DATE: Monday, July 21, 1997                 TAG: 9707210069

SECTION: LOCAL                   PAGE: B2   EDITION: FINAL 

                                            LENGTH:   57 lines


Norfolk native Deborah Shelton's career in the spotlight began when she was crowned Miss USA at just 18. She moved on to Hollywood to start an acting career and held several film and television roles, including J.R. Ewing's mistress, Mandy, on the TV series ``Dallas.''

Deborah Shelton still is involved in show business, but not all of her work these days is in front of the camera.

Shelton, who lives in Beverly Hills, said she is beginning to get involved in writing and co-producing. She's still acting, but like so many other Hollywood actresses, she's finding that the older she gets, the harder it is to win juicy parts.

``They want you to stay 25 forever,'' Shelton, who won't divulge her exact age but is in her 40s, said in a telephone interview. ``It's hard when Tom Cruise and every other actor is working with nothing but 20-year-olds.''

What Shelton was willing to reveal was the age of people she typically is hired to portray: characters somewhere in their 30s. ``People in this business are often able to play roles younger than they are because they're paid to stay in shape and look good,'' she said.

Two of Shelton's latest projects have been infomercials. One is for a piece of exercise equipment, and the other is for a product that promises to help get rid of cellulite. ``I guess I'm at the infomercial age,'' she joked.

She also appeared recently in a recurring role on the TV series ``High Tide,'' which Shelton jokingly described as a cross between ``Miami Vice'' and ``Baywatch.'' Shelton played the role of Grace, a wealthy property owner in Santa Barbara.

She's currently ``putting some stuff together'' for a German film company. She hopes to co-produce that ``stuff'' along with a friend.

Shelton now believes it was a mistake to have acted in some ``erotic thrillers'' a few years ago in which she did some nude scenes. ``People looked at it like, `Look what she's stooping to now,' '' she said. It also was difficult for her children, 16-year-old Tamara and 24-year-old Christopher, she said.

These days, Shelton is happiest discussing her relationship with her new boyfriend, an international businessman from Mexico, who also happens to live next door. ``Our housekeepers got us together,'' she said. ``They just thought we belonged together.''

The two have been dating for about a year and have spent a lot of time traveling. This summer they went to Mexico and the Bahamas. In the fall they plan to celebrate their birthdays, just 10 days apart, with a trip including stops in Greece, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Africa and the Seychelles Islands. ILLUSTRATION: FILE PHOTO

Deborah Shelton, shown in this 1970 photo, was crowned Miss USA at

just 18. She later moved to Hollywood to begin an acting career.


Shelton starred in this 1994 film, ``Silk Degrees.'' Although she

continues to find acting jobs, she is tapping into writing and


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