Azure-eyed carol alt, beside whom Helen of Troy might look unkempt, is arguing heatedly in defense of...rats. Not all rats, mind you. Only the ones with which she posed on the cover of the May 1988 issue of Spy magazine, for a story on New York City's rat woes. The cover depicts a squeamish Alt plucking a handbag-sized rodent from her right calf as another furry fellow begins an ascent of her finely turned left ankle.
They were just stuffed rats, right, Carol? Please tell us you didn't let real rats come in contact with your elegant self. Please.
"Of course I did," says Alt in a don't-be-silly tone. "It's not like they were sewer rats. They were domesticated, like hamsters. They were beautiful, until we put oil on them to make them look gross."
After all, what are a couple of rodents to Alt? This is a woman who fearlessly negotiates the aisles of boisterous Madison Square Garden during New York Ranger games, while her defenseman-husband, Ron Greschner, tries to keep the crease clear for the home team. Alt, afraid? Let it be noted that on that fateful night in 1982 when their courtship first flowered, it was Alt who offered to buy Greschner a drink, not the other way around.
This morning, Alt has just returned home from an appearance on Live: Regis and Kathie Lee, a syndicated TV talk show. She is fidgeting like a Huck Finn in Sunday school clothes. "Would you excuse me for a moment?" asks Alt, who has appeared on the covers of almost 600 magazines, modeling some of the world's most glamorous clothing. "I'd be a lot more comfortable in sweats." She emerges moments later. Gone is the khaki miniskirt that had showcased her legs to such fabulous effect. In its place are sweatpants that showcase her legs to fabulous effect.
The subject on Live had been "million-dollar models." Alt, who commands something more than $5,000 a day for posing, was flattered to have been invited, even though, she says, "I haven't modeled seriously in two years." In that time, Alt has intensely pursued her new career. Take a wild guess—is it 1) missionary work in Guyana, 2) neurosurgery or 3) acting?
If you lived in Italy, you wouldn't puzzle long over that choice. There Alt is a big movie star. Over the past two years, she has made six feature films. In 1987, My First 40 Years, in which she starred with Elliott Gould, was one of the highest grossing films in Italy. (O.K., so Alt recites her lines in English, and then they're dubbed by someone else in Italian.) The movies never make it to the States.
Her spaghetti phase is now over. Having decided to sink or swim in the U.S., Alt has turned down several offers from Italian filmmakers since returning from work on her most recent movie, Mortacci, in which she starred with Malcolm McDowell. So far, American casting directors have not beaten a path to her apartment on New York's Upper East Side. She's a model, they figure, and models aren't supposed to be able to act.
During a recent interview at a New York casting agency, Alt was told she would have to do lots of bit parts before she could hope to land a major role. She bristles when she thinks of that conversation. "I was so polite. I said, 'Yes, yes, I don't care if I have to do 100 bit parts,' but the truth is I do care. I carried six major films—don't they realize that?"
If movie work is scarce at first, Alt is prepared to return to modeling now and then "to pay the bills." Acting is a risk, and she wouldn't have it any other way. "I've never lived my life safe," she says. "If I don't take risks, I don't have the adrenaline flowing."