It happened all too often. A nervous waitress approached the table of the tall, comely brunet with those eye-catching eyebrows. "Sorry to interrupt you," said the waitress, "but a guy over at the bar wants your autograph. I mean, you don't mind, do you?" The cover girl flashed a familiar smile. "I don't mind," she replied, "but I don't think I am who you think I am." The waitress asked incredulously, "You're not Brooke Shields?" The truth is, this brunet has never even met Shields.

Until her appearance on ABC's Paper Dolls, Terry Farrell, 20, found herself best known as a Brooke-alike. No more. The pulp flows thick and fast these days on Paper Dolls, the prime-time soap that has foam-mented interest in the demimonde of New York modeling. In the series Morgan Fair-child has gone through God-knows-how-many manicures to claw her way to the top as head of the most powerful agency in the world. And she has plucked from the heartland Laurie Caswell, a haloed teenager (Farrell) with that fresh, innocent, all-American face who becomes the agency's overnight star. Farrell, to whom "the show rings true," has already lived several of the scripts. She was indeed plucked from the heartland by the Elite agency three years ago. Like Laurie, the six-foot stunner was a leading cover girl pulling down $2,500 a day at a mere 18. But Paper Dolls, she says, "is a Hollywood version. All of the dramas are just condensed. What do they call that? Heightened reality?"

What they call it in Farrell's case is another fortunate career break. "It was luck or brilliant casting that we found somebody who so nearly fit the character in the pilot," says Jennifer Miller, the show's co-producer and chief writer. "So far we haven't had to make any adjustments in her part."

Farrell—she used only her last name as a model and still goes by it among her friends—doesn't agree. She sees Laurie as "more naive than me. She doesn't know what's going on around her. But when I tested for the part, people were shocked at how similar my story was to hers." As a youngster in Cedar Rapids, she says "I wanted to be like Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind. I wanted to have black hair, green eyes and break hearts." Terry "felt like a moose growing up." Her ears caught so much wind that her mother, Kay, playfully called her Dumbo. Terry had her ears pinned back before coming to New York. "It was all gross," she says of the operation. "I was all purple down the side of my neck, and my ears looked like the legs of bag people in winter." There had been some deeper pains. Her father, a laborer, left the family when Farrell was 4, lost touch with his two daughters, and died 10 years later of a heart attack. "I wish he could go to some of those Hollywood parties with me," she says. Her mother settled down nine years ago with a third husband, a data systems analyst, David Grussendorf, who adopted Terry in 1982.

Terry's height gave her some hassles as a youngster. When she got a permanent in grade school, pals called her "the electrocuted stringbean." By high school Farrell was searching for something more exotic than dominating the boards on the girls' basketball team. At 16, she stood out as Miss Photogenic in the Miss Teenage Iowa Pageant. Emboldened by that success, she put together a modeling portfolio. The pictures were taken by a local farm-equipment photographer, but they did the trick: An Elite agent—yes, just like on TV—hustled to Iowa to check out that dazzling smile. "After it was on the news that a modeling agency had flown out to interview me, I went to school and I had exactly three girlfriends left. They weren't in awe, they were jealous." A few months later Farrell was sharing an apartment with seven other new models in Manhattan. No one was more shocked to be in New York than Terry. Although she didn't graduate from high school, she made do later with an equivalency certificate. "My eyes are different sizes, my nose is too broad at the bridge and squishes up when I laugh, and my lips are sorta funny when I smile," says Farrell, echoing the familiar I'm-a-mutant-model rap that Ali MacGraw and Lauren Hutton made famous.

Of course Farrell stayed clear of drugs when she was a real-life paper doll. "Forget it," she says. "People who use drugs don't last. Looks go first for a model, and that's what it's all about." But she had more than a hint of Laurie Caswell's naïveté—particularly about sex. "It sounds corny but it's true. People had to tell me who to look out for, what parties to avoid. I didn't even know how to tell if someone was gay. Photographers and people do try to take advantage of you. You just have to stand your ground and prove you're not an easy target." Farrell was no shut-in; she more than sampled the nightlife, and her 19th birthday party was at Studio 54. "I wouldn't say the nightlife for anybody in New York is all that wholesome," she observes.

Farrell's scarcely into her second decade, but she's already into her second career. Still with Elite, she has moved into a Hollywood apartment, studies acting and has joined the trendy Matrix body-shaping club. Her diet runs to fruit, salads and plain yogurt. "I grew up on red meat and corn," she says. "But I don't eat like that anymore."

Farrell insists that her appetite for men is in the healthy wait-watchers category. "I like athletic men, but not like Arnold Schwarzenegger, though he's gorgeous," she says. "A guy's got to be sexy, optimistic, like to have a good time. Hey, I'm only 20. I mean, the only thing my boyfriends have had in common is green eyes. What do I know?" Sooner or later the world will find out.