By People Staff
March 17, 1980 12:00 PM

Richard Melcombe has been a wheeler-dealer since he started mowing neighbors’ lawns at 13, and all his ventures since—including booking rock artists like Linda Ronstadt while still an undergraduate at USC—have been triumphant. All, that is, but one. He was fired in 1978 from the giant ICM talent firm because, he says, “The agents were jealous of me.” But Melcombe, 24, has rebounded. Like another ex-agent turned Cookie Monster, Wally “Famous” Amos, Melcombe has found sweet success. His Brownie Points—chewy morsels made from hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, Kahlúa, French coffee and chocolate chips—retail for around $4 per 7-ounce box. Trendy stores like Robinson’s in L.A. and Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan were early customers, and now Brownie Points are sold in nearly 450 stores across the country. Starting with $10,000 borrowed from a friend at USC, Melcombe tested at least 70 different batches at home (Mom’s own didn’t make the final cut) before settling on a recipe. His CPA father now runs the operation while Melcombe concentrates on sales (he plans to break $1 million in ’80). “Everyone wants to have the next Pet Rock,” muses Melcombe, who shares his L.A. digs with two female roomies. “But I don’t like gimmicks. Longevity is important to me.”

Desirée Ruhstrat, 11, began playing the violin eight years ago and within six months became the youngest student ever accepted at Milwaukee’s Conservatory of Music. Then Chicago’s De Paul University offered the blue-eyed 5-year-old free lessons, and a year later she debuted with the Chicago Symphony. There she was spotted by virtuoso Eugene Fodor, who urged her to study with his own mentor, but the teacher, Harold Whippier, was skeptical at first. “The minute I heard her,” says Whippier, “I knew she was the great exception.” So Desirée’s German-born father, Dieter, a designer of electronic parts, and his Swiss accountant wife, Elizabeth, moved to Evergreen, Colo., where Desiree leapfrogged a three-year waiting list and became Whippler’s star pupil. Now a sixth-grade honors student at Colorado Academy, Desirée plays soccer and basketball, swims—and practices at least six hours a day. She has occasional lapses in concentration and discipline, but never loses sight of her goal: to enter the Tschaikovsky Competition in Moscow by 18 or 19. Meanwhile Desirée is this month’s featured soloist with the Denver Symphony, and a summer tour of Europe is being planned. Stage fright? “I love it on the stage,” she says. The applause doesn’t bother her either: “If I’ve done a good job, I deserve it.”

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