Tree Chic

updated 12/15/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/15/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

WHEN CHRISTOPHER RADKO met Whoopi Goldberg backstage at Broadway's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, in which she starred, a funny thing happened. "She bowed down on the floor. Her hair was flopping up and down," says Radko, 37. "I was so embarrassed!"

Not that Radko isn't used to veneration. His elaborate Pyrex glass Christmas ornaments (prices range from $25 for a miniature house and snowman to $125 for a dancer dressed in gold and purple) are collected by the likes of Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barbra Streisand. He has even decorated two White House mantels (last year there was a tiny replica of Chelsea in a tulle tutu; this year he designed elves wrapping gifts and Santa and Mrs. Claus with sleigh). "They are the most extraordinary ornaments I've ever seen," says Goldberg, a longtime fan.

Radko developed his craft by accident—almost literally. In 1983 the Columbia grad was home in Scarsdale, N.Y., visiting his parents, both doctors, and set up the Christmas tree. It later toppled—crushing his family's collection of antique ornaments. Mortified, he recalls that his "grandmother wrote our relatives: 'Chris has ruined Christmas. What will we do?' "

What Radko did was sketch some ornaments from memory. He took the drawings to a glassblower, who recreated the ornaments so beautifully that Radko had extras made and sold them to some of his friends at the Manhattan talent agency where he worked in the mail room. He began producing his own designs, and, in the early '90s, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus came calling. "Each ornament is painted as carefully as a figurine," says Radko, who lives alone in New York City. "I have a lady who paints eyelashes—that's all she does. Another paints more than 200 seeds on each strawberry." The one drawback to all that detail? "I'm like Santa," he says with a smile. "There's no time off."

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