I have been blessed - or cursed, depending on how you look at it - with an extremely good-looking family.
My parents, who are in their seventies now, have always looked at least 10 years younger than everyone else's parents, and my sisters are both so attractive I am both hurt and insulted when people tell me they don't see a family resemblance.
When we were growing up, my dad was constantly being stopped in airports and shopping centers by people who thought he was the actor Peter Strauss. They'd ask him for autographs and everything. Sometimes he'd play along, but usually he'd just politely set them straight and then come home and gloat to my mother while watching reruns of Rich Man, Poor Man.
I'm pretty sure there is a finite number of gene pools in the world. Everybody looks like somebody, and we all look like at least one famous person. Even if it's a famous person you've never even heard of, trust me, there's some celebrity out there somewhere sporting your bone structure.
One of my friends is a dead ringer for Conan O'Brien, which makes it great fun to hang out with him, because even though I know he's not Conan, nobody else does. It makes me feel all important and snobby, especially when people stare. I love that. Sometimes I'll smile benevolently at the gawkers, as if to say, Yes, you peon, I am in the company of a famous celebrity, but I will deign to acknowledge your admiration just this once. Now, begone! And no, no autographs.
Luckily, my Conan friend is flattered by the comparison. Ordinarily, it's a little dicey to tell someone he or she looks like a particular celebrity, because unless that celebrity is universally attractive, your compliment might very well be construed as an insult. Attractiveness is a very subjective thing, and although Denis Leary may make my knees knock together (shut up!), I'm sure most guys I know would rather be told they remind me of Brad Pitt (even though I happen to think he's wimpy looking).
My friend Heather is a perfect example of the risks of celebrity comparison. I was with her one day when she got such a bad perm she actually began to cry in the middle of the salon.
"I look like a witch!" she wailed to the mirror.
The salon staff clustered around her, trying in vain to convince her how beautiful she was and how wonderful her hair looked now that it was a stringy mass of long blonde frizz. In desperation, one of them finally blurted out, "You look just like Daryl Hannah!"
Heather screamed and clamped her arms over her head. "DARYL HANNAH'S FUCKING UGLY!" she shrieked.
The salon owner sighed and comped all her services.
Depending upon my ever-fluctuating weight and hair color, I have been compared to several famous actresses, sometimes favorably, sometimes not. When I was younger and blonder, people used to tell me I looked like Rebecca De Mornay, which thrilled me to the point I actually changed my hairstyle so as to look even more like her and thus elicit more compliments. I have also been compared to Nicole Kidman, Melanie Griffith, and a young Sandy Dennis, which I found flattering; and to Teri Garr, Kathie Lee Gifford, and the ugly newscaster who used to work for Channel 7, which I did not. Personally, I never really saw any of the resemblances, but I've learned over the years to just smile graciously and say "Thank you," even if the comparison is accompanied by a grimace and delivered in a tone of revulsion.
Occasionally, someone will stump me with an out-of-the-blue comparison that sends me running to the Internet Movie Database in an effort to discern the degree of malice behind the comment. Last week, one of the youngsters in my acting class told me I remind him of "the mother" from the old TV show Mr. Belvedere. Given that Mr. Belvedere was probably the only television show in the history of the medium I have never seen a single episode of, I had no idea how to respond to this, I certainly wasn't thrilled to be compared to someone known only as "the mother." Who wants to be told she looks like "someone's mother" - anyone's mother? It's one thing if you're being told you look like someone who happens to be a mother, like, say, Angelina Jolie. But being told you look like "a mother" confers instant blandness, as if you are some sort of amorphous blob of nurturing banality emitting the faint odor of cleaning fluid and chocolate chip cookies. And being told you look like "the mother" is even more disturbing, as it conjures up the terrifying mental image of a frumpy woman in an apron, beating dust from a rug with a broom at some anonymous clothesline in the depths of dull suburbia.
Curiosity overcame trepidation, and I paid a visit to www.tvtome.com to investigate the cast of Mr. Belvedere and judge the resemblance for myself.
I immediately IM'd the link to my friend Jessie and asked her what she thought: Someone told me I look like this person.
OMG! She IM'd back. You do!
After a slight pause, she added, Please tell me you never wore your hair like that.
Eighties hair wings notwithstanding, I decided the comparison was a flattering one, and, overcome by an immediate sense of pride and kinship, became obsessed with all things Belvedere. I set out on a new internet expedition, intent on learning everything I could about my newly discovered doppelganger.
Marsha Owens, aka "the mother" from Mr. Belvedere, was played by an actress named Ilene Graff. Ilene Graff is 53 years old (and a damn good-looking 53 year-old, I might add, which was another huge relief as it bodes well for my own future). She was born in Brooklyn, and guess what? She went to Ithaca College! How weird is that? I wonder if she ever hung out in the North Forty and, if so, whether she ever got so drunk she threw up under a table. After graduating from Ithaca, went to Broadway and starred in a number of musicals, even playing the role of Sandy in the original Broadway production of Grease!
Regrettably, I don't think Mr. Belvedere did much for her from a professional standpoint. Other than a few appearances on TV movies and one or two telethons, she seems to spend most of her time now doing dinner theater, singing on cruise ships, and performing philanthropic works. She recently released two CDs of Broadway songs adapted to put fussy babies to sleep (I know…but I'm still considering buying them as a gesture of support).
All in all, she seems to lead a very happy, well-balanced life, and I am glad for her. But I feel an underlying sadness, mingled with a little frustration, on her behalf. I want her to be a bigger star. I'd like to see her make a splashy comeback and maybe win a Tony. Or she could do a one-woman show, like Elaine Stritch, and take her act all over the country. Maybe she could even get her own talk show*hell, everyone else is doing it, why not her? And for chrissake, there's no reason she couldn't at least appear in a miniseries once in a while! It's the least she can do for us!
Despite my disappointment in Ilene's career trajectory, I know things could be worse. The only thing more unpleasant than being compared to an obscure celebrity is being compared to a complete stranger who's just an ordinary person. Especially when it turns out to be someone's ex-wife, or high-school girlfriend, or next-door neighbor. On those occasions, not only do you have no idea whether you are being complimented or insulted, you also have absolutely no way of finding out for sure. And sometimes it can get downright creepy.
A former co-worker used to constantly tell me how much I looked like his wife. I mean, like, every day. He'd also tell everyone else in the office how striking the resemblance was, to the point where people started to suspect there was something going on between us. Eventually, it got to the point where I started avoiding meetings I knew he was going to attend, because I'd always catch him looking at me sidewise, like he was imagining things I preferred to not dwell upon but which made me squirm nonetheless. He was pretty gross.
I never did meet his wife, so I had no idea whether there was a resemblance. I suppose I could have just gone to his cube when he was at lunch at look at his family pictures, but I never did.
I couldn't bear the thought that he might actually be right.