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Talk Show Sidekick Takes the Cake

April 07, 1999|SUSAN KARLIN

Frances Kuyper may be the '90s answer to Clara "Where's the beef?" Peller. As a special correspondent on "The Howie Mandel Show," the 80-year-old Kuyper--nicknamed "the Cake Lady" for founding the Mini Cake Museum --appears to be gathering a cult following on the 10-month-old, nationally syndicated talk show.

She's played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, accompanied Mandel to a nudist colony, and interviewed Billy Crystal, Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson. She even made a play for George Clooney, but it was James Coburn who sent her soaring.

"He brought me back to my Clark Gable stage," Kuyper sighs. "I had such a crush on him."

Kuyper's newfound fame means she's in demand for commercials and cake conventions alike. "I've been in cakes since 1950, and now that I'm on Howie's show, they treat me like a different person," she says. "They just bow down to me now."

Kuyper's is a classic rags-to-riches story. Growing up outside Chicago, she wore clothes made from feed bags, and dropped out of high school when her family ran out of money for clothes and books. For the next 12 years, she performed a variety act at hotels and dinner theaters with her sister before marrying and moving to Los Angeles in 1948. From there, she began demonstrating professional cake decoration, eventually founding her own business, Cake Lady Services, followed by her Mini Cake Museum in 1994. In January, Kuyper and the museum's nearly 1,300 cakes, books and videos moved to Boyle Heights.

A 1996 news article about Kuyper alerted the show's producers, who were so blown away by her wit, poise and unusually deep voice that they brought her in as a sidekick.

"One of the most important features in broadcasting is your voice, and hers is deeper than mine," Mandel says. "I figured it could only help me. She's gotten a phenomenal response--they even request her at movie premieres. Johnny had Ed McMahon, I have Frances Kuyper."

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