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PRIVATE LIVES

Star-Crossed : When Ordinary People Meet Celebrities: Where Are the Cue Cards When You Need Them?

April 15, 1990|MARGO KAUFMAN

WHY DON'T celebrities stay where they belong? On TV. In the movies. Or in the rack at the checkout counter.

To see them in real life only makes for awkward moments. You think you know them, but you don't. You feel compelled to say something, but there's nothing to say. They take the best tables. They draw fire. What good is having them around?

"Isn't that . . .?" I recently wondered as a pert blonde with a body to die for walked into my aerobics class. I stared in rapt fascination. She looked a little old to be that daffy, giggly comedienne who danced in a bikini. Then again, I'd followed her career for at least 20 years.

Still, I was careful not to get excited. I live in Los Angeles. I know the unwritten commandment: Thou Shalt Not Acknowledge the Rich and Famous. (That's for gushing tongue-tied tourists from Iowa who buy maps to the stars' homes.) Besides, I tend not to recognize people out of context. I wasn't sure this was the face that launched a thousand fanzines.

Then she began to sing. Class had just ended; there was no music playing to sing along with. Yet she blithely pranced across the dance floor warbling a merry tune. Even the most studiously blase among us took notice, if only to furtively check for plastic surgery scars.

"You know who you look like?" said a brazen classmate. The star giggled--so coyly that my fillings almost fell out. "Are you related to her?" my classmate continued obtusely. Frankly, I was so embarrassed for both of them that I skipped the denouement.

If celebrities would simply stay in the tube or on the screen, then everyone would know how to act. But when they wander out on the streets, it gets confusing. It's uncomfortable for the celebrity. And it's uncomfortable for me.

Recently, my husband and I went to the opening of the Moscow Circus. There was a panoply of famous people, few of whom I recognized until Duke pointed them out. (I have no memory for faces. My husband says that he could introduce a hot-water heater to me as George Lucas.) There was the younger, beef-jawed son of the longtime sea hunter. And the martial-arts monarch fresh from defeating a million pre- glasnost communists.

"Have you met Walter Mondale?" a man asked. I stared blankly at the bell-captainly gentleman sitting next to him. There was a resemblance.

kern,5 "I think I voted for you," I said stupidly.

"That man never ran for anything except a tip," Duke said later.

I did recognize the short, genial, teddy-bearish every- mensch --L.A.'s dream tax attorney--with his tall, brittle blonde wife. And the perennial boy of the video West (co-winner with George Hamilton of the Dorian Gray award). He stood next to me, grinning expectantly. But what was I supposed to say--"Miss the prairie?"

"Why spoil a perfect relationship?" Duke said.

Secretly, I was a little disappointed that none of the stars said hello to me. After all, it's impossible to turn on the TV or the radio without hearing whom they've married, whom they've divorced, whom they've impregnated and/or what drugs they've just kicked. It seemed inconceivable that they didn't know my name.

On the other hand, what could they possibly say that I'd find interesting--besides "Hey, how would you like a job?"

I felt silly taking covert looks at the household names, but I wasn't half as silly as the paparazzi who preyed on them like carp coming up for a feeding. The more polite ones yelled, "Mr. So-and-So," before firing off a barrage of flashbulbs. But most of them just hollered, "Hey, Kevin, over here. One more," as they dogged him to the men's room.

The most awkward moment came when the teddy-bearish every- mensch' s young son asked for a hot dog. I could imagine the beleaguered star standing in the concession line, surrounded by hordes of fans shouting his character's name. I was actually tempted to get the hot dog for him.

But who was I to spoil the fun? After all, a long time ago I was a celebrity--once removed. I was 16 years old and visiting Los Angeles for the first time on a cross-country tour. I was walking around Beverly Hills when I noticed the persnickety and fastidious half of a sitcom duo. "Aren't you . . .?" I stammered. He smiled and asked my name, and we chatted for several minutes. Afterward, nobody believed me.

But the next day, while members of my tour and I were strolling around Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, we heard a familiar voice. "Aren't you Margo?" the persnickety and fastidious star exclaimed. You'd be surprised how popular I became that summer.

It never would have happened if he'd stayed where he belonged.

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