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Profile : What a Drag! : Australian ‘Megastar’ Dame Edna Is Ready for Her U.S. Debut

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Australia superstars Mel Gibson and Paul Hogan have achieved success on our shores. Now Dame Edna Everage, the self-proclaimed Aussie “megastar” housewife, swami and investigative journalist, is determined on conquering the United States. But is America ready for this Wonder from Down Under?

Decked out in a multicolored dress, ornate glasses--"My face furniture"--that would make Elton John envious, purple hair and garish costume jewelry, Dame Edna was posing for photographs outside her cozy Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow.

“My legs are considered to be a rather special part of me,” she said, coyly lifting her dress above her knee and exposing rather trim gams. “They are my supporting act.”

Passersby stopped dead in their tracks and giggled at the sight of Dame Edna and not because of her outlandish attire. It was hard not to notice the fact Dame Edna is, in fact, a man. She’s actually Australian comedian Barry Humphries, 57, who created Dame Edna more than 30 years ago.

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Dame Edna is a phenomenon in her homeland and England. She has starred on stage in several one-woman shows (“A Night with Dame Edna,” “An Evening’s Intercourse”) and award-winning TV specials. On her popular British talk show, “The Dame Edna Experience,” she trades barbs with the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Tom Jones and Lauren Bacall

NBC is banking that Dame Edna will be another “golden” girl for the network and has given her her very first American TV special, “Dame Edna’s Hollywood,” premiering Saturday. Filmed at her fictitious Beverly Hills manse, Dame Edna surrounds herself with such good friends as Cher (the duo sing “I Got You, Babe”), Mel Gibson, Jack Palance, Beatrice Arthur and Larry Hagman.

Lunch with Dame Edna is quite an experience in itself. Wicked, witty and outrageous, Dame Edna (who stays in character at all times) goes as far as frisking visitors to make sure they haven’t “pinched” any of her treasured belongings. “Actually, I just wanted to touch you,” Dame Edna said, smiling.

Adjusting her numerous bracelets, Dame Edna explained she had been approached before to test the American television waters. “I would hear little mutterings from HBO and Showtime,” she said. “They were feelers put out.”

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But none offered her the type of money she wanted. “I’m not cheap,” Dame Edna proclaimed.

But now she thinks the time is right to come to Hollywood. “Americans have been increasingly flocking to see me in London and there has been an underground, grass-roots, groundswell (of appreciation). America has been coming around to the idea of me even though they don’t quite know it yet. This show for NBC, and we won’t call it a show, we won’t call it a special. Let’s face it, it’s an event that will catalyze that groundswell. Who knows? I could become the flavor of 1992 that could go on to the beginning of the next century.”

Dame Edna was interrupted by a knock at the door--it was room service delivering her lunch of spaghetti and meatballs. “I have to sustain myself,” Dame Edna said, twirling the spaghetti around her fork. “I have a little rule--don’t get hungry, lonely, angry or tired, but not necessarily in that order.”

Though no name-dropper, Dame Edna prides herself on the fact that she is friends with the likes of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Bush and the Pope, whom she refers to as her “single Polish friend who lives in Italy.”

The mother of three grown children, Dame Edna is a widow. Her “insignificant other,” Norm, was a pioneer in prostate research. Since his death, she has been approached and has “had a lot of pressure put on me” by Prince Rainer of Monaco to marry him. “The idea of becoming Her Serene Highness Prince Edna of Monaco is tempting, but no, " Dame Edna explained.

She also has gone out on the town with the infamous Claus Von Bulow. “I went out with him quite a few times thinking he was Jeremy Irons,” Dame Edna said. She discovered he was the real Von Bulow when she began nodding off during dates. “I realized it wasn’t anything he put in the tea,” Dame Edna said. “It was just his conversation--it makes you want to sleep forever.”

As for the future, Dame Edna would like to interview Madonna “just to see if she is interesting” and is hoping Hollywood will make a movie out of her best-selling autobiography, “My Gorgeous Life.”

“There’s talk of filming it with Mel Gibson playing my husband and Meryl Streep playing me in old age,” Dame Edna said. “I am playing myself in maturity.”

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“Dame Edna’s Hollywood” airs Saturday at 10 p.m. on NBC.


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