03/20/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
IN HIS YOUNGER DAYS, GORDON ELLIOTT would ascend 15 stories in a cherry picker, rap on apartment-house windows and aim a TV camera at the startled Manhattanites inside. Once, he marched unannounced into a Queens, N.Y., family's home, trailed by—hey, who else?—Britain's Coldstream Guards marching band. It was the late '80s, and Elliott was then the in-your-face, do-any-thing correspondent on a local morning show, Good Day New York. Nowadays, as host of The Gordon Elliott Show, his own syndicated weekday talkfest viewed by 7 million, Elliott, 38, has...well, mellowed is perhaps too strong a term.
At his midtown Manhattan TV studio, Elliott, a 6'7", 285-lb. Australian, bounds onto the stage like a kangaroo on uppers and throwing kisses.
"What are you doing this Saturday night, Gordon?" shouts a white-haired woman in a back row.
"It's you and me against the world!" Elliott shoots back with a boyish grin, and then he's off again, bouncing to the other end of the stage.
The host's manic energy level is one reason why The Gordon Elliott Show stands heads—and ratings points—above Marilu Henner, Dennis Prager, Susan Powter and the rest of this season's freshman daytime gabbers. Another plus is Elliott's penchant for alternating between the tearfully confrontational ("Why Does Mom Hate Me?") and the unabashedly whimsical. One day, Elliott tenderly holds the hand of a guest who's distraught because her boyfriend has been cheating on—and mooching off—her. Another day, the host buses his studio audience to nearby Hoboken, N.J., for the surprise wedding of a couple who couldn't afford one.
So far, Elliott has enjoyed a honeymoon with TV critics. "He displays a winning enthusiasm," wrote John Freeman of the San Diego Union-Tribune, "and a glint in his eye that lets us know that he knows this is very silly stuff."
Silly? Not to his mostly female fans, for whom Elliott is "like a teddy bear," as one of them, Traci Jacob, 24, of Elizabeth, N.J., puts it. "You just want to take him home and cook for him."
Sorry, Traci. Your teddy bear is already cooking for two. On a chilly morning in Manhattan's Tribeca section, Elliott bangs about his spacious kitchen as he whips up some cappuccino for himself and his bride of three months, Sophie, 26, a film student at NYU.
It's the sort of cozy domestic scene that Elliott himself would have loved wreaking havoc upon on Good Day New York, where Sophie was a fledgling producer. Even now, Elliott can't stop the antics that made him famous. He has held garage sales outside his studio and stormed the rooftop of a CBS building, dressed up as Santa Claus. Such stunts, he sighs, "are like career herpes. They just keep coming back."
Not everyone has found his brash personality infectious. Growing up in Sydney, he earned a tongue-lashing from his third-grade Catholic-school teacher. "I'd asked, 'If God knows all, why didn't he know the archangel Lucifer was going to become the devil?' That," says Elliott, "sort of set the pattern for me."
Having emigrated with his family from England when he was 3, Elliott was raised by his parents, Allan, a printer, and Tess, a homemaker, along with his three siblings, Allan, now 40, who runs a bulk-mail-order business, Maureen, 32, a nurse, and Kathy, 30, a glass artist.
Elliott was enrolled in pre-law courses at the University of Sydney when his research for a paper on talk radio led to a job as a news reader in 1976. He soon dropped out of school to pursue a full-time radio career. In 1980, Elliott switched to TV as host of Good Morning Australia, where he plotted stunts like the world's biggest cream-pie fight. Even after coming to the States in 1987—and reporting on things like freeze-dried pets for Fox's A Current Affair—Elliott found himself drawn to the wilder side of TV news. In 1988 he began making his antic house calls on Good Day New York.
A year later he wed his Australian girlfriend, Saskia Havekes, a floral designer. But their marriage ended after 16 months, and suddenly, says Elliott, he had to face "that crushing realization that there was not an express lane through life just for me."
There was, however, a happy intersection when Sophie Orr signed on as Elliott's GDNY producer in 1990. She soon endeared herself to him after using a credit card to break into his apartment when he overslept one morning and couldn't be awakened by phone. But it wasn't until late 1991 that romance blossomed between them. It was Elliott's "larger-than-lifeness," says Sophie, "his sense of humor that sealed the deal." Last December, Elliott and Orr were married at a Presbyterian church on Manhattan's Upper East Side before 135 misty-eyed friends and family members. Now the couple tries to find time to dine out with friends, visit museums and, best of all, sleep in. "Neither of us," says Sophie, "are morning people."
By mid-afternoon, though, Elliott's batteries are fully recharged, and he's once more playing to an adoring studio audience. During a commercial break, a fracas breaks out between an audience member and his girlfriend after he passes himself off as an eligible bachelor. In a flash, Elliott's bounding down the aisles, microphone in hand, booming, "Roll the tape!"
NANCY MATSUMOTO in New York City