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Giving 'Hot Lips' Service to the Songs of Her Life

August 11, 2000|BOOTH MOORE

She's done dozens of films, TV appearances and voice-overs since then, but actress Sally Kellerman has never quite topped her role as the sultry, sassy Major Margaret "Hot Lips" O'Houlihan in Robert Altman's 1970 film "MASH."

"It's still my biggest hit," she says with a tinge of sarcasm in her new one-woman show, which premiered Wednesday at El Portal Center in North Hollywood. A knockout in a fuchsia pantsuit, Kellerman at 63 looks as trim as she did back then, and she must have come to a point in her life where she's OK with being remembered as Hot Lips, because that's what she's calling her show.

And who knew those lips could sing?

The piece is "a celebration of women, using me as the perfect woman," she jokes on stage, clips of "MASH" projected behind her. But it's really more her life story told through a fairly bizarre roster of songs, including "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "We Shall Overcome," "That's What Friends Are For," and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" Kellerman even includes a medley of her commercial jingles for Woolite and Hidden Valley dressing, among others.

The actress breaks from song only to tell a few short anecdotes. Some of her jokes are tired ("I wanted to be an actress so I got a job as a waitress" ba-dum-bump), but in one of the funnier moments, she recalls meeting the "love of her life" at a group therapy session and thinking, "Oh God, I hope he's not too sick."

At the after-party in the lobby of the theater, she said she hopes to take the show to Broadway. Although she's been singing for years, she decided the time was right for a one-woman show . . . "while I'm still walking."

Altman, 75, bearded and casually dressed in a canvas jacket, hosted the evening. A friend of Kellerman's for 30 years, he said "She's so good, we've got to get people to see it." And though he plans to be in town this week, he doesn't think he'll be spending much time on the Democratic National Convention party circuit. His support, he said, could be a liability to a candidate, "so I have to hide."

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Signed Muhammad Ali shoes, Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" microphone and other sports and entertainment memorabilia will be auctioned at Dodger Stadium on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. A portion of the proceeds will benefit St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation. To view the goods, log on to http://www.butterfields.com and click on "Sale of the Century." Admission for those who want to attend in person is $20. Info: (323) 850-5426.

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Sure enough, I got a call from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' director of campaigns Dan Mathews after musing the other day that the animal activist was wearing "what appeared to be leather shoes" at El Coyote. They were actually "veggie Docs," he said--Doc Martens shoes made with no animal products. "I haven't worn leather," he said, "since 1985."

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Booth Moore can be reached at booth.moore@latimes.com.

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