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People Top 5
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PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- August 25, 1986
- Vol. 26
- No. 8
TV's Hall of Flukey Fame
Who'd'a Thunk It? A Letter Turner, a Professional Liar and an Electric Talk Show Host Lead a Pack of Long Shots Who Prove That Off-Beat Is On-Target When It Comes to Success
Vanna White is easy to poke fun at. Too easy. Despite her lack of discernible talent, White, a former cheerleader in her hometown (North Myrtle Beach, N.C.), is the first game show lackey in the history of the medium to emerge from the faceless background. No use blaming her for making it pay. Vanna once clapped so hard for a contestant that she fell on her face coming down the stairs of the puzzle platform. "The gentleman had just won a brand-new car," she explains, "and I was all excited."
"What you see is what you get," says Vanna, an observation she seems to consider a revelation. Dressed in a yellow cotton midi-dress that works in loud harmony with her purple eyeliner and frosted pink lipstick, Vanna is having dinner at a nearby L.A. restaurant after taping a show. "Are the mashed potatoes fresh?" she asks the waiter, who keeps a poker face. Vanna moves on to discuss her new celebrity. "People are very interested in me," she says, "so I am writing a book about all the things I they're curious about." The tome, to be published by Warner Books, will include I diet tips like, "Only eat when you're ; hungry." Now everyone in earshot 5 keeps a poker face. Then there's her poster. It's a latter-day Jane Russell pose—cleavage, jeans and straw, signed, "Wheel you be mine?" Says Vanna: "I'm the blue-jeans-in-the-hay girl, not the sex-maniac type."
At home in the Hollywood Hills, the usually overdressed White is surprisingly the slob. On the topic of her wardrobe (loaned by L.A. stores in exchange for an on-air plug), she confides: "I never have this stuff on at home. I wear sweats and jeans, with my hair in a ponytail, and no makeup." You'd never know it from her wasplike figure (measurements 36-23-33), but the 5'6", 107-lb. star once was overweight. She gained 25 pounds after moving to Los Angeles in 1980. "I was out of work, struggling," she explains. "I'd eat whole pies, cakes, meat loafs." She now exercises daily, doing 25 push-ups and 50 sit-ups.
The daughter of a real estate broker, Vanna White (her real name) worked as a model for department store catalogs in Atlanta before moving to L.A. After a few minor roles in movies (Looker and Graduation Day), she was selected from 200 applicants as the hostess of Wheel in 1980. Boss Merv Griffin, whose production company produces Wheel, helped choose Vanna. "He told me I turned the letters better than anyone," she says proudly. "And I guess I did."
With all this success, there has been one tragedy. In May, Vanna's live-in boyfriend, onetime soap actor John (The Young and the Restless) Gibson, 37, was killed in a plane crash. She refuses to discuss his death, but friends say that returning to the show after a brief layoff has helped her overcome her grief. White denies that she and the divorcing Wheel host Pat Sajak, 39, are dating. They are friends, though. "Pat's a real funny guy," she says. Example: "He showed his belly button on the air one day."
Okay, she's Mary Poppins. But she knows it. Even six years of the Wheel hasn't gotten her down. "I take my job with a smile," she says. "I turn letters. That's what I do." So quit teasing.
Last book read: "I can't remember."
Secret trash passion: "Hamburgers from the White Castle chain. Greasy, disgusting and wonderful."
TV role models of her youth: "Susan (The Partridge Family) Dey and Maureen (The Brady Bunch) McCormick. They are both All-American."
Favorite TV show: The Flintstones.
Favorite vowel: "It's between the 'a' and the 'e'."
Favorite character in history: Lauren Bacall.
Shocking physical flaw: "I have the ugliest toes in the world."
JON LOVITZ, 28, Saturday Night Live's brightest light and the first professional liar since Pinocchio to make it as a media hero: Funnyman Lovitz knows what lying will get you—an Emmy nomination, movie deals and pretty autograph seekers like the tanned coeds at L.A.'s Hard Rock Cafe who rushed the rather plain-looking actor crying, "You're him, you're the liar! Would you sign my napkin?" As Saturday Night Live's pathological fibber, Tommy Flanagan, who often pretends he's married to Morgan Fairchild, likeable Lovitz has lied his way to the top.
Lovitz, who is co-writing a film based on Tommy, will be seen in three movies by the end of the year: Jumpin' Jack Flash with Whoopi Goldberg, Ratboy with Sondra Locke and Three Amigos with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. He humbly, and truthfully, points out that all three roles are small. That's the thing about the off-camera Lovitz; he doesn't lie.
Hook-nosed and balding, Lovitz looks like a cross between someone who would talk annuities over dinner and a door-to-door vacuum salesman. He's normal, for goodness sakes. "People can tell that when Jon was a kid, he listened to Al Jolson, not the Rolling Stones," says Saturday Night Live executive producer Lome Michaels. "That's what so appealing about him."
The appeal was not lost on one of those Stones, Mick Jagger, who as a guest on SNL took a liking to Lovitz, whose other popular characters include nerdy Biff Lorenzo and that self-indulgent Shakesperian ham, Master Thespian. Says Jon, "All I could think of was, 'I'm here doing a scene with Mick.' I mean, a year ago I was a messenger!"
Lovitz also logged hours as a hospital orderly, waiter, photocopier operator and stockroom boy, but years of acting and studying the craft paid off in his native Southern California, where he signed on with The Groundlings comedy-improvisation troupe in L.A. There he created his Tommy Flanagan character and told his first lie. He went on to film-stealing scenes as an obnoxious French bartender in 1985's The Last Resort and a recurring role in the short-lived CBS series Foley Square.
Although shy about his private life (he's a New York bachelor and looking) and his relationship with his SNL colleagues, he says "there's no jealousy" on their part over his sudden fame. "They are all happy for me." He also claims that the days of drugs and hot tempers on the set are over, which suits this Mr. Everyman fine. "I don't drink, smoke or do any drugs," he says. "No lie."
Hobbies: "Baseball, sex, racquetball, Cybill Shepherd, playing the piano."
Person he'd most want to date: "What! And be unfaithful to Morgan? You must be maaaad!"
PAUL SHAFFER, 36, "the Hippest man in America," so says his boss David Letterman: The bandleader and second banana on Late Night With David Letterman is a double threat in the talk-show business. "I have the soul of a rock 'n' roller—and a Catskills comedian," says Shaffer. Every night this quiet, bespectacled man from Thunder Bay, Ontario, blasts out tunes so hot that guys like Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen come on the show just to sit in with him. Between numbers, Shaffer turns into a parody of every Las Vegas lounge lizard who has pretended to be a friend of Wayne Newton. "Wunner-ful show we have tonight, Dave. So good to see you," says Shaffer, affecting an insincere, nasal tone that sends Letterman into a knowing, heh-heh-heh chuckle. "I think Dave was shocked the first time I opened my mouth," says Shaffer, who started bantering with Letterman shortly after the show debuted four years ago. But the routine worked—and Letterman loves it. "Night after night, Paul's the best part of the show," Dave raves.
"I really get a kick out of guys like Jerry Lewis who take their participation in show business so seriously," says Shaffer, who, as a child "with a perennial cold," watched every late-night talk and rock show he could find on the Canadian dial. "But then I'm happy when someone asks me for an autograph because it confirms I'm in show business."
Despite his penchant for Hawaiian print shirts, the nearsighted, small-framed (138 lbs. on 5'6") Shaffer isn't likely to be mistaken for Magnum's Tom Selleck. But his fans are just as ardently devoted. Whenever Shaffer leaves the NBC studio in New York where the Letterman show is taped, there are scores of giggly teenage girls waiting to get his autograph and say hello to "Paul." He grins shyly. "I've been a musician since high school, but it never brought me success with girls." Until now. He's available, ladies. But be forewarned. Like Duke Ellington, music is his mistress. "I guess women want to feel that you put them first, over music," says Shaffer, who recently split with his girlfriend of several years, apparently over just this issue.
So far, Shaffer remains resolutely unsettled. Although he has lived in New York for a dozen years, since he came here to be musical director of Broadway's The Magic Show, Shaffer has yet to rent an apartment. He lives in a downtown hotel room that is underrated except for piles of papers and boxed-up recording equipment. His interests lie elsewhere. One of the most versatile musicians around, he has recorded with artists from Diana Ross to Yoko Ono, written the disco hit It's Raining Men, served as musical director for Gilda Radner's one-woman Broadway show and, recently, played legendary record producer Phil Spector in Leader of the Pack, an off-Broadway hit featuring music from the "girl groups" of the '60s. "When I heard the Ronettes singing Walking in the Rain," he recalls, "that's Ik when I discovered girls."
Fortunately for America, Paul's parents—a successful Canadian lawyer and his wife, a homemaker—took their only son on a life-changing trip to Las Vegas. "My mother 'introduced' me to George Burns, even though she didn't know him," he marvels. Shaffer soon turned from classical music to the tunes he heard on the radio. In 1975 he was hired to be the pianist for the original Saturday Night Live. He later became a special writer on the show and appeared in a few of the skits. Although he's still friendly with the SNL gang (he used to throw a Passover seder for them) he doesn't regret trading in those frantic days for his newfound cult status on Letterman. "Saturday Night Live was great, but every week it was like group therapy sessions around there," he says.
Today Shaffer's best friends are still comedians and comedy writers like SNL's Martin Short and Harry Shearer. "We get together to shtickel," he says. "It's a Yiddish word," he says, "meaning 'to do shtick.' " If you still don't know what that is, watch Paul Shaffer, the current master of the art.
Secret hobby: "Getting tan."
Nominee for all-time hipness: "Sam Butera, Louis Prima's bandleader."
WILLARD SCOTT, 52, the only weatherman who is part ham and part chicken (he's still scared of that darn camera): It doesn't matter if he's spewing the five-day forecast from inside a volcano in Hawaii or keeping up with barometric pressures while viewing a parade in Seattle. Today's resident rug-wearing roly-poly has caught America's fancy. How he predicts the weather has little to do with his appeal. "I'm not a meteorologist," says Scott. "People watch who they want on weather because they like their personality. The information isn't any different." Willard's delivery is. "I'm as corny as Kansas," admits the 6'3", 270-pounder, whose well publicized fear of the camera didn't stop him from dressing as a bunny for an egg-rolling contest on the White House lawn. "Being corny is my strength," he says.
That, and his eagerness to move around. "I'm kind of a roving ambassador for Today," says Scott, who genuinely likes to travel. In addition to journeying to America's heartland once a week for the show, he regularly makes a late night Sunday commute to New York from his 15-acre farm in Delaplane, Va. It was in nearby Washington, D.C. that he developed his whoop-it-up weatherman persona on NBC affilliate WRC for 29 years, before joining Today in 1980.
Scott's childlike benevolence and often childish humor have helped bolster Today's ratings. He gets 2,000 letters per week, about 1,700 more than Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley. "I'm a gregarious sort," says Scott. His birthday greetings to folks who have turned 100 reveal his serious side. "I'm a fierce believer in Americans taking care of the old people," he explains, noting that his office is the second biggest clearinghouse in the U.S. for centenarians, after the White House. He also takes up the causes of the American Indian and water conservation. "I believe that the serious stuff I do is far better than the funny stuff," he says.
Scott is a broadcast veteran, having started as an NBC page in Washington when he was 15. Born in Alexandria, Va. to an insurance salesman and a housewife, he had his own basement radio station at age 12. "I love the business so much I never asked what a job paid," says Scott, whose stage fright came late in his career—after he was established at Today. "I was too dumb to be afraid when I started Today," he admits. "I think fear doesn't strike until you've got something to lose. I still keep a Valium in my pocket when I go on the air."
The most precious things in Scott's life, he says, are his wife, Mary, 50, his daughters, Mary, 25, and Sally, 21, and his country life of gardening and curing hams in his smokehouse. "When I sit out here at night and have a little Jackie D. and look out over the Blue Ridge, I think, 'My God, little Willie Scott, who would ever believe?' "
Favorite food: "Pot roast."
Clandestine crush: Sissy Spacek.
Number of toupees owned: "I have three now. I gave one to June Gumbel (Bryant's wife) the other day and she auctioned it off to charity for $200."
Guilty secret: "I really have more knowledge of weather than I pretend."
OPRAH WINFREY, 32, the exception that proves the rule in talk show hosts: Nearly 200 pounds of mirth and girth in designer gowns and size 10 Billy Martin lizard-skin cowboy boots, Winfrey is taking on Phil Donahue with a nationally syndicated version of her Chicago-based talk show, beginning in September in 138 cities. A sassy, black, female anomaly in a field dominated by reassuring white males with gray hair, Winfrey has been compared by one critic to "a charge up San Juan Hill. [Her] strength is to take charge, beam energy and, as they say in the trade, wing it."
Winfrey is a fascinating combination of down-home and uptown. She grew up poor, once had roaches for pets, and now lives in an $800,000 condominium with marble floors, four baths and a sauna in a ritzy Chicago tower. (Oprah describes the place, undergoing redecoration right now, as "a mess—it's like a bomb dropped on it.") At work, Winfrey prides herself on being natural. Without a single acting lesson, she won an Oscar nomination for her screen debut in The Color Purple. "I'm a person who lives my life with great passion, and I think that comes across on camera," she says. Sure does. One minute she's refereeing a debate between her audience and three Ku Klux Klan members; the next she's intently asking Dudley Moore about the technical aspects of sleeping with tall women. Starting out in 1984 as a virtual unknown on WLS, the ABC station in Chicago, she outranked Donahue in the ratings within six weeks. She admires Donahue without wanting to imitate him. "You really have to work hard to let what you are come through."
Finding her identity has been a struggle for Oprah, who spent her childhood in Mississippi with her grandmother. From 7 to 14 she lived in Milwaukee with her mother, a house-cleaner. Undisciplined and delinquent, she straightened out when she went to live with her father and stepmother in Nashville in 1968. By 17 she was working as a newscaster on a local radio station in Nashville, eventually moving to Baltimore where she co-hosted a morning show from 1977 to 1983.
On or off the job, Winfrey is the same battery-charged force. "She's like this all day," one weary staffer noted recently, trying to keep up with Winfrey's just-completed, city-a-day promotional tour. With all the activity, her weight is still a problem. The 5'6" Winfrey optimistically bought a size 8-10 wardrobe before The Color Purple premiere, but now a size 14, she's aiming for a stockpiled size 12 leather skirt.
A new calming force in her life is her boyfriend of four months, Stedman Graham, 32, executive director of Athletes Against Drugs, a group that educates schoolchildren about drugs. "He's kind, and he's supportive, and he's 6'6"!" They don't live together but Oprah raves, "He not only washes the dishes, he cooks." And, best of all, she says, "He's not famous. Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo. But you want someone who'll be there when the limo breaks down, who'll help you catch the bus."
Movie role she'd like to play: "Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first black female millionaires—she invented the straightening comb."
Favorite junk food: "Orville Redenbacher's popcorn.
Celebrity she'd most like to date: "I'd give up my right leg—for a week—for a date with Robert De Niro."
KAREN CELLINI, 29, Dynasty's replacement princess takes the crown as the new season's un-likeliest Cinderella: Don't worry. She hasn't slipped by while you weren't paying attention. Cellini has yet to debut on Dynasty (she starts Sept. 24) or appear professionally on any stage or screen. But she deserves a spot on any list of current flukes. Consider that until six weeks ago Cellini was tucked away in a crowded corner of Manhattan's Hard Rock Cafe hawking T-shirts on commission. When her agent arranged an audition for Dynasty, Karen laughed. "I mean, look at me," she says. "I usually wear baggy pants, big shirts and men's loafers." For Cellini, the mascara mountain of Dynasty promises to be a hard climb. "I never wear makeup," the spunky brunette admits. For her interview with the producers, Karen had to buy high heels and borrow a friend's dress. "It was Dynasty all the way," she says, "black silk with little sparkles, cut down to here with boobs sticking out—not my style at all."
The role she won was another reach. Cellini will replace Catherine Oxenberg (terminated when she asked for more money and control), who has played Amanda, the princess of Moldavia, Joan Collins' spoiled daughter. Oxenberg had a real royal pedigree to draw on for her character (her mother is Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia). Cellini's background was a housing project in north Philadelphia, where she lived with her divorced mother, a theater dresser, and three siblings. "We were very poor," says Karen, who stayed out of trouble by getting involved in school plays and talent contests. She studied theater at Temple University, then left for New York in 1982 to hunt (unsuccessfully) for acting jobs, supporting herself by housekeeping and waitressing. Her home became a fourth-floor walk-up near the Lincoln Tunnel, rattling with the din of cars roaring to and from New Jersey. "This is my life," says Karen, her hand sweeping her cramped abode. "Next week I'll be in a beauty pose. It's a scream."
While Cellini hoots at the incongruity of her matchup with nighttime soaps, she is dead serious about how she got the role: "I gave a great audition," she says proudly. "They threw scenes at me with no preparation, saying 'do an English accent.' I'm a good actress and I know that's why I got the part."
With her Dynasty advance (her salary is an estimated $12,500 weekly), Cellini bought a Volkswagon convertible and rented an L.A. apartment to fill with her books on Eastern philosophy and her vitamins (she takes 45 a day for her "weak organs"). In this new locale she's hoping to find success and a boyfriend. If she doesn't, this Cinderella is ready: "Every night I expect the carriage to turn back into the pumpkin and find myself back at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel." Just in case, she's keeping her old apartment.
Impressions of the Dynasty cast: "John [Forsythe] is a card. Linda [Evans] is sweet. The only thing Joan [Collins] said to me so far was, 'So you're my daughter. We'll have to discuss our relationship.' "
Plans for her money: "Buy my mom a house."
Pastime: "Reading about prophets, parapsychology and self-exploration."
Regret: "Before Dynasty, I was going to study parapsychology at the Edgar Cayce Institute. I can't go now, darn it."
EDWARD WOODWARD, 56, the least likely sex symbol: Better known as Robert McCall, the vigilante hero of CBS' [The Equalizer], this reserved British actor is strikingly out of sync with the rest of TV's crime stoppers, who are mostly young, flash> and rarely polysyllabic. McCall busts heads, yes, but he can also play the piano. He expresses rage, but in New York's urban jungle, remains urbane. He has been called a high-class Rambo and a silver-haired stud.
That last tag has begun to stick to Woodward offscreen, to his undisguised embarrassment. "There's no way I'm like Don Johnson," he says. Still, Woodward takes care to keep his waistline from slipping. Every morning at 5:30, a personal trainer visits Woodward's West Side apartment in Manhattan to run the star through an hour-long weight-lifting regimen. "I'm a food junkie," he says, "and the great American hamburger is something I have to steer well clear of."
Though research shows that high school and college students rival women over 45 as Woodward's most ardent admirers, any romantic notions should be scotched. For the past 11 years, he's been living with Michele Dotrice, 38, daughter of actor Roy (Amadeus) Dotrice. In a small English town near Stratford, they share a Gothic-style house he calls "nook-and-crannyish." The unmarried couple, who've had only one brief visit home since he started the series, have a 3-year-old daughter, Emily. Woodward is still in the process of a divorce from British actress Venetia Collett, with whom he has three children (ages 32, 28 and 21), all thespians.
Though he is proud of his acting clan, Woodward still harbors some fatherly guilt about the lean early years. "The frustration of unemployment saps your strength and makes you irritable. I think I'm a better father now."
An only child in London during World War II, Woodward vividly recalls the bombings—particularly because his father, a poultry farmer before the war, became an air raid warden, as did Edward's mother. "We had three houses destroyed in the bombings, and we were in them each time," he says. "Still, it was very exciting for a child."
Woodward knew he wanted to be an actor after winning a talent competition (he recited a poem) at age 5. Granted a scholarship at 16 by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, he has since done more than 400 plays, from Shakespeare to Coward. He's also recorded 14 albumsC'I'm an Andy Williams type of singer") and made 14 movies, the best known of which is the 1979 Australian hit Breaker Morant.
So total is Woodward's current identification with The Equalizer that viewers often approach him on the street asking for help. "While shooting in Harlem," he recalls, "I was surrounded by people who said, 'Hey, we need you on our block.' You realize there is half a hope that maybe this flickering shadow on a screen can touch the chords of people. It gives you a great lift."
Most embarrassing moment: When he asked Princess Margaret how her grandmother was. "I meant her mother, but she's very good-natured and quipped, 'I have no idea.' "
Ideal dinner guests: "Jack Lemmon, John Gielgud, Angela Lansbury."
Hidden talent: "Imitating a harmonica."
MAX HEADROOM (real name: Matt Frewer, 28), the first and, so far, only computer-created veejay: The critics agree that he, or it, is the most original personality, or thing, on the tube. Whether you catch Max on his biweekly Cinemax series or hawking Coke on the networks, you never see him whole. No arms. No legs No torso. Max, of the molded blond hair and plastic complexion, is all talking head. On the British-made pilot first seen in the U.S. last year, he started as a human reporter whose head was video-duplicated by unscrupulous advertisers. Nobody cared much about the fate of the reporter, but the head caught on. Max won his own talk show where he plays hip videos until he tires of them, sometimes in a few seconds. He also insults guests: He yawned in Sting's face and threatened to turn a howitzer on Vidal Sassoon.
Max, of course, is TV's ultimate send-up of itself. Rocky Morton, co-creator of Headroom (with Annabel Jankel, George Stone and producer Peter Wagg), sees his Maxenstein as "a very sterile, arrogant, Western personification of the middle-class, male TV host." But preferable to any over-groomed MTV or VH-1 veejay: No salary demands. No holidays. No faults either, except for an occasional technical stutter. "Don't you think that 'stutter' is a harsh word for what is no more than a slight verbal hes-hes-hes-itancy?" says Max from his box. After all, computers can malfunction. And Max is purely computer-generated, or so said the producers, until the public grew suspicious.
That's when Matt Frewer spoke up. For the first few episodes, Frewer, a British actor born in America and educated in Canada, had actually played Max without credit. "It was difficult to come to terms with being totally anonymous," says Frewer, who nonetheless allows there were some benefits to maintaining the mystery. "I could interview for a film, and the producers didn't go, 'Whoops, sorry, no parts for rubber men today.' " But the success of Max was something Matt wanted to share. "One's ego couldn't cope," he says. Playing Max is hard work. To get in character, Frewer endures a grueling four-and-a-half hour makeup session which he calls "a very painful, tortuous and disgusting enterprise." (Though the program is shot only one day every three weeks, it's an 18-hour day.) A mold is put on Frewer's face, and then prosthetic rubber is poured on "to make my bulbous forehead more bulbous and my square jaw more square." The production techniques to make him appear synthetic are simpler. "They film me babbling on and use only one frame in every 12 to give the impression that Max is trying to catch up with himself."
At home in the new luxury London apartment—with glassed-in conservatory—he bought with the money he earned from the Max Coke commercials, Matt gives a similar impression. He mixes Maxisms ("Inside I'm a down-to-earth, humble, normal little individual, just like you") with impressions of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau or Andy Kaufman as Taxi's Latka. What he is is rarely serious. The son of a Canadian Navy officer, he says he switched to acting instead of studying biology because "I didn't feel like chopping up worm's hearts." Classically trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, he auditioned for a nude role in a London club revue to get his Equity card. "They wanted me for two years, and the choreographer just wanted me for a night, but I said 'no' on both counts." He did repertory work for four years until he won the Max role by "ad-libbing a few lines."
These days there's more than Max in Frewer's life, including a role as a C.I.A. agent in the Dustin Hoffman-Warren Beatty comedy, Ishtar, due at Christmas. Frewer and British actress Amanda Hill wood, his wife of nearly two years, are writing a children's book called The Fez Brothers, which Matt describes as "a Moroccan version of The Blues Brothers." New outlets are necessary. Frewer predicts the public "will overdose on Max in the next year or two, but in the nicest possible way. After all, you can't get too much of a good thing." Even the Max commercials, he says, are getting weird: "As opposed to laughing, you think, 'What the hell is this?' "
Favorite guest: "Boy George. He has such a fluid, quick mind."
Least favorite guest: "Those people shall remain nameless." He reconsiders. "Roger Daltrey."
Person most admired: "Me."
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