It's hard not to pay close attention while Tracey Gold orders lunch at one of her favorite Italian restaurants in the Valley.
"I'll have a pizza, cheeseless, no oil, with mushrooms, roasted garlic and tomatoes," she animatedly rattles off the instructions to the waiter. "Oh, and a Diet Coke with ice."
"I'm a very picky eater, as you may already know," explains Gold, looking Kate Moss-thin in her cropped shirt. Indeed, for many people the name Tracey Gold is linked with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Her private battle with the insidious disease marked by self-induced starvation became very public in 1992 when, at age 22, she made the cover of People magazine. After she left the hit sitcom "Growing Pains" as a result of anorexia, the tabloids went wild with exaggerated reports. Gold granted People the interview to "speak for myself."
Although she has no regrets about going public ("So many people were glad that I talked about it; they were so supportive"), she's still feeling the effects three years later despite the fact that she has significantly recovered from the disorder. "I walk into a restaurant and people whisper, but I can't let what people say bother me," she says.
She'd rather be recognized for her work. And lately, there has been a lot of it. After taking a year off to recover from anorexia, Gold said goodby to the wholesome image of Carol Seaver, the character she played on "Growing Pains" for six seasons, and hello to more dramatic, grown-up roles in TV movies. In one of a string of TV films, she starred as a young woman dealing with something close to home--anorexia. In her latest movie-of-the-week, "Stolen Innocence," airing Tuesday on CBS, Gold stars as a runaway who falls in love with a not-so-nice truck driver (Thomas Calabro of "Melrose Place").
With more films in the works, Gold is certainly on her way to becoming a TV movie diva, joining the ranks of the women oft seen in telefilms--Jaclyn Smith, Valerie Bertinelli, Judith Light, Donna Mills and her own TV mom from "Growing Pains," Joanna Kerns. If those actresses are the TV movie queens, Gold, who puts a younger spin on the genre, can be crowned a TV movie princess.
And for Gold, it's a major accomplishment. "If you had asked me a year ago if I thought it was going to be like this, I would have said, 'No way,' because I was having to go in and fight so hard for the roles that are coming to me now," she says.
She still feels she's under scrutiny, though. On the set of "Stolen Innocence," which was shot in 110-degree weather in Chico, Gold demonstrated her resilience. "I never got heat exhaustion. They never had to break for me, which is like a big accomplishment because I'm so out to prove to everybody that I'm back, and I'm strong and I can work just as hard as everybody else.
"I'd be very foolish to think that I don't have a million eyes on me when I'm on a set," she says. "And as I show by the job that I do that I'm getting beyond it, I think that will happen less and less."
Gold says she is getting beyond it --the anorexia that almost threatened her life. She may look like she just stepped out of "Beverly Hills, 90210" with her trendily plucked eyebrows and hip-hugger brown pants, but her youthful look belies a maturity beyond her 26 years. To get to "the place" she's in now, well, "It took a lot of hard work," Gold says.
In fighting her anorexia, Gold underwent intensive psychotherapy with a UCLA eating disorders specialist.
Ultimately, she gives the credit to herself. "I thought it would be a whole lot more fun being successful and happy than sick and sad."
But her own dramatic life experiences help her tap into the emotionally intense TV-movie roles she plays. "I have a lot of stuff I use inside myself," she says.
It is her relationship with her husband of one year, Roby Marshall, that helped her with "Stolen Innocence." In the movie, Gold's character is smitten with a truck driver from the wrong side of the freeway who eventually holds her hostage.
"That kind of intensity and that kind of passion she felt for him was easy because all I had to do was think of my husband," she says, relishing the word husband like a true newlywed. "We've been through a lot together. It's been a real relationship and we both came with a lot of stuff that we had to work through." Yes, Marshall has been through his share of stuff. In 1984, his father hired a hit man to kill his mother. The tragedy became the basis for the book "Blind Faith," which was made into a TV movie. Gold met Marshall while he was working as a consultant on the set; Joanna Kerns starred as Roby's mother.
Gold's large brown eyes grow wider when she reminisces about her wedding last fall at her parents' North Hollywood home. The event resulted in a People magazine cover that she was thrilled to be on--the wedding issue. "It was me and Heather Locklear. I was like, 'I did good! I did good!' "
The happiness has continued. "I love my husband so much. He's my soul mate," Gold gushes. Lately, she's been cooking for him. "I feel so domestic." She'd like to have a baby by the time she's 30, but her more immediate goal: "I want to see my face on the big screen."
She may be a married woman, but Gold is still extremely close to Mom and Dad.
In fact, Bonnie Gold, Tracey's mother, has accompanied her daughter to this lunchtime interview, but has barely gotten a word in due to Tracey's effervescence.
Given a chance to talk, in true mom form, Bonnie bursts with pride over her daughter's achievements, especially the way she pulled herself away from the clutches of anorexia. "We all tried to help her, but she was the one."
With all of the chit-chat, Gold has barely touched her pizza. "I feel like I'm eating so slow," she says, picking at the mushrooms.
"Take your time," says her mom, reassuringly.
Gold acknowledges that her recovery is an ongoing process. "I still have my fears and my issues that I deal with. ... But it's something that I constantly say every day to myself, 'I'll never let it get the best of me again.' "
"Stolen Innocence" airs Tuesday on CBS at 9 p.m.