Actress won't object to newfound fame

March 27, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- For 25 years, Arlene Parness waited for her big break. She danced with a cow in a milk commercial, played a corpse in the movie "Outbreak," and stood around in crowd shots on the television show Models Inc. She passed her photo out to dozens of casting agents, always hoping for the role that would make her a star.

But no one was much interested. Until Marcia Clark hit the scene.

Now, the struggling actress, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial, is getting more work -- and attention -- than she ever imagined.

She started it last week by talking her way onto a Tonight Show appearance with Jay Leno's "Dancing Itos" quintet. Thursday night, the show brought her back to tango with a dancing F. Lee Bailey. Strangers spy her on the street, stop dead in their tracks and run up to her, thinking she's the famous prosecutor.

"This could all die down and nobody will talk to me when it's all over," she said. "But I'm hoping to get enough work by being Marcia Clark that people will know about me and know I can do stuff, then I could audition for sitcoms."

Ms. Parness' husband was the first one to notice that Ms. Parness and Ms. Clark looked alike.

"I've been an O.J. junkie since the preliminary hearing," said Michael Sadler. "I'd say, 'Honey, you look just like Marcia Clark, I swear to God.' The first time I saw [Clark], I said, 'That's my wife.' At first, she just poo-pooed it."

But then Ms. Parness' co-workers started noticing the likeness. A couple of weeks ago, while Ms. Parness was working as an extra on the set of the TV movie about Liz Taylor, the crew started calling her "Marcia."

"The assistants would say to me, 'Miss Clark, could you stand over there, please,' " Ms. Parness said. "They kept telling me I looked like her. I would just roll in looking like a zombie with no makeup and they thought I still looked like her."

Ms. Parness didn't waste any time in trying out her act.

"The crew of the Liz Taylor movie told me that Jay Leno does comedy sketches on the Simpson case," she said. "I decided to crash the show."

On March 14, she put on a suit she borrowed from a neighbor, painted a beauty mark above her lip and headed straight to the NBC studios in Burbank.

Ms. Parness said she pretended she had an appointment with Mr. Leno's casting director. Once inside the studio, the crew was struck by her resemblance to the prosecutor -- and tickled to learn that she could sing and dance, show spokes person Jennifer Barnett said.

The casting crew told her they would be in touch. They called her back two hours later.

"They told me to show up for rehearsal the next day," said Ms. Parness, who sometimes becomes breathless when talking about her new-found success. "If I could do the dance steps, I could do the job. . . . It was like a dream come true."

After a six-hour practice session, Ms. Parness taped the skit with the "Dancing Itos," five men dressed in black robes in a spoof of Judge Lance A. Ito. The show aired March 16. Thursday night, she came back with a rose clinched in her teeth to dance with a Bailey lookalike.

Ms. Parness said she is amazed at how many people do double takes when they see her in costume.

To demonstrate, earlier in the week she stopped by a shopping center. One man asked for her autograph, convinced that she was the prosecutor. Another woman asked for a hug.

"You look even more beautiful off the screen," Edith Lewis told the actress, thinking she was Ms. Clark. "Isn't she lovely?" Ms. Lewis asked a reporter, who didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.

But Celeste Musick and Brian Stevens, who work at the 9 West store, knew immediately that Ms. Parness was a fraud."She wears too much makeup to be Marcia Clark," Ms. Musick said.

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