Stars in her eyes Celebrities: From Ted Koppel to some former congressman, Jan Pottker knows where they live in and around Washington.

March 10, 1997|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Jan Pottker is idling her Jeep outside the stone mansion, staring at the sprawling estate where television's former Wonder Woman lives.

"Did you know Lynda Carter's house is so big, her tile guy got lost in it and had to come outside just to get his bearings?" Pottker asks. "It's the truth."

She is praising the tile guy, who was happy to blab about the actress, when a dark van tears up the driveway toward the house Carter shares with her husband, Washington superlawyer Robert Altman. Suddenly, Pottker is clutching her steering wheel and screaming.

"Oh my GOD," she says, jostling her full mug of coffee, which sloshes under the twisted cord of her cell phone. "Was that Lynda? She was wearing a hood -- I couldn't see. We should have brought our binoculars!"

Jan Pottker is the kind of celebrity hound only Washington could have: A 48-year-old suburban mother and federal bureaucrat who finds people with power endlessly interesting. Swathed in a black leather jacket with dark sunglasses, she stalks the homes of senators, cabinet secretaries, television reporters, even the guy who runs the World Bank.

Forget German shepherd warning signs, like the kind in Carter's neighborhood. Pottker is bold. She shifts her Jeep into park on busy streets and deserted roads, taking notes, peering at darkened windows and interviewing neighbors. She'll stand on the hood of her 4x4 and take a picture of a nondescript apartment building if she thinks someone famous lives there.

She uses perfectly legal ways to gather public information about the homes that many Washington insiders like to keep secret. Her research is highlighted in her self-published book, "Celebrity Washington," a guide to the homes of quintessential capital personalities.

Forget that some of her big-shot neighbors are not exactly thrilled by her work. Pottker is wildly curious about the rich and famous and thinks other people are, too. The way she sees it, giving information about the city's big shots is just another form of public service.

"Everybody today is interested in celebrities," Pottker explains. "I think that knowing how someone chooses to live really illuminates their character. It says something about their personality."

Details, details

Since her book came out, she has gabbed on dozens of radio programs, gotten a very expensive cut from Madonna's hairdresser (three different color highlights) and fed gossip to People magazine.

But she's sold only 3,000 copies of "Celebrity Washington." Does anyone really care where Janet Reno, Newt Gingrich and Dan Glickman live? Most people don't even know who Dan Glickman is. (Don't wrack your brain: He's agriculture secretary.)

The book is really aimed at serious Washington junkies who can't get enough of the celebrities born on C-Span -- the people made famous by getting elected, getting indicted or simply popping up a lot in a Nexis search.

No one could be more fascinated than Pottker herself. Nothing these celebrity insiders do is unworthy of mention, at least not when Pottker is behind the wheel. The running commentary starts the second the key is in the ignition.

Idling outside Rep. James Oberstar's house: "It's so ordinary looking, isn't it? Makes you wonder about his sense of style." Free-associating on the road: "Newt Gingrich's apartment building? What a dump!"

Staring at Jack Kemp's house: "Ooh Look! The Kemps have a sun room." Struggling to leave columnist Jack Anderson's driveway: "How in the heck am I going to get out of here?"

No detail is too irrelevant: "Kathie Lee Gifford grew up in Bowie." No thought is too trivial: "I don't think Dick Morris' girlfriend is much of a celebrity." No observation is too inane: "Did you know Sonny Bono's children walk Donna Shalala's dog?"

To track down the more than 300 addresses for her book -- and to find the dozens more she hopes to include in a second edition -- Pottker collects news stories and real estate advertisements on celebrities. She began gathering this information in the early 1980s and keeps it in color-coded files in her basement.

Pottker scans house deeds on microfilm, studies old telephone directories (before people wised up and went unlisted) and reviews voter registration lists. When she finds the right neighborhood, she interviews neighbors and mail carriers to verify the addresses. She never steps on their property, she says, or calls their homes.

Pottker tries to give her star guide a little sex appeal, but it's tough. She doesn't have much material to work with. Instead of Clint Eastwood, she lists the roof from which he dangled in the movie "In the Line of Fire." In the next edition, Pottker hopes to get the address of director Quentin Tarantino's mother.

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