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Former TV sex symbol Heather Thomas is a screenwriter, activist, mom

The write stuff

By Serena Kappes

Thomas (in a scene from "The Fall Guy" with Majors) says she didn't mind being branded a sex symbol because she didn't take it seriously. "As long as you don't start to identify with it," she says.

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(PEOPLE) -- In the 1980s, Heather Thomas made crime-fighting sexy as Lee Majors's sassy stuntwoman sidekick on "The Fall Guy."

At 45, the still-svelte former pinup girl (whose turquoise bikini-sporting 1980s poster rivaled the sales of Farrah Fawcett's famed 1970s pinup) wants people to focus on her mind, not on her curves. "You have to say [to yourself], what do I want my life to say? That I was famous? That I wore the right dress?" she says.

Thomas, who starred on the series from 1981 to 1986 and also appeared in a host of made-for-TV films throughout that decade, became disenchanted with the roles that were coming her way. "The parts I was being offered were not terrifically satisfying," she admits. She decided the time was right to return to a childhood love of writing.

But her passion for screenwriting didn't translate to instant success. In 1997, after penning more than 40 scripts, Thomas sold her screenplay "School Slut" to Touchstone Pictures for a six-figure sum. It's a story about two high school girls, one an outsider, one a beauty queen, who feel ostracized and "decide to work outside the paradigm," Thomas says. But Touchstone didn't make the film; Thomas got back the rights and hopes to produce it herself.

"I've got about 20 projects that I'm very excited about," she says. Among them are horror films and, she laughs, "a lot of them always have some deep social agenda."

Thomas's passions

Heather Thomas, in November 2002, says of her extended break from acting: "I just wanted to take some time off and ascertain what I was doing with my life." Inset: Thomas on "The Fall Guy."

That's not surprising, considering that another of Thomas's passions is politics. She's involved with such groups as the Los Angeles Action Forum of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Anschell Media Group ("A new media group that's going to be putting out progressive product on the radio -- in other words, the truth," she says frankly) and the Fund for the Feminist Majority. "If you don't take any action, you're just as much to blame," she says. "I really believe that."

Thomas has always pursued her interests with zeal. At 14, the Santa Monica, California, native hosted an NBC series called "Talking with a Giant," in which she and four other teens interviewed celebrities. "Supposedly they let us write it, but they'd censor the crap out of it," she recalls.

While studying at the UCLA film school (from which she graduated in 1980), acting gigs enabled her to pay for her student films. Then, while playing a stuntwoman-bounty hunter on "The Fall Guy," she became a sex symbol -- a role about which she had mixed feelings. "There's obligatory condescension that goes with that," she explains. "You fill that archetype -- the blonde bimbo. But at that point, I was just having fun."

However, the Hollywood lifestyle proved problematic for Thomas: In 1984, she entered rehab to beat a cocaine addiction.

In 1991, the actress married entertainment lawyer Skip Brittenham, now 61, and has helped bring up his two daughters, Kristina, 23, a law student, and Shauna 21, a college student. In June 2000, Thomas gave birth to daughter India Rose. "I've been raising children for the past 15 years and it's been great," she says. "I've had the luxury to do that -- I'm very, very, very lucky." The couple is based in Santa Monica and also owns a fly-fishing ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Thomas has designs on getting back into acting but for the moment is focused on daughter India. "I want to wait until she's a little bigger," she explains. "Right now, we're like frick and frack."

For more Where Are They Now? stories, visit PEOPLE.COM

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