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BY DESIGN : Masters of Disguise : When the Stars Want to Be Left Alone, They Go for Shades, Big Clothes, Wigs--or Another Celebrity

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Madonna reportedly dresses like a man when she wants to go incognito. Woody Allen pulls a slouchy hat down over his eyes and wears a trench coat. Forget that he’s been using this get-up so long it now works like a beacon. But most celebrities opt for a varied wardrobe of disguises.

To find out who wears what, we went straight to the paparazzi, who make their living by tracking and shooting stars--quickly.

“When we see someone, we have only a matter of seconds, not 20 or 30 but three or four, to identify and pursue,” says photographer Kathy (“I don’t hide in bushes”) Hutchins of Michelson Photo Agency in the San Fernando Valley. Do a double-take and you’re too late.

Celebrities tend to don disguises in the places they feel most vulnerable, particularly the airport, says Vinnie Zuffante, a photographer with Star File in New York City. Who can blame them for wanting to give pesky fans the slip (who doesn’t feel like one of the great unwashed after a flight)? Still, here’s a sampling of looks to look for at the baggage carousel and elsewhere.

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The Disaster of Disguise

Michael Jackson may be a man of many hats (usually fedoras), but “he’s the worst at (disguises),” says Janet Charlton, gossip columnist for Star magazine. “He has a myriad of ridiculous disguises that mostly draw attention to himself,” she adds. Indeed, aside from wearing surgical masks of many colors, Jackson has been photographed variously as a robot, a nurse and a little old man with a beard. And he was spotted this year on a Las Vegas sidewalk posing as just-your-average tourist in a head-to-toe shroud of black with Michael Milken by his side. Even better, Jackson turned up last month in New York City as a fat man--50 pounds overweight thanks to body pads--with orange wig and fedora.

Brunet Today, Blond Tomorrow

Donning a wig of an unfamiliar color can be an effective ploy. Shannen Doherty once tried wearing a curly blond Farrah Fawcett-type wig to the Viper Club but was outed at the door, Charlton says, “because her temperament came through the disguise.” The actress’s usual, and more successful, cover-up amounts to combing her own hair down over her face. Add a few friends for cover, the photographer says, and “the tiny actress goes to a lot of places without being noticed.”

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The One That Got Away

Zuffante recalls the day Joan Collins, wearing sunglasses and a short blond bob, breezed right past the photographer and his colleagues at LAX: “There was a car waiting for her, and as she got in she whipped off her wig and said, ‘Here I am, boys!’ We all missed the shot.” The actress is less discreet when departing, Zuffante says. “When Joan Collins leaves town on an airplane, she doesn’t mind being photographed. She leaves as Alexis (Carrington), you know what I mean? But when she gets off the plane she’s Joan Collins, and she doesn’t want her picture taken.”

Wigged Out

Paul McCartney in a black Afro and Linda McCartney in a long black wig at a George Harrison concert; Elizabeth Taylor in a white Afro at a Prince concert; Ann-Margret in a black Afro at a Bette Midler concert; Sharon Stone in a long black Cher wig at the airport, and Roseanne Arnold in a wig and Halloween mask at a drag bar.

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The Hotel as Disguise

Who would think that the quaint Century Wilshire in Westwood, with an interior right out of “Barton Fink,” is a celeb magnet? No one. That’s the idea, says manager Ken Gee, who would add only that the favored disguise of men and women is . . . a wig.

Clever Counter-Disguises

When Taylor and Larry Fortensky honeymooned at Malcolm Forbes’ Moroccan hideaway, native dress--the djellaba--proved a perfect disguise. Thus outfitted, the newlyweds eluded journalists for an entire week as they tooled around in a Mercedes limousine, says Francine Alfieri-Brandt, who helped her husband, photographer Peter Brandt, pursue the couple. “When you wrap yourself up in a veil and a djellaba, which is like a caftan, you can’t tell who’s under there,” she says.

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Desperate times called for desperate measures, so the journalists resorted to using counter-disguises. On went the djellabas and veils, and 45 minutes later, at a Bedouin marketplace outside Tangier, they found Taylor and Fortensky--but not in disguise. “The honeymooners didn’t need it,” says Alfieri-Brandt, “because none of the Bedouins recognized them. We finally got a picture, but only because we were the ones in disguise.”

Sibling Rivalry

Arriving for the ill-fated “Jackson Family Honors” event in Las Vegas, LaToya Jackson sneaked into the MGM Grand Hotel in a shroud-like get-up not unlike the one Michael has worn.

Me and My Shadow

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Stars aren’t shy on camera, but they seem to recoil in hotel lobbies. They often use their personal assistants as cover when signing in or checking for phone messages, says Karron Hinson, chief concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Here’s the drill: “The assistants come up to the desk and speak on the star’s behalf. So at first you recognize the name, but not the face, and then you see the famous individual standing right behind the assistant. Once we see the star, we say, ‘By all means, yes, here are your messages.’ ”

Down and Out in Beverly Hills

In a car culture, Rent a Wreck offers the ultimate disguise. That’s where Michael Jackson leased an old pickup--just the thing to complete his “little old man” ensemble, Alfieri-Brandt says. “Old cars are big disguises,” she says, “because they fit into the landscape. Steve Martin used to drive around in an old Honda Accord. . . . I think he still does.”

Glamour Break

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For some actresses, forgoing makeup is a disguise in itself. Add non-prescription glasses and . . . voila! . . . a sex symbol is no more. Actress Christina Applegate may wear wire rims, no makeup, baggy clothes and a ponytail to keep fans at bay. And photographer Zuffante reports that Linda Evans, in glasses and babushka at LAX, managed to deflect the paparazzi when she yelled: “Come on guys, I’m not dressed for this. Get Sammy Davis--he’s behind us!”

Says Zuffante, “We turned around and there he was, just like she said, so we left her alone.”

Sometimes, the best disguise is a another star.


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