of a dreamer. It just seems like her destiny was to end up in California. She just wasn't the hometown girl."
No, she wasn't. Linda Harrison always had her sights set on acting. She was reluctant to tell anyone because, after all, Berlin is a long, long way from Hollywood. "I really had to keep that dream to myself," she said.
Ms. Harrison spent her teen years winning talent contests, appearing in school plays and working as a waitress during summers in Ocean City. After graduating from high school in Berlin, she enrolled for a summer semester at the University of Maryland at College Park.
"It was torture," Ms. Harrison says now. "I knew I wanted to be somewhere else."
She chucked the whole idea of a formal education after a few short stints at the University of Baltimore and a secretarial school in Baltimore.
The year was 1964, and her older sister, Kay, was off to the Big Apple. Little sister Linda decided to tag along. The idea was to try her hand at modeling.
"I had just graduated from college, and Linda had ambitions to be a model," said Kay Harrison, who now sells real estate in Ocean City. "We went to New York with $250 apiece and my mother's charge card. But we got by."
They lived in a Manhattan apartment. Linda, then 19, knocked on modeling agencies' doors.
Although Ms. Harrison had some success in modeling, she really didn't like living in New York. She returned home the next year to enter the Miss Maryland Beauty Pageant contest. She bested 19 other girls, winning "in a landslide," according to newspaper articles at the time.
That win took her to California -- supposedly for 14 days -- to participate in another beauty pageant. She took to California in a big way. The golden state, said the Berlin native, just felt right.
"When I got off that plane in California," she explained, sighing at the memory, "I said, 'I'm home!' "
Once Linda Harrison touched down in California, things catapulted ahead at a dizzying speed. She came in second at the beauty pageant, which bothered her. "I was first runner-up," she said. "I was kind of upset at the time."
Not to worry.
A casting director for 20th Century Fox was watching the pageant, scouting out the contestants. Linda Harrison caught his eye; he arranged to give her a screen test.
Apparently, it was one heck of a Hollywood screen test.
Richard Zanuck was then vice president and heir apparent of 20th Century Fox. (His father, Darryl Zanuck, was president of the major Hollywood studio at the time.) The son looked at the screen test and liked what he saw. He asked to meet the woman who would later become his second wife.
"She was rather refreshing," Mr. Zanuck recalls now in a telephone conversation from London where he is promoting his latest movie, "Rush," with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric. "She was very fresh in terms of her outlook. She was from a small town. That was different from most of the people living in Los Angeles," he said.
"And our personalities at the time just clicked," said Mr. Zanuck.
Ms. Harrison got Richard Zanuck as a beau and also a seven-year contract at 20th Century Fox. The trip to California that was expected to last 14 days would last for 25 years. The incredibility of it all still amazes Ms. Harrison.
"To me, the most important thing was meeting the man who would be my husband," she said of those times. "I remember calling home and saying, 'I'm dating the head of the studio,' " she said, smiling at the very idea. The couple'slong and public courtship lasted four years.
It was a heady period.
For instance, there was the time when Mr. Zanuck flew with Ms. Harrison into Ocean City to visit her family. Nothing unusual about that, meeting the future in-laws. Except that their mode of transportation was Mr. Zanuck's Lear jet.
"It was very flamboyant," Ms. Harrison recalled. "There was hardly enough runway. It was neat."
The two flew off to Las Vegas to get married in October 1969. "That was a great moment in my life," Ms. Harrison said, glancing at a picture of her ex-husband that sits on her desk in the shop.
They lived a life one might expect of a Hollywood studio head and his beautiful actress wife. There were the big homes and hobnobbing with celebrities like Mia Farrow, Frank Sinatra and Richard Burton, and attending the Academy Awards and flying around Europe.
Ms. Harrison's movie career was also taking off, and she candidly says that she hasn't used an agent because Mr. Zanuck has always been helpful in opening doors for her.
Late-night movie aficionados can still see Ms. Harrison scantily clad in dried palm leaves in a non-speaking role with co-star Charleston Heston in "Planet of the Apes," released in 1968, and its sequel, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," in 1970.
From 1968 to 1970, she appeared in the television series, "Bracken's World," which was about three young starlets trying to succeed in Hollywood. Ms. Harrison's last movie was "Cocoon: the Return," released in 1988.
After two sons and a marriage that lasted nine years, the Zanucks divorced in 1978. They remain on very friendly terms. "We parted as husband and wife, but we remain friends," is what Ms. Harrison will say about the break-up. They still "very much" have a friendly relationship, concurred Mr. Zanuck, who has remarried.
Ms. Harrison decided to remain in Beverly Hills until her sons were older. Harrison Zanuck, 21, is now a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont. Dean Francis Zanuck, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
"I think they will probably follow in the footsteps of their father and grandfather," Ms. Harrison said.
Linda Harrison, who missed her hometown, returned to Berlin in 1990. It "was kind of an adjustment," she said. But with her sons at college, she felt it was the right time.
She's finding that home is different and "much more cosmopolitan" now than when she was growing up. "It's very good for me," she said about being home.
The shop, which has been open for about five months, reflects her Hollywood life. Besides the clothes, the jewelry and the makeup sold in the shop, customers can't miss seeing the framed photographs that bear witness to a glamorous life.
Around the front door of the shop are photos of the smiling Zanuck couple with then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan and Nancy. There is also one with her, Mr. Zanuck and the Nixons. One picture is of her and her two television series co-stars,
Larraine Stevens and Karen Gensen on the cover of TV Guide.
Customers drift in the shop. Some buy. Some just look. Some come out of curiosity.
"We just saw 'Planet of the Apes' last week," one customer tells Ms. Harrison. "Oh! It's on cable, isn't it?" Ms. Harrison asked, as the customer continues looking through a rack of stylish women's dresses.
As a pink candle glows softly in one of the shop's windows, Ms. Harrison says that she expects good things to continue happening with her career even though she is miles from Los Angeles.
"I anticipate that I will get a call and it will happen," she said. "My career has always been unorthodox."
She doesn't know how long she will stay in Berlin or if she will keep Harrison's Peach Tree, which got its name because the family once owned a fruit orchard.
"I always see my doors as being wide open," she said. "One minute I may be here, and the next minute I may be somewhere else."
THE HARRISON FILE
Born: July 26, 1945.
Birthplace: Berlin, Md.
Occupation: Actress and owner of Harrison's Peach Tree consignment shop in Berlin.
Married: Richard D. Zanuck in October 1969. Divorced in 1978.
Children: Harrison, 21; Dean, 19.
Horoscope sign: Leo.
Movies include: "Planet of the Apes," "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Cocoon: the Return."
Thought on being back in Berlin after years in Beverly Hills: "It seems like the thing to do now."