Faded celebrities greet fans on phone

If you ever find yourself wondering, perhaps while watching late-night television reruns or idly clipping your toenails, whatever happened to former Hulk Lou Ferrigno or former child actor Todd Bridges, puzzle no longer. It turns out they're waiting to hear from you.

That's right. At HollywoodIsCalling.com, a scrappy-looking two-month-old Web site, all that's required is your credit card number or electronic check in the amount of $19.95, and within seven days you can expect to hear from one bona fide, if slightly faded, celebrity wishing you Happy Halloween, get well soon, or congratulations on your retirement. The 15-second phone call works out to over a dollar a second, which is, if you think about it, a small price to pay for the privilege of knowing that, for example, hunky Lorenzo Lamas is incredibly excited that you're turning 40.

"I say happy birthday a lot," says Lamas, formerly of the television shows "Renegade" and "Falcon Crest." "I congratulate people at work for achieving employee of the month."

Careers rise and fall in Hollywood, and it just so happens that there is a certain altitude at which celebrities are willing to make personal calls to strangers. They get to hear from admirers again and supplement their incomes. You get to share a moment with someone who once almost approached something sort of like greatness -- someone like "Survivor" champion Richard Hatch, best known for being naked and pudgy on television. Everybody wins.

Hollywood Is Calling has the look of a Web site designed in 1996, with lots of text, poor punctuation and few graphics. Scrolling down the list of 23 celebrities is like viewing a lineup for VH1's "Where Are They Now?" Many of the photographs are decades old. A few look more like Polaroids than professional head shots. Beneath each picture are the words PLACE YOUR ORDER.

You can order up Fred "Rerun" Berry, who sounds, by the way, extremely eager to talk to you.

"I bet you that I've made more calls than anyone on this service," Berry says, explaining that he'd rather phone his fans than meet them in person because some of them are rather odd.

On the '70s television show "What's Happening!" Berry used to play that funny, heavyset, dancing character named Rerun in a red beret and suspenders. In his real life, Berry has experienced drug and alcohol problems, gone through recovery, gone through six marriages to four women and become an ordained minister. But he seems happiest being thought of as lovable old Rerun. He legally adopted the nickname as his middle name, and even now, at 52, he wears his trademark beret and suspenders during public appearances. When he calls his fans through Hollywood Is Calling, he tells them it's Rerun and says a line from the show, "Hey-hey-hey." Sometimes they scream.

"I'm not doing it for the money," Berry says. "Hearing the excitement in people's voices -- I think I would pay them if I really had the money." Indeed, he considers making people laugh over the phone a sort of ministry. "This is like curing the world," he says.


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