Janet Trinkaus Television editor
Section: TV MAGAZINE,  Page: T30

Date: Sunday, February 12, 1989

W hen Park Overall was growing up in Greenville, Tenn., she never dreamed she'd end up on a hit sitcom.

But "Empty Nest" (Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on WNYT, Channel 13) is one of the three top-rated programs of this strange TV season. And she's also currently appearing in "Mississippi Burning" on the big screen. "I'm a beauty parlor slut with a beehive hairdo. And actually, it's my favorite role - largely because it's my fourth or fifth movie and now I feel comfortable in that medium.

"And it's the highlight of my career because Pauline Kael (in The New Yorker) gave me a terrific review," the 31-year-old actress said recently by phone from her home in Silver Lake, Calif.

Overall graduated as an English major from Tusculum in Tusculum, Tenn. - "it's the 17th oldest college in the nation and is filled with Yankees who couldn't get into a northern school," she explained with a deep Southern drawl - and then started graduate school at the University of Tennessee. "But I quit; it wasn't for me because it was just too big.

"So there I was at 27, raising cows on a farm up toward North Carolina and I told my daddy that if I see one more Yankee girl doing us wrong, I'd scream."

Overall headed to the Big Apple. Her father agreed to back her for two years while she reached for the golden ring. "I said to myself, 'I don't care if it takes 20 years, but success will happen.' That it's happened this fast is alarming."

Her first break was an off-off Broadway play, "Skin," by Andy Warhol with the late Edie Sedgewick. "Then I got an agent and an audition at the Hartford (Conn.) Stage in a Sam Shepard play and then went to Broadway in 'Biloxi Blues.'"

From there, she was in a failed pilot with Dinah Manoff - who's also in "Empty Nest" - had a small part in "Vibes" and "Talk Radio" - "I play one of the three characters who call in."

"Empty Nest" has just been given a renewal order to take production to summer. "I was on hold because of the writers' strike and now there's talk of an actors' strike, so I have no immediate plans except to do this sitcom.

"I'm missing New York and film work and theater work, but I love doing this. I consider myself bicoastal because I kept my apartment there and still consider New York my home. But now I'm so scared of flying because of all the recent disasters, maybe I'll have to take Amtrak back and forth.

"On 'Empty Nest,' we all get along incredibly well, which has a lot to do with our success. Dinah (Manoff) is cuter than a speckled pup - she's the wittiest and brightest thing. Kristy (McNichol of "Family") is terrific. And I've learned a lot from these girls. They're real pros.

"It also gives me exposure. But I worry because a sitcom's average life is about four years and these are my prime acting years.

Overall plays LaVerne, a pediatrician's receptionist. Richard Mulligan is the rubber-faced doctor - a widower with two daughters of extremely opposite character and the hugest poker- faced mutt, appropriately named Bear. David Leisure (lying Joe Isuzu of commercial fame) plays Mulligan's sleazy next-door neighbor.

"I'm not at all like my character, LaVerne," Overall drawled. "She's acerbic and I'm a cupcake - really much softer than LaVerne."

She lives in a house that's "very cheap and very charming with my boyfriend whom I met five years ago on my first movie. I played an evil crematorium operator and he was the grip. He's from Wisconsin - the closest thing to a Southerner I could find. We also have a cat and would have more animals, but he's the pit bull of the feline world and would eat any other creature we brought in.

"I'm trying to live like I've always lived, but lately, that's changing."

Overall, the only child of a retired federal magistrate father and an English Ph.D. mother, sounded amazed by her new- found success.

"I walked into the Federal Express office last week and they all said I was great on the Carson show. James Garner, who was also a guest, came out of his dressing room to introduce himself to Ron (her boyfriend) and me," she said with surprise.

For fun, they ride around on one of their three Harley-Davidson motorcycles. "Ron drove his to California - it's just like the one Jay Leno has."

Overall also has great plans for herself. "Back home in Greenville, I though the whole showbiz thing was actors, but now I'm fascinated with the producing aspect.

"On the other hand, I just want to be Ruth Gordon - a great character actress."

Greenville, Tenn., celebrated Park Overall Day in May. "They showed 'Biloxi Blues' in the theater and gave me the keys to the city. I was thrilled.

"But I'm not a star if I'm not recognized in the grocery store." Not to worry.