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Photo: Don Wrege portays Ozzy Osbourne

June 25, 2002

Double take: Celebrity mimics on display at Impersonators Convention

By Jerry Fink


Ozzy Osborne look-alike Don Wrege came to the second annual Celebrity Impersonators Convention at the Imperial Palace over the weekend to find a Sandra Bullock look-alike.

"It has always been a lifelong dream of mine to sleep with Sandra Bullock," said the 48-year-old resident of Boulder, Colo. "The way things are turning out, I'm not sure that's going to happen. At least through this avenue, I might be able to sleep with somebody that looks like Sandra Bullock, and that would be good enough."

There were no faux Sandra Bullocks among the 90 or so celebrity impersonators, but there were some dead ringers for Sophia Loren, Cher, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand. Kenny Rogers, with half a dozen look-alikes, was well-represented at the convention that was created to bring together performers and agents, and to help impersonators hone their craft.

Michael Jackson, Willie Nelson, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro had spectators pointing and shouting as the tribute artists made their way to the hotel's showroom on Sunday, where 35 of the actors would showcase their talents. (The convention concluded today.)

Cher impersonator Marie Brisebois of Los Angeles began her career about five years ago.

"I happened to have lunch with Cher's mom and she told me to stand up," Brisebois said. "She wanted to take a picture of me to send to Cher to show her she could be replaced."

Among the impersonators, Wrege may be the most recent to trade on his looks. Though he has always resembled Osbourne, Wrege didn't consider doing anything with his gift until about a month ago.

With the popularity of the MTV series "The Osbournes," which follows Ozzy and his family around with a camera crew, Wrege has been receiving even more attention than when Osbourne was a mere heavy-metal star.

Wrege works for a company that creates websites. One of his firm's clients is the Kentucky Derby.

"Part of my job is to walk around the Derby and shoot video for the website," Wrege said. "As I was walking around people would yell out, Hey, Ozzy.'"

Deciding he might be on to something, Wrege contacted a few agents who represent impersonators. One was Elyse Del Francia, who organized the Imperial Palace convention.

"She said I had to be in Vegas," he said.

So Wrege took a few days off work to attend the event.

"I don't do this for a living, but I thought I would like to find out what's behind the heads of all these people," he said. "Because, psychologically, it's pretty freaky. It's kind of parasitic. You're getting attention because of something other than yourself.

"On the other hand, I've always been a big fan of attention."

Seeing double

There was plenty of attention to go around at the three-day convention, and court reporter Vera Novak received her fair share.

The Studio City, Calif., resident looks like a clone of Sophia Loren.

"I just do this for fun," Novak said. "There's not a lot of real work out there for this."

Her court-reporting career is too lucrative to give up for a Loren-impersonation career, but Novak gets an occasional gig at a corporate event or a convention, where she stands around and looks like Sophia Loren.

"I have gone to Spain to do a TV commercial for a lottery," Novak said. "That was fun."

She didn't try to capitalize on her stunning appearance until about two years ago, after finally giving into everyone constantly telling her she looked like Sophia Loren.

"I look like this every single day," Novak said. "This is just me. I get mistaken for her every single day. I go onto elevators and people follow me, thinking they are going to get to be all alone with Sophia Loren.

"Sometimes I go along with it, but not very long. I don't have an Italian accent. Actually, I speak Russian."

San Diego attorney Steve Ostrow also suffered through years of being told he looked like a celebrity -- Michael Richards, who played the role of Kramer on "Seinfeld."

"Everybody always was saying to me, 'Do you know who you look like?' " Ostrow said. "And I've got no idea."

Then one day he said he saw Richards portraying a lawyer in a film and it clicked.

"I figure, if Kramer can play a lawyer, I can play him," said Ostrow, who has been performing at corporate functions, parties and ceremonies for six years.

Ostrow spends about half his time in the courtroom and half being Kramer.

Ostrow prefers the Kramer role. He recalled coming to the decision to pursue acting.

"I'm sitting in the courtroom, listening to all this trivial crap," he said. "I'd be sitting there wondering, 'What the hell am I doing here? I should be in Hawaii, putting leis on people when they come off the plane. I shouldn't be fighting over this little stuff.'

"This is more fun than suing somebody. Did you ever do an eviction? Would you rather be hugging Cher or evicting somebody's grandmother from the house where she has lived the past 22 years?"

Luisa Marshall has been impersonating Tina Turner for two years.

The Vancouver, British Columbia, resident has fronted a band that has toured the world.

"I've been singing for a long time," she said. "I would do a couple of Tina Turner songs in the show. A couple of years ago I was performing in the Middle East, playing in a British nightclub and one of the guys in the audience suggested I do a gimmick, like put a wig on when I sang 'Proud Mary.' "

Marshall tried it and the audience went wild, she said.

"I never realized how much I looked and moved like her before," she said.

Since then, Tina Turner has taken over the band.

A real agent

Del Francia, based in Los Angeles, is an agent for more than 650 impersonators.

"My business has increased tenfold since I started 11 years ago," Francia said. "It's not just about Elvis and Marilyn, anymore, but it is about George W. Bush and Britney Spears. It's about anybody who can impersonate these people."

One of the reasons for the increased popularity of impersonators, especially at corporate events, is the cost.

"A real Diana Ross might cost the corporate client $150,000 for an appearance," Francia said. "Impersonators are cheaper."

With celebrity look-alikes, a family can afford to pay Barbra Streisand to drop by a birthday party or Jimmy Buffett to come to a pool party.

Francia says impersonators don't make fun of the people they impersonate.

"We pay tribute to the performers," she said. "We don't make it laughable or embarrassing."

Elvis remains everybody's favorite, Francia said, but there are some hot new characters, such as President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, and of course, Ozzy Osbourne.

Francia said she decided to organize the annual convention after years of waiting for someone else to take the initiative.

"Last year we had 65 people at the convention," she said. "It's doubled this year and next year we will probably have five impersonators for every character."

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Photos: Kileen Kapri smiles after her performance | Jon Schwartz portrays Charlie Chaplin | Don Wrege portays Ozzy Osbourne | A reception at the Impersonator's Convention | Lea Wall and Vera Novak look at their pictures | Peter Banks as Austin Powers

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