Tom Gliatto
February 04, 2002 12:00 PM

Gauging celebrity is an inexact science. There are box office receipts and awards shows. And then there’s Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in New York City’s Times Square, where the 110-member staff monitors visitors—700,000 a year—as they are encouraged to interact with, and even touch, any of the 178 handcrafted spittin’ images of the famous, from Woody Allen to Whoopi Goldberg.

Who, in this petting zoo of the famous, is the max in wax? An American hero made of blood, sweat and about 70 lbs. of the sticky stuff—former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Since Sept. 11, says general manager Janine Scarpello, the response to Rudy has been so overwhelming that his head has to be detached weekly for repainting. “It creates chaos,” says Scarpello of the mayoral maintenance. “We had a senior citizens’ group that were so upset he wasn’t available, we gave them free passes.”

Brad Pitt gets frequent touch-ups, too—to clean off traces of lipstick. But for all the kisses, Pitt doesn’t make the Top 10, according to a poll of staff and visitors to the museum and its online site. After Giuliani they are: George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Whoopi (so popular in the summer, says Scarpello, “she is at risk of melting”), Princess Diana, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Susan Sarandon, Steven Spielberg and Elle Macpherson.

As the presence of political leaders indicates, “the museum is very relevant as a barometer of current events,” Scarpello says. For example, when Tussaud’s opened in 2000—the fifth branch of the London original, established in 1884—Regis Philbin, riding the crest of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, was No.l. Where is Reege today? Down to No. 11. Diana, now No. 5, was once so popular she had to be roped off all by her royal lonesome. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who stood close to Gandhi, was sent to London for maintenance last August and hasn’t returned. Loneliest of all is former Vice President Al Gore. Begun but left incomplete pending the result of the 2000 election, he’s in storage.

Visitors’ most frequently requested new face? Julia Roberts. The Oscar-winning actress has yet to sit for Tussaud’s artists, who measure stars down to the last centimeter. Which is why, Scarpello adds, the comment most heard in the museum is, “I didn’t realize that star was so short.”

Even without Julia, the current Top 10 face stiff competition in 2002 with the Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tom Cruise set to join the display. At No. 10, Macpherson would seem to be right on the cusp. But she still has an edge, judging by the fondness of some male visitors for unbuttoning her blouse—only to find that reality ends with a camisole. “I don’t know what people are looking for,” says Scarpello. “But we don’t have it.”

Tom Gliatto

Bruce Stockler in New York City

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