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Monday May 20, 2002

Passing Fame in the Valley
* Actors cross paths with regular folks here, home of studios if not the A list.

Home Edition, Southern California Living, Page E-1
Features Desk
43 inches; 1538 words


Tour buses bypass the area. No one would dream of holding the Oscars here. Zagat guides rarely list it as a prime location for spotting celebrities.

But what the San Fernando Valley lacks in ZIP Code cachet, it makes up for in sheer numbers of screen personalities. Industry insiders estimate that the Valley, now starring in its own secession drama, is home to more actors than anyplace else, probably because it is also the address of Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, NBC, CBS and Nickelodeon.

And most of those actors are of the easily accessible, B-list variety.

Valley-level celebrities mix and mingle with ordinary folks, unlike the typical rich-and-famous Westsider, who tends to hide behind sunglasses and floppy hats, when not secluded behind gates.

That disheveled blond man fumbling for fruit at the Studio City farmers market? It's none other than actor Ed Begley Jr.

That brown-haired tomboy watching a movie in Sherman Oaks? Kristy McNichol.

Or that flirt with the wavy hair, at the window table in a Ventura Boulevard cafe, grinning like he just got his way? Ian Ziering. (You know, Ian Ziering--Steve Sanders on "Beverly Hills 90210.")

Reactions to all the familiar and semi-familiar faces here range from blase acceptance to mild amusement to unfettered excitement.

"Omigod!" screeched a big-haired, middle-aged woman strolling past a pan-Asian restaurant in Sherman Oaks. "There's the dad from 'Eight Is Enough.' "

And so it was. Dick Van Patten, sitting with his family, munching on what appeared to be an eggroll.

At Nat's Early Bite Coffee Shop, owner Hugo Carlos serves French toast and scrambled eggs to regulars such as Tom Selleck and Ike Turner (whose color glossy hangs on the wall, inviting diners to join the "I Still Like Ike Fan Club").

"We get celebrities every day," Carlos said.

The Van Nuys restaurant--situated in a packed parking lot next to a dry cleaner and a video store--even attracts "huge names like John Stamos, Geena Davis and that guy from the movie 'Booty Call,' but I can't remember his name," Carlos said. "Bruce Willis' mother has come in too." In the Valley, one degree of separation counts.

He poured a customer a cup of coffee and wiped ketchup off a table. "I don't know if Bruce Willis has come in here," he said, shrugging. "He probably lives on the other side of the hill. That's where the really huge celebrities live."

While A-listers George Clooney, Samuel Jackson, Will Smith and Kim Basinger do have Valley digs, "We don't run into too many who say, 'Show me a place in the Valley,'" said Stephen Shapiro, who sells homes to celebrities for the Westside Estate Agency. "They buy into a location that fits their image." Malibu, say, or the canyons above Sunset.

To the dismay of Valley boosters, the area's image remains that of a smoggy redoubt for Hollywood's has-beens, wannabes, up-and-comers and longshots, as well as porn stars, soap opera divas and graying rockers. Or as Jay Leno once joked on NBC's "Tonight Show," the Valley could be renamed "Unknown Actorville."

Leaders of the campaign to break the Valley off from Los Angeles say the abundance of B-listers and behind-the-scenes Industry workers adds luster to 818 (an area code and sometimes-condescending synonym for the Valley).

"The real Hollywood is in the Valley," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, the group spearheading secession. "Clearly, there are a number of Westside snobs.... But if the Valley becomes its own city, we can change the identity."

And invite more A-listers to call it home. "We'd offer them free limo rides," joked Carlos Ferreyra, a Valley VOTE board member.

Seriously, Ferreyra said, a Valley city could attract top names in entertainment by doing more to nurture local culture. As a bonus, he added, celebrities who jump on the secession bandwagon could get free publicity.

"This is a historic movement,'' Ferreyra said. "It could become the place for A-listers."

But it's got a ways to go. Valley-bashing comments from the likes of former Van Nuys resident Robert Redford still sting. "When we moved to the Valley, I felt like I was being tossed into quicksand," Redford said in a 1990 Times article recalling his teen years. "There was no culture."

Now, though, the local culture is enriched by the likes of dimmed TV luminaries Kate Jackson, William Shatner, David Hasselhoff, Shirley Jones, Mackenzie Phillips, Ed Asner, Todd Bridges and Erik Estrada, as well as the more-current Lucy Lawless, Damon Wayans, Laura San Giacomo and teen twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. All have put down Valley roots.

But it is Begley (remember him in the films "Get Over It" and "Hounded"?) who seems to pop up in every corner of the Valley. See him carrying a baby past the fickle fountains at Universal CityWalk. Or waiting at a bus stop on Ventura Boulevard.

There's the tall, bespectacled actor, presiding over the opening of a Whole Foods Market in Porter Ranch, where he's surrounded by pineapples, mangoes, a 6-foot loaf of French bread and orange balloons pulled into the shape of a big carrot.

"People here are anesthetized to the thrill of seeing a celebrity," said Begley, who grew up in Van Nuys and lives in a two-bedroom, solar-powered house in Studio City. "You can go about your day."

Actors can go about their days because Starline Tours' buses skip the Valley when cruising past celebrity homes. Except for stops at the Universal Studios theme park, "we don't take people to the Valley because there's nothing there to show," said Vahid Sapir, president of the excursion company.

The Zagat guide also skims quickly through the Valley. Only two of the 46 Los Angeles-area nightspots it lists as star-gazing favorites are in the Valley (Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks and Ca' del Sole in North Hollywood).

"I'm sure there are real celebrities who live there," said Tom Williams, the guide's co-editor. "But telling people to go to the Valley is like saying, 'Let's go party in New Jersey.' "

Such snobbery has existed since Hollywood's beginnings, when movie makers flocked to the Valley's open spaces to build studios.

"At parties, big stars would ask me where I lived," recalled actor Marsha Hunt, a Sherman Oaks resident since 1934, who starred in "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Human Comedy." "When I told them, the big stars would turn up their noses and say, 'Oh, the Valley.' Then they'd walk away."

But for those infatuated with stars of any wattage, the Valley is the place to be. People who might have no chance of dining near Julia Roberts or Mick Jagger at Moomba in West Hollywood can chat with Virginia Madsen at an Italian dive on Riverside Drive in Sherman Oaks. Or Danny Bonaduce outside a drugstore in Studio City.

They can shake hands with former "A-Team" star Mr. T at a Sherman Oaks street festival. They can dine at Vitello's Italian Restaurant, the Studio City site where Robert Blake's wife ate her last supper before she was shot to death, a crime many Angelenos sniff at as "so 818." They can watch a Van Nuys jury acquit an unshaven C. Thomas Howell of criminal charges stemming from a confrontation with a Reseda skateboarder.

And they can go nuts over Alyson Hannigan at a Burbank karaoke bar.

'Omigod!" Christine Rizkowsky shrieked.

Near the dance floor at Dimples, sipping a drink, was Hannigan, who co-stars on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and played the band-camp girl in the "American Pie" movies.

Rizkowsky rushed over to the thin, young actress and gushed, "You're so pretty and talented.... I can't believe I'm standing here next to you."

Then the 19-year-old hugged Hannigan while a friend snapped a picture.

The encounter sealed Rizkowsky's decision to move from San Diego to Burbank to pursue her acting ambitions. "It was so exciting to see someone famous," she said. "I want a part of that."

Star-seekers shop at Maxsons Drugs in Sherman Oaks, where Tim Conway was eyed hunting for a bathing suit. They've also stolen glimpses of customers Alex Trebek, Barbara Eden, Loni Anderson, James Eckhouse and Bernadette Peters.

"We get celebrities all the time," said Gina Compton, a Maxsons makeup artist who orders foundation for Ann Jillian. "We're used to it."

Tom Hanks used to go to Maxsons. Then he made it big and moved over the hill.

But Peter Scolari, Hanks' other half in the early '80s sitcom "Bosom Buddies," has been spotted in a Ventura Boulevard cafe and at a high school carnival in Woodland Hills.

The Valley is where, on many a Sunday morning, heads turn as a middle-aged man with mussed hair buzzes by on a bike in the canyons north of Mulholland Drive.

Ed Begley Jr. is everywhere.


PHOTO: Ed Begley Jr. presides over the opening of a market in Porter Ranch.
ID NUMBER: 20020520gm51cvke
PHOTO: Kate Jackson
ID NUMBER: 20020520gc2122ke
PHOTO: William Shatner
ID NUMBER: 20020520dxf94vgy
PHOTOGRAPHER: Paramount Pictures
ID NUMBER: 20020520gufg92ke
PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
PHOTO: Erik Estrada
ID NUMBER: 20020520fy0oiake
PHOTO: Alyson Hannigan
ID NUMBER: 20020520fejq7ogy
PHOTO: Lucy Lawless
ID NUMBER: 20020520gvsot2ke
PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
PHOTO: Damon Wayans
ID NUMBER: 20020520g8npxpke
PHOTO: David Hasselhoff
ID NUMBER: 20020520dmh8twgw
PHOTOGRAPHER: All American TV Inc.
PHOTO: (no caption)
ID NUMBER: 20020520gtp8q2ke

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