IT'S WEIRD WHEN YOU'RE WAITING ON A table and somebody asks you for an autograph," says Marc Copage. Weirder still, no doubt, if you've grown two feet and aged 20 years since your prime-time heyday. Co-page, 29, who costarred with Diahann Carroll on NBC's Julia two decades ago, meets Hollywood types these days as a part-time waiter at the Bel Age Hotel. But Julia fans haven't forgotten. "It always comes up," he shrugs. "I can't get away from it."

Copage was a cuddly 5-year-old when his father, John, a sometime actor turned L.A. real estate investor, took him to the Julia casting call in 1968. Winning out over 60 competitors, Copage took home the $450-a-week role of Corey Baker, son of a working, middle-class nurse played by Carroll. "He was so lovable; he had the most infectious smile," recalls Carroll, now 56, who still sees Copage occasionally.

Copage (whose dancer-actress mom had split from his father years earlier) soon came to see Carroll as "the closest thing I had to a mother." But when the show ended three years later, so did Copage's time in the limelight. Despite his manager-father's efforts, Marc landed only a few other acting gigs over the next few years. He studied music at Santa Monica College, then, at 23, tried a brief stage career under the name of Marcus Dey (to escape his TV past), but offers were few. "I was costar of a hit TV series at one time, and then I was an extra with things blowing up around me," he says of those days.

A bout of depression followed, as well as a bitter break with his father over ownership of the Beverly Hills home where Marc was living (they settled out of court). Now Copage is hoping to start anew by parlaying his music and dance skills into a recording career (he works the reception counter at the L.A. Dance Academy in exchange for lessons). He pays the rent on his Hollywood apartment with investments, part-time jobs and occasional acting roles (he played a singing patrolman on last year's Cop Rock) and insists he has no regrets. All things considered, he says, "I was a lucky guy."