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Familiar Faces for Rent : * Celebrity look-alikes are available through agencies in Van Nuys and Northridge. But it'll cost you--up to $350 an hour.

September 24, 1993|LISA HALLETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Lisa Hallett is a Glendale writer.

The divorce party Becky Hoffmann was throwing at her hilltop Glendale home for her freshly single sister, Betty James, was heating up. The deejay was spinning a mix of Motown and country, while the guests noshed on James' killer guacamole and did the mingling thing. And then a tan guy with shades who bore a strong resemblance to pop star George Michael sauntered in and was introduced as James' new "friend."

Revenge to an extreme? Try a fun, relatively innocent way of impressing your friends and eliciting some double-takes and chuckles--as long as you have the $350 or so per hour to fork over for one of the 150 celebrity look-alikes on the roster of Rent-a-Star, a new service offered by International Celebrity Images of Van Nuys.

The concept takes the celebrity image business to a more personal level. Instead of hiring, say, a Madonna to entertain a crowd at a high school reunion, why not bring the Madonna to the reunion as your guest?

"I think impressing people is the main reason clients want to do this," says Alana Joos, who has owned the company with her sister, Janna, for 15 years. "It might be meeting friends at a restaurant, a company banquet or at an event where someone wants to impress their friends, relatives or people they work or associate with," Joos says.

But don't get any funny ideas. If you have visions of a night on the town with just you and a Sylvester Stallone look-alike, forget it. "This is not an escort service," emphasizes Joos. "We don't even think of it like that. This is only a service where somebody books an entertainer to make an appearance. Not go with them and kiss them and hold their hand and all of that. Our entertainers meet someone at a location or somewhere near the location and get in a limo and ride two blocks to the event--and that's fine. But this is not a date."

When Hoffmann decided to throw the party for her sister, who was getting a divorce after 15 years of marriage, she elected to go all out and solicited the company's Entertainment Express to provide a deejay and Rent-a-Star to come up with a celebrity look-alike.

"We really needed to have a fun time," Hoffmann said. "People came up to me and said, 'Who is that?' And I said, 'This is Mr. George Michael.' "

It was one of the odder but certainly easier gigs for this George Michael, a.k.a. Dan Gore, a Studio City resident who has been impersonating Michael for six years and works for a handful of look-alike agencies in Southern California. All he really had to do was make an entrance, do a little socializing and posing, and be on his way.

Gore's strangest job? Another agency sent him to Denver at the request of a wealthy woman and Michael fan who wanted to spend a fun-filled weekend with him. "She bought me clothing and a nice leather jacket, which I still wear," said Gore, adding, "It was strictly platonic."

Another San Fernando Valley agency, Moe Thomas' Celebrity Look and Sound Alikes of Northridge, gets occasional requests to hire one of its look-alikes for more personal events.

"As long as it's in good taste and all they're expecting is for the person to go to the event with them and then leave right afterward," Thomas says. Thomas' agency recently sent one of its Clark Gable look-alikes, Ralph Chelli, to accompany a West Valley woman to her son's wedding in Encino. Chelli walked her down the aisle, attended the reception and met the woman's friends and family members. The intention was not to make people think this was the real Gable.

"She just wanted someone to go along with her to the wedding--a slightly older gentleman--and I guess I fit the bill," says Chelli, of Sun Valley. "It was really an up-and-up situation. I think they (the guests) felt that what I was doing was kind of nice, since she had no one to go with. It was just a fun little thing to do. Then we all said goodby, and I split. It's excellent pay."

Joos says her company screens clients before booking one of their look-alikes for an event. They inquire about the type of event, the location, the number of people who will be there, why they want to hire a celebrity look-alike and where they intend to meet the entertainer. "If it doesn't sound right, then we tell them it's not something we would be interested in doing," Joos says.

And just so the spoof is played out smoothly, Joos gathers a bit of history on the client--like where they are from, their occupation, how they know the make-believe Jack Nicholson or Tina Turner--so that the look-alike can say the right things. After all, there is some major moola being shelled out by clients to impress and be seen.

So, what, or who, will your hard-earned dollars buy? Thomas says female clients usually request such traditional studs as a Mel Gibson, Tom Selleck or Burt Reynolds. Men, he says, like the Marilyn Monroes and Dolly Partons. Younger clients have been opting for Markie Mark, Whitney Houston, Shannen Doherty and Luke Perry look-alikes.

Of course, the indefatigable Elvis is always a crowd-pleaser. "People know Elvis is dead, but they always like to play a joke. "Hey, look--I found Elvis!' " Thomas says.

WHERE AND WHEN What: Celebrity look-alikes from International Celebrity Images, Rent-a-Star, 15500 Erwin St., Suite 1009, Van Nuys. Price: $350 for the first hour. Call: (818) 376-6544.

What: Celebrity Look & Sound Alikes, P.O. Box 244, Northridge 91328. Price: $200 to $300 per hour. Call: (818) 886-5406.

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