Only Larry Knows for Sure

updated 10/07/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/07/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

WITH HER BODYGUARD HOVERING AT her elbow, she cuts a stunning figure as she steps smartly along Beverly Hills's fabled Rodeo Drive. With those flashing eyes (violet), sequined dress (purple), ample cleavage (well displayed) and gigantic jewelry (fake), she is instantly recognizable. A Jaguar lurches to a halt, its driver jumping out to aim a camera at her. A gaggle of tourists swarms. "Liz! Miss Taylor! Could I have an autograph, please?"

She beams dazzlingly, then poses patiently as cameras click. "I like to oblige everyone," she says sweetly.

Really? When was the last time La Liz stopped in her tracks to accommodate her fans? Could this be a new Liz, a glowing, more gracious, about-to-marry-for-the-eighth-time Liz?

Actually, no. The sidewalk crowd-pleaser is a very reasonable facsimile named Carole Reed who makes appearances as a Liz Taylor look-alike (or "celebrity double," as she prefers). This day Reed is on her way to lend a touch of ersatz glamour to a hotel reception. When she is in total Liz regalia—a penciled-in mole on her right cheek, jet-black hair teased and streaked with gray, lavender contact lenses over her brown eyes—even Larry Fortensky might do a double take.

Carole Reed, in fact, looks a lot like Liz even when she isn't trying. "Once it was raining, and I had a raincoat on up to my neck," she says. "I stopped to get something to eat, and I had only two bites of my hamburger before one guy asked for an autograph, and then I was totally mobbed. It happens a lot, in the grocery store, the Laundromat."

Producer-casting director Randy Callahan sends Reed on many of her jobs and thinks she is the best all-around Liz in behavior and looks among several in the L.A. area. "Some look-alikes begin to think they're actually that person," Callahan says. "They can be more difficult than real celebrities. But Carole knows who she is."

The real Liz should be flattered, because even though Reed is a grandmother, at 48, she is 11 years younger than the actress. Reed remembers people commenting on the resemblance even when she was a teenager working behind a department-store cosmetics counter in her native Canton, Ohio. Reed was married at 19, had two children, divorced in 1969, moved to California and opened her own cosmetics shop in Laguna Beach.

There the fuss really began. "Everyone would stand outside and stare at me," she says. "They'd come in. say 'Hi, Liz!' and walk out." But Reed did nothing to capitalize on her situation until two years ago, when a customer asked if she belonged to a look-alike agency. "Being the country girl that I am," she says, "I didn't know what that was."

She caught on quickly after signing on with the Ron Smith Agency in L.A. At first she had some reservations "because I knew I would have to handle two personalities," and the prospect of baring so much bust seemed daunting to Reed, a born-again Christian. But she has since learned to revel in the attention. "I love the perks," she coos about the limos, the free travel. While she mostly works the banquet circuit, Reed has made the cover of a supermarket tabloid, has appeared in fashion shows (once modeling the dress Liz wore in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and has had bit parts in films and local commercials. On the job, she says, "If they don't ask if I'm Liz, I don't say." When asked, Reed tells the truth. When besieged for autographs, she signs her own name.

Even then, Reed says, "people believe you're actually the other person." At one exclusive dinner, men approached her to shake hands, "and the next thing I know they're kissing my chest and I'm pushing them off. Some people want to see what they can get by with." Which is why Reed hired a bodyguard. Surprisingly, though, being a dead ringer for Liz doesn't seem to promote return trips to the altar. "On dates, men become very intimidated," says Reed. "They can't realize that I'm a human being just the same as anyone else. They want a fantasy fulfilled."

The Liz Biz also doesn't pay as well as Reed would like. She gets $500 to $1,000 per appearance, averaging maybe $2,000 a month. (Having sold her cosmetics shop, Reed now also works as a recruiter for a fashion school.) As a "Twin Lizzie" she has to pay for her own outfits. "Even good costume jewelry is expensive," she says. "With the shoes, hose and purse to match each outfit, it adds up."

To date, Reed has never been face-to-face with her celebrated likeness. Not long ago she applied for a sales job with Taylor's perfume, Passion, but was turned down—because of her resemblance, she thinks. Reed even wrote to Taylor offering her services as a decoy to throw off the paparazzi. Liz's people, however, sent back a polite no. They also enclosed an autographed photo of someone who looks a lot like Carole Reed.

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