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A Fantasy and a Few Frustrations : Television: Contest winner experiences life as a Hollywood celebrity for a day--complete with faux fans and real paparazzi.

November 05, 1995|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a few moments Saturday, plumbing shop worker Jeffrey Petitte learned to live like a star. And loathe like one.

The 31-year-old Medford, N.J., resident won a national contest to spend a day enjoying the pampered lifestyle of a Hollywood celebrity at the Bel-Air mansion built for Burt Lancaster.

But before he could get inside for his champagne, massage and authentic Brown Derby lunch, Petitte found himself being hounded by pushy autograph-seekers and real-life paparazzi.

Pen-waving "fans" tugged at his shirt sleeves and thrust papers in his face to sign. The photographers leaped from behind bushes and blazed away with flash cameras. "This way, Jeffrey! Look over here, Jeffrey!" they shouted.

Petitte was suddenly feeling more like Alec Baldwin--the actor who last month allegedly punched a tabloid lensman--than Burt Lancaster.

"Gosh, they're right in my face," he exclaimed as he fought his way up the mansion's walkway. "It's kind of annoying, so close like that."

It turned out that professional tabloid photographers Tom Rodriguez and Milan Ryba as well as the ersatz autograph seekers were hired by the contest's sponsors to add a little 1995-style realism to Petitte's prize.

The American Movie Classics cable television network paid $2,500 to rent Lancaster's former Linda Flora Road estate for the day from a television producer who now lives there. Its swimming pool is where Lancaster practiced for his 1968 movie "The Swimmer."

Former UCLA swim coach Bob Horn--who taught Lancaster for the film--was invited to return to meet Petitte. Celebrity hairstylist Cheryl Calo and massage therapist Kelly Carson were hired to give him the star treatment.

A genuine gossip columnist--E! Entertainment's Ethlie Ann Vare--was brought in for his catered lunch. "Movie Classics" show host Bob Dorian arrived to watch an old film in the home's screening room with Petitte.

Veteran butler Robert Dobbins, who has served the likes of Rock Hudson and Fred Astaire, kept champagne flowing from a king-sized bottle. He encouraged Petitte to take a dip in Lancaster's famed pool. Petitte responded that he hadn't brought swimming trunks with him from New Jersey.

"It's your house, sir. Go ahead anyway," suggested the butler.

Petitte glanced toward the bushes where the paparazzi had hidden. No thanks, he replied.

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