John Spencer admits that his husky voice makes him a somewhat unconventional choice to appear on a Christmas album. "Well put," laughs Spencer, who teamed up with his West Wing costars Martin Sheen and Stockard Channing to record "Wonderful Christmastime," a track on NBC Celebrity Christmas, which benefits the Children's Miracle Network. "You know, I'm half an Irishman, and all Irishmen sing a little bit." Calling himself "a huge Christmas person," the actor says his Yuletide cheer extends to easing the minds of friends worried about getting him gifts for both Christmas and his birthday (he turns 54 on Dec. 20). "My friends are all over the economic strata, so I tell a lot of them, 'If I want a shirt, I can go out and buy one. Have dinner on me instead.' "
"I'm ready to work," says former Odd Couple star Jack Klugman. "I'm gonna work till I drop. You tell 'em that." In one of his few TV appearances since he hung up his lab coat on Quincy, M.E. 17 years ago, the 78-year-old actor guest-stars on the Dec. 4 episode of NBC's Third Watch as an elderly man fighting to stay out of a nursing home. Klugman was forced into temporary retirement in 1988 after he had a vocal cord removed to halt the spread of throat cancer. Now his voice is back, thanks to daily vocal exercises to strengthen his remaining cord. "I do it while I take steam," he says. "I put a towel over my head and I just yell. God pity the neighbors. When I'm in a hotel, they think there's a murder going on or something. But it works. I can speak."
Modern Mother Goose
Signing on to Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a no-brainer for Christine Baranski, who has fond memories of reading Dr. Seuss stories to her children Lily, 16, and Isabel, 13. "Being an actress who loves language and words, I just never tired of reading those books to my children," says Baranski, 48, who plays the Grinch's object of affection in the film. "They never tired of listening." Now, of course, they've moved on to more grownup interests. Says Baranski: "Not only is Isabel a teenager, she's living in France this year and then she's going to Rome with a friend. What a life! I keep saying to my kids,'I want to be you.' "
Having spent 25 years in the movie business, Alfre Woodard is happy that she was never forced out of acting, because her options would have been nonexistent. I don't have any marketable skills," says Woodard, 48, who costars with Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick in the Thanksgiving comedy What's Cooking? I once wrapped packages, but I got fired, I said I could, but I couldn't. It lasted about two weeks. I'm kind of like George W. All my jobs were failures."
Taye's McBeal Deal
"I have to wrap up here, which, I tell you, couldn't be soon enough," says a homesick Taye Diggs, 29, who is stuck in Berlin shooting the thriller Librium. "As soon as I set my feet on American soil, I will be quite the happy brother." The actor is looking forward to filming his six-episode stint on Ally McBeal (set to begin airing Feb. 12) even though he has no idea whom he will be playing. "I'll be someone's love interest, I'll be singing and I'm a lawyer, but that's all I know," he says. "I'm hoping they'll let me be a little wild and crazy as opposed to 'sit around and look cute.' " And how do his offscreen activities stack up to the infamous antics of Ally's other high-profile guest stars this season, Robert Downey Jr. and Anne Heche? "They don't," Diggs laughs. "I'm the boring one."