Last November, shortly after Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker announced their engagement, Eva’s publicist, a frenetic woman named Liza Anderson, went to work. With the teacup Yorkie she describes as “my son” scampering about, Anderson got on the phone from her sunny, cramped office on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and began negotiating with various publications to sell exclusive coverage of the wedding. Hello! was interested. People was interested. OK!—a British title eager to build the circulation of its U.S. edition—was interested. Even before Michael Douglas married Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes, even before the launch of InStyle Weddings, images of celebrity nuptials were in great demand. It’s the conventional wisdom among editors of the tabloid press that stars are like neighbors, only not; ostensibly, readers want to share in a common rite of passage and, at the same time, feel a part of something they could never in their own lives afford or experience. For stars, selling exclusive rights to a wedding keeps the paparazzi at bay while simultaneously providing enough loose change to cover the cost—OK! reportedly paid $2 million for exclusive coverage of the Douglas–Zeta-Jones wedding—while garnering (still) more publicity for themselves.

So, while the Iraq Study Group was winding up its deliberations, while Pope Benedict XVI was trying to repair relations with Muslims on a trip to Turkey, and while Scotland Yard was investigating the case of the poisoned KGB agent, Anderson was spinning various editors on the importance of the Longoria-Parker fete. It’s a truism in Hollywood that the people who want publicity get it, and 32-year-old Eva is one of those people. Obviously her wedding wasn’t going to be just any wedding. It was not going to be in Corpus Christi, for instance, where she was born, or in San Antonio, where Parker and her parents live. Instead, it would take place in France—Parker’s home country—in Paris’ Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church. The reception would be held 45 minutes outside of town, in the sixteenth-century Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. This would mean a lot of glamour and a lot of photo ops, specifically with other Housewives, assorted Hollywood pals—Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard, American Idol’s and E!’s Ryan Seacrest—and the handful of NBA stars in attendance. In other words, an exclusive was going to be expensive.

Anderson made it clear to one of the editors that she already had a $2 million offer; anyone else who wanted to cover the wedding would have to beat it or eat it. The frankness with which this bid was, in the words of that editor, “all about the money” was unusual but also bracing. Editors knew what their limits were. Hello! said good-bye. People dropped out, after offering “nowhere near” the aforementioned amount. (The rumor that People had been snubbed because it reported on an altercation between Eva, Tony, and a beleaguered San Antonio bicycle cop in December 2005 was not true.) OK! was the lucky winner, allowed to publish for the world to see photos of the ceremony (“Wedding of the Year”) and, the following week, the “fairy tale” reception (“Wedding Party of the Year”). The first week’s cover promised “the dress, flowers, cake and $1 million jewels.” Inside, readers could see Eva in her $75,000 Angel Sanchez gown “of handmade silk and georgette organza.” They would learn that hairstylist Ken Paves did her hair and that Felicity Huffman “felt blessed” to be there. A week later came photos of Housewives creator Marc Cherry toasting the newlyweds and of Eva’s specially designed scarlet Sergio Rossi shoes with the words “Eva and Tony July 7, 2007” inscribed in silver in the instep. OK! reported that Eva wore a $100,000 H. Stern bracelet and $500,000 H. Stern Hebe earrings with “17 carats of marquee-, cushion-, oval- and round-cut diamonds.” In other words, between product-placement spots, readers could both relate and not relate to the event. Meanwhile, OK! did just fine: The first issue alone sold more than a million copies, at $2.99 each.

But there was still more Eva to be found. She was, for instance, inside the front cover of the wedding issue in a two-page spread for L’Oréal Couleur Experte 5.3. L’Oréal also took out a full-page ad on page 13 to congratulate the newlyweds. Eva showed up again on page 41, in an ad for Bebe Sport. Then, following ten pages of wedding coverage, Eva surfaced yet again, on the back cover of the magazine, pushing a lipstick called Caramel for L’Oréal, part of its Star Secrets collection (“7 marvelous shades that reveal 7 unique personalities”).

It’s Eva’s self-possession that separates her not just from the Britneys and Lindsays of the world but from many of the troubled Texas beauties who have come before her.

It is virtually impossible, in fact, to pick up a fashion or celebrity magazine these days, here or around the world, without encountering her. She posed for Britain’s Arena magazine in nothing but chains. The New York Post’s Page Six caught her blowing out candles at her thirty-first birthday party. She’s topped Maxim’s Hot 100 list two years running; she’s frequently been one of People’s Most Beautiful. When she discussed her use of vibrators with Self—“I give [them] to all my girlfriends”—the news ricocheted around the globe. She has been Latina’s Mujer of the Year. A Swedish magazine quoted her opinion on sex: “Orgasm är det finaste man kan ge bort!” (Loosely translated, “An orgasm is the best gift one can give.”) She was both the hostess—with eleven costume changes—and an executive producer of the 2007 ALMA Awards, an influential celebration of Hispanic contributions to the entertainment industry, and gets even more publicity for her support of Padres Contra el Cancer (Parents Against Cancer), her charity of choice, and for being the Callaway Golf Foundation’s poster girl—more magazine ads!—in its campaign against ovarian cancer. If that isn’t enough, consider that she appears in almost every glossy almost every month because of those ubiquitous ads for Bebe Sport and L’Oréal. On the Web, the words “Eva Longoria” call forth a veritable black hole of information: Everything from her choice of evening gowns and her rear end in a bikini bottom to her face without makeup has been dissected, oh, a jillion times.

This spectacular omnipresence raises a question. Eva Longoria is a very pretty woman, but there are prettier women—not just in Hollywood but also in San Antonio. She is a talented actress, but there are actresses who are, let’s be honest, more talented. So how to explain la vida Longoria? Why Eva? Why her?

I don’t know how many Eva Longoria interviews you’ve read, but I have probably read more than you, and I can tell you that they break down in one of two ways: There are those for the girls, about makeup, fashion, exercise, orgasms, and/or her Hispanic heritage (gotta plug her famous tortilla soup), and those for the guys, which are pretty much totally about sex (see orgasms, above). What’s usually missing are the two ingredients that tend to be crucial for longevity in Hollywood: intelligence and ambition. As gossip blogger of the moment Perez Hilton told me without irony: “She’s a pretty face, but there’s actually some substance there.” In this way, Eva’s story is both old and new: Ambition—lots of it—has always mattered, but the most successful people in any field are able to sense and exploit changes in the social order, which she has done. In other words, she’s a Latina who transcends ethnic lines; she’s a girl’s girl and a guy’s girl (she can talk basketball!); and, most important, she sees herself more as a product than as an artiste. Then, too, no matter what opportunities come her way, she seems to possess an exceptional ability to seize them, a quality she shares with the character she plays on Desperate Housewives, the scheming Gabrielle Solis.

I was thinking about all this on the day last spring that I interviewed Eva on the show’s Burbank set. As myriad headlines have clarioned since Housewives debuted in 2004, she is no longer desperate—assuming she ever was. It has been on the air for so long now (three years, an eternity in TV land) and has so many viewers (at last count, 22.5 million each week) that people forget what a novelty it was in the beginning: a witty, cynical, and—despite all those murders—oddly accurate take on the schizophrenic lives of women today. Eva, in lots of lingerie and décolletage, is the bona fide breakout star of the show; Huffman may have the Emmy and the Oscar nomination, but only Eva has managed to parlay her part into a one-woman conglomerate, the kind that assures if not eternal staying power (no one gets that in Hollywood) then a decidedly comfortable income for life. Simultaneously, Eva has become a stereotype buster and a folk heroine. “There wouldn’t be an Ugly Betty without Desperate Housewives,” asserts David Damian Figueroa, her longtime friend.

Eva had spent the morning filming two scenes. One was on a soundstage with John Slattery, who was playing her new love interest, mayoral candidate Victor Lang. Eva was Bacall to his Bogie. Promising to take Gabrielle to a classy new restaurant, he said, “There’s no place harder to get into.” “That’s what you think,” she retorted, to approving chuckles from the crew. An hour or so later, we rode in an SUV up a steep hill to the Wisteria Lane set—once Beaver Cleaver’s street—where Eva/Gabrielle spent the next hour or so slamming the front door of the rambling Solis home in the face of her ex-husband, Carlos, played by San Antonio hunk Ricardo Antonio Chavira.

There were a lot of Evas in attendance that day. On the soundstage, she was ebullient, like the cheerleader she was at rough-and-tumble Roy Miller High School in the early nineties. She hopped into a director’s chair, scarfed down egg whites and spinach and bacon and cereal, and showed off her retina­-scarring diamond engagement ring. “It looks like a Chic­let,” one of the crew members cracked. She insisted that someone demonstrate the small battery-powered Chihuahua she’d bought the director, Larry Shaw; when activated, it humped whatever or whoever was near. There were jokes about a recent injury. Eva: “I fell down the stairs of a private jet.” Crew member: “Or did you slip on Cristal on the yacht?” There was also, as there often is with Eva, some discussion about swag, which she clearly adores. Eva: “I get free Budweiser for a year.” Me: “Really? Why?” Eva: “I don’t know. It was in my trailer. It’s like Christmas every day.” And she displayed an impeccable grasp of the rules of celebrity journalism. “Don’t you want to tell her how great I am?” she prompted crew members several times.

Longoria is five feet two and skinny—Marc Cherry joked at the wedding that she had a boy’s body under all her padding—but she is a girlish dervish of energy, with a loud, easy laugh that belies her size but not her roots. Her eyes glitter in an almost preternatural way. Remember the smart, quick-witted Hispanic girl in your advanced classes in high school, the one with the flashing ponytail who already had a zillion scholarships? That’s her.

You get the feeling there isn’t a self-destructive bone in her body and that she isn’t about to bite the hand that feeds her. Eva was perfectly content to let Chavira throw her about like a sack of potatoes—hoisting her on his shoulders, turning her upside down, gathering her around his waist—but once I started asking about the role of Mexican Americans in the movie business, she stepped back and grew silent, letting her co-star do the talking about how “there’s opportunity, but we’re still in the same f—ing rut” and how racism is now enacted “with a handshake and a smile.” Yet this is the woman who cracked up the Latino Leaders Luncheon in Washington, D.C., last November by announcing, “Don’t think of me as today’s featured speaker. Think of me as your temporary guest worker.” But here, all she’ll say is “We still have a long way to go.”

It’s Eva’s self-possession that separates her not just from the Britneys and Lindsays of the world but from many of the troubled Texas beauties who have come before her, like Farrah Fawcett and Anna Nicole Smith. “I don’t think that’s saying much” was her comment, with obvious displeasure, when I brought up the subject. My visit happened to be on the day that Anna Nicole was found dead, alone, in a hotel room, a fact that was broadcast on all the TVs in the makeup trailer and on the set. Eva watched the news pensively. “She was always a mess,” she said, shaking her head.

I tried to engage her in conversation about the vicissitudes of celebrity, but she wouldn’t budge. “I think everybody is programmed to do what they’re gonna do. Six thousand people come here every day, and six thousand people leave who failed. Some people aren’t focused,” she said instructively before jumping off a table, leaping to the front of Gabrielle’s McMansion, opening the door wide, and then slamming it shut with all her might on Chavira. Then she marched back to continue the conversation.

“And you’re focused?” I asked.

She snorted. “Yaaah,” she said, as if the answer were beyond obvious.

What about the lack of privacy that comes with celebrity—the fact that millions know about her purported love of yoga, sex toys, caramel-colored lipstick, Angel Sanchez gowns, and Tony’s, um, member, barely hidden by his swim trunks, as displayed on various Web sites? What about the fact that everyone knows just about everything there is to know about her?

She sized me up the way a fifth-grade teacher assesses a slow student. “You think you know me,” she said, and then jumped up to slam the door in Chavira’s face again. Expertly.

There are some things I do know, however, having grown up in the same place, South Texas, albeit a generation earlier. I know, for instance, that Eva came of age during an era when the world was opening up to Hispanics, when the discrimination of the fifties and sixties had not disappeared but was dissipating. Eva’s parents were living proof that times had changed. Her father was a tool engineer at an Army base, and her mother was a special-ed teacher. While there wasn’t much money to go around, there was enough to instill in their children not just a strong work ethic but the possibility of great reward. Eva has long given credit for her ambition to her mother. “I grew up in a household of women—aunts, sisters, a house full of strong female role models,” she told me. She was the youngest of four girls, and she watched her mother working a full-time job, shuttling her and her sisters from one activity to another, and especially tending to her oldest sister, Lisa, who was born developmentally disabled. “For me there is nothing I can do that compares to what my mom did,” she said. “I’m a great multitasker because of her.”

There really isn’t a time these days when Eva isn’t multitasking. Last winter, for instance, I went with her to the Mujer Awards in San Antonio, where she was being honored as a woman of the year—“Film and television actor, producer and activist . . . A Mexican American Latina who is living the American Dream”—by the National Hispana Leadership Institute, of Arlington, Virginia. It was a black-tie affair; the light from so many sequined gowns and flash cameras was almost blinding. There was an all-female mariachi band, and the sponsors’ names on the tables (Continental, Wal-Mart, Chase, Coors, McDonald’s, GM) were evidence that Latino culture was no longer emerging but had arrived. On the dais was a large cutout of the Alamo, the significance of which now seemed debatable.

Eva’s table was right next to the stage. She wore a form-enhancing Yves Saint Laurent suit in a glacial white that was further improved by her sky-high heels. With her perfect dark hair billowing around her shoulders, she looked every inch a star. Her beaming parents were with her, along with her aunt and uncle. So was her pal Figueroa, who, when he isn’t serving as an editor of the AARP’s Segunda Juventud magazine, is Longoria’s philanthropic adviser (a former consultant to Motown records, he’s the one who introduced her to John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi, as well as to Cesar Chavez’s widow, Dolores Huerta, and the continuing fight for the rights of farmworkers). “Eva takes everybody along for the ride,” he told me. “She never forgets her friends.” Tony Parker was there too: He wore his formal tuxedo shirt untucked and open at the collar, sans cummerbund or bow tie, with jeans, tennis shoes, and a thousand-mile stare that suggested one too many events in the role of Mr. Eva Lon­goria. (It is a rare role for him in San Antonio; usually, he’s the one people mob there. Indeed, at a VIP reception earlier that night, the men crowded around him, jawing about games and surreptitiously photographing him with their cell phones. Crammed into a metal chair, he looked like a caged lion beset by hungry flies.)

Beefy sheriff’s deputies surrounded the table, keeping fans from chatting with Eva and her crew, but they still leaned in, pointing cameras and calling her name as she diffidently inspected a goody bag and slurped her steaming soup. When she got up to speak, the roar from the crowd was like the sound of a tsunami crashing ashore. They loved her—daughter, lover, star, the embodiment of all the hopes in the room—even before she said a word.

“When I was little, I would never take no for an answer,” she began, and the admission still describes her. Her story is Alger-esque, though with a Latin twist: When Eva was twelve and growing up in Corpus, she knew there wasn’t family money for a fourth quinceañera, so she stole her sister’s ID card and went to work at Wendy’s, flipping burgers until she had earned enough. Her mother found her dress at a flea market; the party was held at the Elk’s Lodge. Eva’s next goal was to go to college: She worked six jobs to put herself through Texas A&M—Kingsville, where she graduated with a degree in kinesiology, hoping to become a sports trainer. At the same time, she competed in beauty pageants, a classic way—in Texas, especially—for pretty young women with little money to advance themselves. Such contests may seem anachronistic now, but when Eva was growing up, they served as a kind of finishing school for bright girls who didn’t have a shot at the Ivy League or summer trips to see the world. “It was like a big girl camp,” her old friend and pageant partner Christiane Perkins Garcia told me—if you didn’t win, you could keep entering year after year, making friends, mastering social skills, learning to think on your feet. It’s also given Eva the equanimity that has seen her through more than a few disappointments. “The greatest asset she has is that she was a pageant girl,” says her stylist Robert Verdi, the star of Fashion Police, on the Style Network. “They know when you throw them under the bus that they have to get up and smile with the tracks on their backs.”

During the nineties, there was one star from Corpus who guided Eva on her quest. “Selena was the celebrity for us,” she told me. “I went to every concert. I’d see her at the park. I just remember finally looking up at someone and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ There weren’t a lot of Latinas like that. She was very inspirational to me.” (It still seems to smart a little that Jennifer Lopez got her big break playing Selena in the eponymous movie.) Then Eva won Miss Corpus Christi USA in 1998. Until that point, Garcia said, “it always seemed like [just] the blond girls were in the top sixteen.” Trophy in hand, Eva packed up and left Texas for Los Angeles. Her goal was to be a soap opera star, because those were the programs her parents watched. Three years later— after working for a headhunter and collecting the kind of helpful contacts that can make or break a career—she had a steady role as the somewhat demented Isabella on The Young and the Restless. She had also made friends with Kiki Melendez, a local talk show host and comedian with a radio show called Hot Tamales Live. “Eva came here with a purpose and a vision,” Melendez told me. “She was not playing around.”

Melendez explained to Eva that the name of the game was publicity: “Press, press, press. Blow everything out of proportion, no matter what it is.” (This explains how Eva later ended up in a skimpy swimsuit on the MTV Video Music Awards in 2005 and why she might have been inclined to discuss her vibrator use with, well, the planet.) She dutifully went to every club, opening, and premiere, and in her off-hours she worked with Melendez on Hot Tamales as co-producer, talent scout, publicist, and performer. The show was just nanoseconds ahead of its time: Melendez had a troupe of foul-mouthed but hilarious female comedians of every race, color, and creed—it was Eva’s idea to diversify beyond Latinas—making jokes at the expense of just about everyone. Because she thought Eva was too pretty to do stand-up, Melendez had her do sketch comedy, sometimes with her face covered with a baseball cap and a T-shirt and baggy jeans obscuring her body. In one sharply antic sketch, Eva and another actress played Latinas on Survivor forming an alliance. “No tacos, no guacamole, no flea market, no J-Lo!” she whines. Then her companion adds that they can win because the white girl remaining “has never run across the border.”

But that irreverent Eva began to fade—in public, at least—on the day in 2004 when she auditioned for a new ABC show called Desperate Housewives. She was just coming off a canceled remake of Dragnet, and, as part of a big diversity push, Hollywood was just beginning to stop requiring all Latin female cast members to be “fiery” and the males to appear onscreen in undershirts. In fact, ABC, having the worst diversity record of the four major networks, was most eager to find and cast minorities with talent.

“What did you think of the script?” Marc Cherry asked Eva, who confessed she’d read only the parts for her character. Still, she got the role. “I knew you were Gabrielle at that moment,” Cherry told her, “because it was such a Gabrielle thing to say.” Nobody cared that lingerie-clad Gabrielle owed much to Latin spitfires of days gone by. After all, the Solis family was the richest on the block and had a white gardener.

As much as Eva has converted her background into a plus, so too has she advanced herself with her willingness to play the celebrity game deftly and without complaint. She loves the gowns, the glamour, the premieres, the photos in InStyle. “She lives the part, and people like that,” a People editor told me. “She’s like Posh or Katie Holmes. These are not bad girls. They go out and buy a quart of milk and get dressed up. Eva’s a celebrity who acts like a celebrity.”

This means, first of all, being available to the celebrity press 24/7. She was able to call in chits for national TV exposure when she and Christiane Garcia decided to start an organization in San Antonio for the developmentally disabled called Eva’s Heroes, for instance, because she was perfectly willing to spend a morning talking near gibberish to a schlemiel from the E! network who was more interested in Mario Lopez’s chances on Dancing With the Stars. “What changes spiritually and mentally have you seen him go through on the show?” he asked. “Are you proud of Mario getting so far? Has the show taken a toll on your friendship? Do you think Mario’s a sex symbol?”

Eva laughed so hard at that last question that they had to stop the camera. “If you make me look dumb, I will come and find you,” she joked.

“Then maybe I should make you look dumb,” the reporter replied.

“Synergy” may be a decade-old buzzword, but Eva never forgot it; she has an uncanny ability to make all parts of her life work in service to the whole. Or, as her publicist, Liza Anderson, puts it: “She was always marketing a commodity, and that commodity was her career.” You see it in the way Eva looks at herself in the mirror: perpetually and correctively, like a woman who knows she could be photographed at any minute. Her film notices are thus far lackluster; the New York Times and the Washington Post didn’t even mention her role in the Michael Douglas flop The Sentinel, and two of her other movies, Harsh Times and Carlita’s Secret—a must-see for fans of telenovelas—were quickly relegated to video. She gets much better reviews as a spokesmodel, which keeps her face before the public and casting directors. In our multicultural age, she has also been able to parlay her Latina beauty into a kind of global look that appeals to the editors of the ever-proliferating beauty and style magazines. “If you are Greek, she looks Greek,” Robert Verdi says. “If you are Turkish, she looks Turkish. Women see themselves in her.”

Her recent deal with Bebe Sport goes back to the days when the company dressed her for special events; when she later appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan in a low-cut Bebe blouse, the company was inundated with requests, and the issue was one of the biggest sellers in the magazine’s history. (When Eva first moved to Hollywood, she used to dream that she’d one day have the money to shop at Bebe.) The CEO of L’Oréal, Carol Hamilton, told me that the combination of Eva Longoria and the company’s motto—“Because I’m worth it”—has been a boon for all concerned. (Certainly this is true for Eva, who was paid $2 million for her trouble.)

In this way, even Tony Parker becomes a form of brand extension. Eva met him in the locker room after—in typical fashion—asking a reporter from San Antonio’s WOAI to introduce her. “It was goo-goo-ga-ga,” says Garcia, who was present in the early days of their courtship. No one is saying that Eva attached herself to Parker for the advertising possibilities, but the mutual benefits are obvious: The two were profiled last March in Sports Illustrated, Parker’s nickname is now Hollywood, and people who have never watched Desperate Housewives know that she was one of the first people on the floor after the Spurs won the NBA championship last June. In the ever-converging market of celebs and sports, they offer a twofer—maybe not quite Posh and Becks but getting close. (Eva was recently spotted making time with those two at David Beckham’s first soccer game in Los Angeles.) The wedding too was a synergist’s dream, providing plugs for everyone and everything from OK! and the NBA to Chanel and even A.B.S. designs, which has already knocked off the pink minidress Eva wore to the civil ceremony. (I had asked Anderson if I could attend the wedding as part of my reporting. Oh, no, she told me—it was just for friends and family. “I couldn’t even ask,” she said. This was her polite way of saying TEXAS MONTHLY wasn’t in the running for any multimillion-dollar wedding exclusive.) “You want to capitalize on it, profit from it, elevate your status in Hollywood,” a publicist for another major female celebrity told me. “Whenever you see something of this stature, you know people are trying to make a greater point.”

Only occasionally has Eva’s popularity backfired, as it did two Christmas Eves ago in San Antonio, when a bicycle cop tried to persuade Parker to move his SUV, which was blocking traffic in front of a local nightclub that had just refused the couple admission (Parker wasn’t dressed up enough). According to a police report, Eva became furious and cursed the officer with a popular epithet having to do with performing a sexual act. When the officer ticketed Parker for impeding traffic and for not producing his U.S. driver’s license, Eva allegedly shouted, “He’s just a Mexican bike cop. He only wants your autograph.” After landing on the front page of the San Antonio Express-News, the story subsequently went worldwide, thanks to the AP and Reuters, and prompted Anderson to issue a statement from Eva that said—“as a Mexican myself”—she never made any racial slurs about the bicycle cop’s ethnicity. Speaking for Eva, Anderson threatened legal action against him and told the press that the couple was “intent on setting the record straight” and that both Tony and Eva were “law-abiding and respectful citizens of the community.” So far, no suits have been filed.

The question now being asked about Eva is, What’s next? Seeking clues, I went to the Eva’s Heroes fundraiser and fashion show with her last winter at the Club at Sonterra, one of the newer San Antonio developments that have become home to an ever-growing cadre of spectacularly rich Mexicans and Mexican Americans. San Antonio has warmed to Eva in a way it never could to its other, more irascible, local celebrity, Tommy Lee Jones; there are unauthorized endorsements for a hotel in South Texas that is supposedly her favorite and a peanut butter cake in town she supposedly can’t get enough of. “Ew, I hate peanut butter,” she told me.

In this crowd, on this day, I could almost envision a lower-wattage future for her: as a beautiful mother presiding over a beautiful brood, a little heavier, perhaps, but still determined, using her contacts and force of will to get a son into Harvard and a daughter into Yale. Eva often says that nothing matters more than her family, and at this event she had yet again filled her table with her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her sister Esme Traube, along with Tony Parker and his teammate Robert Horry, who was the guest of honor. (Parker was much more animated with Horry beside him.) Eva seemed genuinely happy to have them there. They weren’t props; she whispered to her parents and caressed them, coming back to them time and again between onstage duties. Their faces were broad and weathered, her mother pretty and warm, her father handsome enough but somehow, too, a reminder of the genetic quirkiness of Eva’s beauty, and all beauty for that matter. These were the ones who used to jokingly refer to Eva as “la prieta fea” (“the ugly dark one”) and now wore the somewhat dazed expressions of people who have raised a child who has gone so far beyond their expectations that she, at times, seems more like an apparition, albeit a bountiful one in a sexy polka-dotted halter dress that nicely highlights her well-toned shoulders.

Eva’s Heroes, Eva said, was dedicated to her sister Lisa, who doctors had said was doomed at birth to never walk or talk or live any semblance of a normal life. The sold-out crowd of mostly Latinos—including General Ricardo Sanchez, the Texan who once commanded U.S. troops in Iraq—listened raptly.

“So cut to—my sister’s forty, she’s graduated high school, she’s highly functional, she has a job,” Eva said from the podium, while Lisa sat beaming with her parents. She then thanked her mother for the determination to help her oldest sister live independently, and she thanked Lisa for being “her hero,” for teaching her that nothing was impossible. Eva also thanked Garcia, who has devoted her life to special education and will run Eva’s Heroes, starting with fund-raising for a building and teaching afternoon classes to the developmentally disabled. Garcia told me she was amazed at how quickly Eva leaped into business mode when they spoke about creating the charity, and, in fact, you could see her influence in everything from Horry’s honor to the swag bags that contained her L’Oréal lipstick. There was an emcee from Extra! and a co-host from CitiBank, a balding, starstruck executive who was practically giddy about donating seed money. H-E-B, Time Warner, and AT&T had bought tables too. “She’s a little rock star,” Figueroa said of Eva’s ability to raise money.

Everyone in the family was crying by the time she finished her speech, as were most of her friends. When Lisa glided down the aisle, proudly modeling clothes for the fashion show, all Longoria eyes were fixed upon her.

The live auction started after lunch. One offering was a day on the set of Desperate Housewives. The emcee bid $1,200. Figueroa bid $1,400. “Time Warner, where are you?” Eva chided. AT&T came in at around $3,000, but the winner, at $3,100, was the owner of a local limousine company. The next auction item was dinner at San Antonio’s Melting Pot with Eva and Tony. “Tony and I are a lot of fun!” Eva chirped. “You have no idea!” A limo ride was thrown in; who wouldn’t want that? After furious bidding, the package went for $3,500, and Eva was ecstatic. (She presented this deal to a much bigger crowd at a Hispanic leadership conference in Phoenix last year and came up with $40,000.) For a moment I imagined that being wanted in any form might satisfy her, but then dismissed the idea just as fast as it had come.

Yes, Eva has seven more years on her Desperate Housewives contract, which pays her $200,000 an episode, and she must know that she is rapidly approaching the shady side of her life as a Hollywood glamour queen—but no one is better than she is at getting while the getting’s good. Yes, she passed on a few movies to concentrate on her wedding last summer, but after the big event she returned lickety-split to the set and refocused on her career. Despite talk of how much she’d like to have a child—not this season, Cherry supposedly told her—Eva spends a lot of time looking for a suitable project for her own production company. “My ambition is to do more—in acting, in philanthropy, in clothing lines, in writing, in business, in producing,” she told me a few weeks ago, when I asked whether she might one day chuck it all and just settle down in Texas. “I’m very driven to work.”

It reminded me of our previous meeting, on the Desperate Housewives set. Eva had finished for the day and retired to her trailer. There she found a gift-wrapped box—still more swag—which she ripped open with gusto. Inside was a studded black leather yoga bag of no small value. Without hesitation, she unzipped the bag and tore through the tissue paper inside, still searching, searching, searching for more.