Sarah Michelle Gellar
[ACTRESS]

The horror! The horror! As the WB network's teen cult heroine Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she struggles week after week to pass algebra and save the world from the rapacious Undead. And it never lets up. In October she was a frantic beauty queen being stalked in the No. 1 box office thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer, and this month she joins Courteney Cox Arquette and Neve Campbell in the gorefest Scream 2. Take it from the expert, Sarah Michelle Gellar: "The really scary thing is how fast it's all happening." At warp speed the New York City native, 20, has gone from an Emmy-winning stint in All My Children's Pine Valley—where as Kendall Hart she made life hell for TV mom Susan Lucci—to Buffy's Sunnydale, dubbed "the Undead's favorite party town." Gellar, who makes ample use of the martial arts she studied for 11 years, has been there. "My junior high experience was Buffy," says the 1994 graduate of Manhattan's Professional Children's School. "I felt different and awkward. This is a show that stresses individuality, and I think girls can really relate to it." Boys find something to relate to as well. "Sarah's a sexy firecracker," says Last Summer costar Jennifer Love Hewitt. "Super witty and really on top of things." Everything except the dusting. "My big adjustment to stardom is that I have a maid who comes every two weeks," says Gellar, who just bought a house in L.A. The other major change? "I get fewer prison letters than I did when I was on the soap." Even the cons know not to mess with the Slayer.

Jonathan Lipnicki
[ACTOR]

"Do you know the human head weighs eight pounds?" With lines like this, delivered in an adorable lisp and with refreshing ease, spike-haired cherub Jonathan Lipnicki endeared himself to Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire—and to moviegoers everywhere. As precocious as Shirley Temple and as impish as Macaulay Culkin, 7-year-old Lipnicki has more going for him than multiple cowlicks and oversize eyeglasses (for astigmatism). "He's not a Hollywood kid," says Ross Brown, creator of the CBS sitcom Meego, costarring Bronson Pinchot and Lipnicki. "Some of them are so overtrained, it reeks of an adult talking. Jonathan is a kid and he acts like a kid." As a 4-year-old, though, he did tag along to acting lessons with his older sister Alexis, now 10, who appears in TV commercials, Jonathan already loves the biz. "I want to act until I'm old-old," he says. "Until I'm 100." At home in suburban L.A.'s San Fernando Valley with mother Rhonda, who helps manage her children's careers, and father Joe, a CPA, Jonathan is just another boy on his T-ball team. He does his chores, clearing the table and putting his clothes in the laundry, cares for his dog Edgar, a pit bull mix, and attends Indian Guide meetings with his father. He is proud that he has already earned a yellow belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Other than acting, Jonathan's only ambition is to be a boxer. But, he promises-with a bright smile, "I won't bite someone's ear off."

Jenna Elfman
[ACTRESS]

She's definitely a free spirit. Maybe even a little flaky. Just don't call Jenna Elfman a ditz, "People who are ditzes don't get the job done," protests the actress, whose bubbly charm has helped make the new ABC sitcom Dharnia & Greg one of the season's few hits. "There's a genuineness to Jenna, and it's contagious," says the show's executive producer, Chuck Lorre, who hired Elfman to play the dizzy dog trainer-yoga teacher to Thomas Gibson's straitlaced spouse after seeing her in Molly Ringwald's short-lived 1996 sitcom. ("Even in a show like Toumies," says Lorre, "Jenna jumped off the screen.") Elfman, 26, who grew up in suburban L.A. (dad Richard Butala is a Hughes Aircraft executive, mom Sue a homemaker), had planned to be a dancer, but an ankle injury ended that dream. Her first success was in TV commercials, including a 1991 Sprite ad where she met actor husband Bodhi Elfman, 28. Now with her career karma in gear—in February she costars with Richard Dreyfuss in the film Krippendorf's Tribe—Elfman is giddy. "People are excited about the show," she says. "I wanted it to evoke an enthusiasm about life, and it has."

Hanson
[TEEN POP GROUP]

"Mmm bop, ba duba dop." With its infectious cheerfulness, "MMMBop" became the bouncy soundtrack of summer '97. The song spent three weeks at No. 1 and helped Oklahoma's sensationally cute Hanson brothers' Middle of Nowhere album go multiplatinum. Offering an alternative to gloomy rock, Hanson has young girls screaming at concerts around the world—and their parents humming along. The boys' success, believes Steve Greenberg of Mercury Records, the lads' label, is due to the fact "there are lots of kids out there who aren't cynical and jaded." That goes double, er, triple, for (from left) Isaac, 17, Taylor, 14, and Zachary, 12. The exuberant brothers became instant sensations on a worldwide tour. "You go to a foreign country and hear 'blah, blah, blah, Hanson, blah, blah,' " says Taylor. "It's weird." Educated at home in Tulsa by their parents, they keep a daily journal of their experiences to read when the pace slows down. What do they miss most on the road? Clean clothes. Says Zac: "They need to invent portable washing machines."

Brian Williams
[TV ANCHOR]

In the news business, being first is the name of the game, and on his MSNBC program, The News with Brian Williams, the 38-year-old anchor has been offering up a scoop du jour. He was the first to go live with the discovery of Andrew Cunanan's body and the first to announce the death of Princess Diana. "This is a strange business because you always get kudos after a horrific tragedy," he says. "I'd rather have Diana back and not have anybody watching." But people are watching him—not only on MSNBC but on the Saturday edition of NBC Nightly News and when he regularly fills in for Tom Brokaw, for whom he is widely considered the heir apparent. "I don't think it would be my call, but he's in a perfect position [to succeed me]," says Brokaw. "I know it's a great relief to me to have someone like Brian around."

When not chasing news, Williams unwinds at the New Canaan, Conn., home that he shares with his wife, Jane, a former TV producer, and their two children. "I try real hard on the home front, and I love what I'm doing," he says. "I have a job most people would kill for."

Chris Rock
[COMEDIAN]

Chris Rock's 1985 announcement that he wanted a career in stand-up comedy caught his mom, Rose Rock, unawares. "He said, 'Mommy? I need to talk to you,' " she remembers. "I couldn't imagine why he was so serious. I thought he'd gotten a girl pregnant or something." Rock, 32, even surprised himself. "I never realized I'm funny," he says. "I just realized that sometimes when I'm serious, people tend to laugh." That tendency is increasing. In September, Rock's riotous HBO special Bring the Pain won him two Emmys—and comparisons to his idol Eddie Murphy, who discovered Rock in a New York City comedy club in 1986. He has a new book, Rock This, an expansion of his stand-up routines, and he just signed to play the boyfriend of Danny Glover's daughter in the forthcoming Lethal Weapon 4. For Rock, whose rise began with three seasons on Saturday Night Live, the elevated profile is amazing. "I've been on Oprah twice in six months, and 60 Minutes is calling," says the comedian, who lives in Brooklyn with wife Malaak Compton-Rock, 28, a publicist for UNICEF. "It's beyond my wildest dreams."

Tara Lipinski
[ICE SKATER]

Tara Lipinski, 15, sleeps under a poster of a little girl who has visions of ice champions Jill Trenary, Katarina Witt and Kurt Browning. "It's so strange," she says. "People say, 'So many kids look up to you,' but I'm still looking up to those top skaters." Last March, Lipinski soared into their circle when she became, at 14, the youngest female to win the world figure skating title. Using a triple-loop, triple-loop jump combination, Lipinski vanquished Michelle Kwan, 17—who fought back in October, beating Tara in the new season's first competition. Still, the 4'10", 82-lb. Lipinski, who shares a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., condo with her mother, Pat, has been busy touring, getting tutored and writing her autobiography, Triumph on Ice, which hit stores in October. And she dreams of Olympic gold at February's Nagano Games. "She is very focused on what is in front of her," says her dad, Jack, a Houston oil company executive who visits on week-ends. "She knows to take things one step at a time."

Rupert Everett
[ACTOR]

At a time when opening the closet door is big news in Hollywood, Rupert Everett stands slyly to the side, holding the doorknob. The charming British import, who has been open about his homosexuality since 1989, became a mass audience hit this year, stealing scenes from Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. "Even if you're a good actor, you need a good role," says Everett, 38, of his turn as Roberts' gay boss and second-best friend. "This was it for me." And for audiences. "He's hilarious," Wedding director P.J. Hogan told PEOPLE in July, noting that "his wildness, spirit and sense of humor are contained in the face and body of a matinee idol." But success didn't happen overnight for the former Catholic schoolboy: his splashy film debut in 1984's Another Country was followed by a nearly decade-long professional slump in Paris, where he wrote two novels. Everett, who since 1995 has also been the face of Opium for Men cologne, is enjoying the post-Wedding honeymoon. "I'm being offered a mixture, though I wouldn't mind playing just gay roles," he says. Especially those he writes himself, such as in P.S. I Love You, a screenplay he's working on for TriStar about a gay adventure hero. "Starring me," Everett says with a chuckle. "Yes, it sounds wonderful to say that."

Stella McCartney
[DESIGNER]

She got by with a little help from her friends—namely Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, who modeled slip dresses and Savile Row suits in her first Paris fashion show in October. And there's Madonna, who says, "My new favorite designer is Stella McCartney." But Paul McCartney's 26-year-old daughter, who took over the sagging Chloé label last spring from veteran designer Karl Lagerfeld, proved that her talent has eclipsed her connections. The International Herald Tribune proclaimed that McCartney "took Paris" with her "light-handed, lighthearted, feminine clothes." When she was hired just 18 months out of design school to rejuvenate Chloé, McCartney raised eyebrows. "I think they should have taken a big name," sniped Lagerfeld. "They did, but in music, not fashion." Retorted McCartney in Women's Wear Daily: "I don't think the Chloé chiefs would be stupid enough to ride a whole company on me because of who my father is. I'm the breath of fresh air that Chloé needs." The third of four children, Stella interned for Christian Lacroix at age 15 and apprenticed with Knightsbridge tailor Edward Sexton before launching her own line in 1995. She gave it up for Chloé, even though it means commuting between Paris and London, where her beau, Nick Milner, is a property developer. Cheering her on in the audience at the Paris Opera House were Paul, mom Linda, siblings Mary, 27, and James, 20, along with Ringo Starr and his wife, Barbara Bach. When asked if the show was her ultimate achievement, Stella replied, "No, there's more. More to come."

Lisa McRee
[GOOD MORNING AMERICA HOST]

As if replacing 17-year Good Morning America cohost Joan Lunden wasn't pressure enough, Lisa McRee had to start work a week early—and by covering Princess Diana's funeral. But that baptism of fire may actually have made the initiation easier. "When you are really tired, you forget your nerves," says McRee, 36. "You just hope not to drool." She didn't drool. And months into her run, McRee seems a natural for TV's early morning shift. "Lisa makes people feel very comfortable," says cohost Charles Gibson. "She has a wonderful sense of humor and a sense of fun." The good cheer hasn't yet spurred GMA ahead of Today in the ratings, but McRee, who grew up in Fort Worth and now commutes between New York City and L.A. (where husband Don Granger is an executive vice president of Paramount Pictures), isn't fretting. Nor is she concerned about stepping out from Lunden's lingering shadow. "I hope I do a good job," says the former anchor for local newscasts in Dallas and L.A., as well as ABC's overnight World News Now. "But you can't think too hard about putting your own mark on it or you'll screw it up. That's pretty much my mantra."

Venus Williams
[TENNIS PLAYER]

It was the performance the tennis world had been anticipating since she turned pro at age 14. Arriving at the 1997 U.S. Open unseeded, Venus Williams, now 17, blasted her way through five matches with a blistering, 118-mph serve to become the first African-American woman to reach the final since Althea Gibson won in 1958. Though victory eluded her, "she showed that she can play great," winner Martina Hingis told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. The 6'2" Williams, who hands out beads from her braids between matches, has piqued new interest in the sport. "Venus," says Open director Jay Snyder, "has the potential to be the Tiger Woods of tennis." Sometimes, though, her competitive nature alienates her rivals. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, for one, claimed that Venus had screamed, "Don't touch me!" when she tried to shake hands after a match. Still, Reebok had enough faith in Williams to hand her a $12 million endorsement contract. And since graduating from her Palm Beach area high school in June, Williams is looking to the future. "I always think I can do better," she says. "Anything you take pride in doing, you want to do your best."

Troy Saliba & John Hill
[ANASTASIA ANIMATORS]

Its lavish visuals certainly looked like the Mouse. And the soundtrack echoed the Mouse, too, right down to the vocals by Beauty and the Beast's Angela Lansbury. But Anastasia, which also features the voices of Meg Ryan, Kelsey Grammer and Hank Azaria, didn't come from Disney. The $50 million story of the lost Russian princess was the work 20th Century Fox's new animation studio and such talents as Canadians Troy Saliba, 30 (left), and John Hill, 34. "I always wanted to be an animator," says Saliba, who gave life to Anastasia's benefactor Vladimir, "but I thought you had to grow up in L.A. and be related to Walt Disney to get into it." Instead, Saliba and Hill linked up with Anastasia codirector Don Bluth. "Troy flings himself into the assignment as he goes along," notes boss Bluth, "while John does a lot of analyzing." Hill's experience drawing dinosaurs and dogs for Bluth's The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven attracted him to Anastasia's Bartok. "Humans are hard for me," he admits. "I said, 'Give me the bat.' I had a rough idea he could steal the show."

Livan Hernandez
[BASEBALL PLAYER]

His journey to the major leagues began in September 1995 with a walk away from a Monterrey, Mexico, dormitory. While the Cuban national baseball team slept, their talented pitcher got into a car driven by Miami agent Joe Cubas and defected. Livan Hernandez left behind in Havana his mother, Miriam Carreras, and half brother Orlando, also a gifted pitcher but now considered a defection risk and not allowed to play ball in Cuba. "It's been my dream since I was young to play baseball in the United States," says Hernandez, 22, who stepped into a bidding war for his services. The Florida Marlins signed him to a four-year, $4.5 million contract. "I liked his pitching style, his mechanics, how easy he made it look," says Marlins scout Al Avila. The risk paid off when the rookie, equipped with a sizzling 92-mph fastball, pitched two winning World Series games and earned Most Valuable Player honors. The pot was sweetened by the presence of his mother, who had received a special visa that allowed her to see the Marlins win the series. Afterward he took her to Neiman Marcus for a $10,000 shopping spree, during which he made her take off her tattered shoes and throw them away. "We're getting to know Miami," he says, "in hopes that one day she'll be able to live here."

Richard Carlson
[AUTHOR]

In Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...And It's All. Small Stuff, psychologist Richard Carlson advises, "Remind yourself that when you die, your 'In basket' won't be empty." Carlson, 36, needs to remind himself. Since Small Stuff's lengthy sojourn at No. 1 on The New York Times Advice/How-To list, the author (whose latest book, Don't Worry, Make Money, is also a bestseller) has been receiving nearly 300 fan letters a week. No one seems bothered that some maxims to help the harried slow down came from sources like Deepak Chopra and Zorba the Greek. Even the book's title was lifted from a letter by fellow therapist-author Wayne Dyer (Manifest Your Destiny), who bears Carlson no ill will. After all, says Dyer, "it's something I've believed in all my life." Carlson's next effort is closer to his Pleasant Hill, Calif., home, which he shares with wife Kris and daughters Jasmine, 8, and Kenna, 5. "Your kids don't give you any mercy," he says. So he now rises before 4 a.m. to work on Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family.

Jessica Yu
[FILMMAKER]

They honored her movie. But the audience at April's Academy Awards loved Jessica Yu's speech. Accepting the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject for Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, about the quadriplegic poet and journalist, the 31-year-old filmmaker brought down the house when she quipped, "You know you've entered a new territory when you realize that your dress cost more than your film." The Mary McFadden gown was borrowed and got shipped back to the showroom, but the acclaim for the low-budget film kept coming. Oliver Stone offered to turn her short into a feature (they now have a project in development), and Yu is already filming her next documentary, for HBO, about an art program run by a New York City psychiatric hospital. "I've never been so busy in my life," says Yu, who lives in L.A. with her husband, Mark Salzman, a writer (Iron & Silk). O'Brien, who has spent 40 years confined to an iron lung, isn't surprised. "She's a very impressive person," he says. But for now, Yu has just one goal in mind: to be better known for her movies than her one-liners. "For a while," she admits, "I felt like the lady who said, 'Where's the beef?' "

Michael Beach
[ACTOR]

He has portrayed a cop, a minister and a doctor, but the role of cheating spouse is the one that Michael Beach plays all too well. His caddish deception of Vanessa L. Williams in Soul Food (his character has an affair with her character's cousin), Gloria Reuben in ER (his unfaithful character infects hers with HIV) and Angela Bassett in 1995's Waiting to Exhale (his character leaves hers for his white secretary) has women just about ready to pluck out his mustache. "I'll be walking through the mall," says Beach, 34, "and they'll be yelling at me, 'Why are you always mistreating women? Can't you be nice?' " He's trying. Beach's next projects—the USA Network's Ms. Scrooge, in which he plays a preacher, and the Disney TV movie Ruby Bridges, a true story about a girl who integrated a school in New Orleans—are so wholesome that he's looking forward to sharing them with his four children and wife Tracey, a homemaker. ("My kids really don't get to see anything I do," says Beach, a Juilliard grad who has appeared in 25 films.) "He's the actor to watch right now," says Soul Food producer Tracey Edmonds. "The only thing to watch out for is that he gets pigeonholed as the bad guy." But Beach is hopeful. "I'm happy with where I am right now," he says. If only those women would leave him alone.

David Blaine
[MAGICIAN]

Last May, in a shinning ABC special, David Blaine burst onto the scene as if by, well, magic. On David Blaine: Street Magic, he dazzled with complex card tricks and levitated-for an impossibly long time. "I want to do for magic what Ali did for boxing," boasts the Brooklyn-reared 24-year-old. He has the style part down. A fixture on the Manhattan celeb scene with his steady girl, singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, Blaine pals around with the likes of Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Onstage, much of his attraction derives from his intense, Svengali-like presence. Says fan Woody Allen: "He understands that the key to affecting an audience does not lie in the feats performed as much as in the character the artist subtly creates." Not everyone is under his spell, though. James Randi, a magician who famously debunks illusionists, says of Blaine's tricks, "Any magician worth his salt can do them." Maybe, but Blaine has no trouble making money appear in his bank account. Another TV special is in the works as well as a movie, Trick Monkey, produced by De Niro. Blaine also hopes to accomplish more phenomenal feats. "I want to walk on water," he says. "Across the Hudson River."