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fame in 1998

Remembering Leonardo DiCaprio’s Days As New York’s Party Prince of 1998

On June 22, 1998, New York magazine published a much talked about cover profile of stratospheric actor Leonardo DiCaprio under the title “Leo, Prince of the City.” Written by staff writer Nancy Jo Sales, the exposé is a fascinating snapshot of fame in 1998, tracking Leo and his infamous “Pussy Posse,” as well as the young celebs of the moment they bumped up against on the party circuit. Popping up in the story are: Elizabeth Berkley, fresh off Saved by the Bell and Showgirls (then in a serious relationship with an actor from the Porky's movie franchise); Leo’s pal Jay R. Ferguson, then best-remembered as the kid actor from the Burt Reynolds sitcom Evening Shade, now known as art director Stan Rizzo on Mad Men; and Vanessa Haydon, then a model and alleged paramour of Leo, now Donald Trump Jr.’s wife. We’ve republished it today for your long-reading pleasure; it's the perfect time capsule for our Fame in 1998 week. (When you're finished, read photographer Patrick McMullan's discussion of how he got the incredible image that kicked off this feature in the magazine — of DiCaprio being lifted in the air by pals Lukas Haas and David Blaine after a Fashion Week party.)

“Hi Leonardo! You just seem to drain all my worries out of me when I’m watching one of your movies. You are a hell of a better actor than Brad Pitt and all those other shitty actors that some girls love to death. All I want to say before I sign off is that I don’t think you are gay or bi and when some of my friends say they don’t like you I am not ashamed to say that I am deeply in love with you. (Oh, and by the way, I'm a Calvin Kline sic model and I’m 21 years old!)” — posted on the “Leonardo DiCaprio Is a Hot Babe!” website, May 31

The furtive typing of teens in the Heartland is only the rawest expression of the global passion focused on the 23-year-old Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio (named after Da Vinci, and with a Mona Lisa smile). What can Leo's life be like at the center of this raging obsession? I went looking for Leo to find out — on the town in New York, where he can still be found most nights, as always, having a hell of a time.

I didn't find Leo at Jet 19, reportedly one of his hangouts, but I did meet a stockbroker named Ted who said he'd seen Leo at the Bubble Lounge recently. "I literally bumped into him," said Ted, laughing modestly. "I made a big impression on him."

Leo is six feet tall, according to the best-selling Leonardo DiCaprio, Modern-Day Romeo — Ted is five foot three. But he was wearing a very expensive suit. "I know if he saw me again, he'd remember me," he said, convinced. "I was like, 'Yo, Leo, dude, whassup?' And he was, like, sooo down-to-earth. We talked about chicks, y'know? He was just a regular guy, sipping Stoli-and-soda. Talking about chicks." Again he gave a dry little laugh.

At Shine, the hot new club on West Broadway — so hot, Leo goes there — I met a slinky 40-year-old woman in false eyelashes who was dancing with a 24-year-old man. She told me, "I will have him, one day. I will see him here, and he will make eye contact with me, and he will know that we were meant to be together for a brief affair. Because he is so sensitive."

The actress Susan Sarandon, who lives in New York, recently pushed her way through hordes of Leomaniacs at the premiere of The Man in the Iron Mask to get an audience with DiCaprio for her teenage daughter, Eva, and seven of her closest school friends. "He was totally adorable," said Sarandon. "I humiliated myself."

Leo's been making the scene in New York for so long, he was already becoming a sort of tourist attraction, like South Street Seaport; but it was never anything like it is now. "I remember him and Juliette Lewis outside a Saturday Night Live party at Rockefeller Center a few years ago, begging the clipboard troll-ettes, 'Come on, please let us in,' " gossip columnist Anita Sarko says. "Even at the Basketball Diaries party at the Hard Rock Cafe, no one was paying much attention to him."

But then came the billion-dollar-grossing movie, the 500 Leo Websites, the plethora of hype and the attentions of the rich and powerful ("Leonardo DiCaprio . . . is an androgynous wimp," Senator John McCain grumbled recently), and Leo turned into "Leo." Now, venturing out at night with him feels like climbing onto the set of The Jerry Springer Show, says one of his close friends. "When he goes to a club, people start screaming and jumping over the security guards and elbowing and pushing to get near him."

And that's not just the civilians. "The models are all over him," says Jeffrey Jah, director of the club Life. "He's got rock stars, Puff Daddy, Donald Trump, going over to his table to sit with him. Leo just comes in to hang out with his friends."

Jah adds, "They never act up in here."

THE POSSE

"They" are the fun-lovin' guys you always see Leo around with. Even before there was Leomania, Leo always traveled with his pack of devotees, known in Hollywood circles as “The Pussy Posse.” "They're all about seeing the girls," says a magazine photographer in New York who once had to sneak Leo and his boys, then the uninvited, into a Victoria's Secret event.

The group's core members constitute a frat house of young men, some of whom are actually famous, like Leo. There's Lukas Haas, who has not yet become Leo, and Tobey Maguire — the pensive youth in The Ice Storm — who is, perhaps, waiting to. There's Harmony Korine, the Gummo boy auteur, and David Blaine, the levitating magician, who was recently spotted zipping around town on his new motorcycle with Leo — they hit Moomba, Chaos, Veruka, and NV, where Mariah Carey had to wait in line to get a meeting. "I have fun with him, that's for sure," Leo said of Blaine two years ago when I was doing a story on the magician. "He'll do some pretty fucking crazy things. He's like a monkey with electrodes stuck to his head!"

And then there are the other guys in Leo's pack, who make up a kind of former-child-actor brigade: There's Jay Ferguson, once Burt Reynolds's wisecracking son on Evening Shade; Josh Miller, who played Keanu Reeves's little brother in River's Edge but never became Keanu Reeves; Ethan Suplee, who appeared briefly in Chasing Amy; Kevin Connelly, who has appeared on the WB; Scott Bloom, another aspiring actor; Justin Herwick, with whom Leo almost got himself killed over the California desert in 1996, when his parachute failed to open (his instructor released an emergency cord). The Leo men seem to like to play rough. "I like to do things that scare me," said DiCaprio.

An adjunct member of the pack is the heavy-haired Sara Gilbert of Roseanne, who was starring in Poison Ivy when Leo was just "Guy #1" in the script. "If they're a new Rat Pack, she's the Shirley MacLaine figure," says a young actor who's hung out with the crowd in L.A. "A lot of them have known each other a long time; they started out as child stars together." (That was back in Leo's Growing Pains days, during which "he was becoming a bit of a misfit in his classes," the best-selling Leonardo DiCaprio, Romantic Hero reports gently. "Leonardo alarmed his teachers . . . when he drew a swastika on his head as part of his improvised imitation of mass murderer Charles Manson.")

The posse "used to see each other at auditions all the time," says their young actor friend, "and a little competition rose up between them." In fact, Haas lost out twice to DiCaprio for plum roles — in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, for which DiCaprio won a Best Supporting Actor nomination. ("Why should I want to be him?" Haas snapped to Texas Monthly in 1996.)

"They were always betting on who would blow up first," says the actor friend. "Tobey was into more of a Tom Hanks track. Leo was modeling his career after Nicholson and De Niro." ("Portraying emotionally ill characters gives me the chance to really act," DiCaprio said in the best-selling Leonardo DiCaprio Album, which also recounts an early Leo memory — killing a pigeon — as well as the time his father, George, a "bohemian" comic-book trader, urged his son to go off and lose his virginity. Leo, then 6, declined.)

As the years went by, however, Leo was always the one getting the best parts, the best reviews, the most heat in the teen magazines. And now this. "The Titanic stuff has caused this big identity crisis. Some of them have completely lost their careers," the young actor says. "All they do now is hang out with Leo. If Leo wants to go to Paris, it's let's go to Paris. Las Vegas? No problem." DiCaprio was heard exclaiming to his table at Tomoe on Oscar night, "Let's rent a plane! I want to go to India!" "The people closest to him have Leomania worse than anyone," the actor says.

"They're like, 'How come he's getting all the attention and no one's paying attention to me?' " says another member of the group who's observed their "sibling rivalry" — which he says Leomania has made chronic. "They want to be with Leo like 24-7."

Some posse members even accompany DiCaprio on movie sets. In New York, they act as unofficial bodyguards, although it's unclear sometimes whether this is for his benefit or for theirs. "They get off on protecting him — they're always ready to start yelling and swinging," grouses paparazzo John Barrett, who admits to having chased Leo around town on several occasions. "They were rushing me outside Moomba" on the night of James Toback's after-party for the premiere of Two Girls and a Guy, says the photographer, sighing, "Here I am at my age dealing with a pack of little brats like that."

The posse even carries Leo's cash. Earlier this year, when DiCaprio rented a house in South Beach, "he trusted his entourage of friends to deal with his expenses, not carrying any money himself," confides The Leonardo DiCaprio Album. "According to his pal Ethan Suplee, 'Leo's cheap. . . . He'll look for a place in the street to park rather than use valet parking.'"

"I'm the cheapest bastard in the world," the ever-frank DiCaprio has said. "You never know, I may go bankrupt, or lose my career, or have a Hugh Grant situation."

LEO TAKES NEW YORK

Leo discovered New York in 1994, when he came here to shoot The Basketball Diaries. In New York, "you could sit in a corner all day and probably have a more fulfilling time than traveling all over L.A. and seeing all the sights," said DiCaprio. How true. But Leo hardly sat watching the city pass him by; he jumped right in, and the press followed, naturally. "He hits Manhattan clubs . . . and brawls with the locals," said Rolling Stone. "He seldom sleeps, so intense is his partying," Liz Smith wrote.

"We don't have gossip columns in L.A. watching everybody's every move," complains DiCaprio's publicist, Cindy Guagenti. "If people want to know something, they call the publicist."

"He started acting like an idiot," says one highly placed New York publicist (who wouldn't allow me to use her name because, she says, "everyone fears his power" — as if Leo were Louis XIV, whom he recently played). "He made a joke out of it, going to everything all over the place. He was like Sylvia Miles, except young and beautiful and talented."

"New York is like Leo's playground, his Disneyland," says an aspiring director who says he's frequented strip joints with Leo's posse in L.A. "They used to set off stink bombs at Sky Bar. But Leo's not going to act up out here now. Anyone in the of course, movie industry could be sitting at the next table. No one in the industry cares what he does in New York."

"They're kids. They act like kids," the redheaded hostess at Moomba told me, with a curling little frown. At Spy, where Leo has become what Liza once was to Studio 54, or Henny Youngman was to the Carnegie Deli, the French bartender griped, "He does not teep! He gets his friends go to the bar for his drinks. He was in here with Julie Delpy — I could not understand it. She's a very nice girl — French. He is cheap."

Leo worries about his image: "I don't want to be thought of as a party animal," he has said. Most of what gets reported about him hardly rates as Rat Pack behavior, however; it's more like Romper Room (which he appeared on at the age of 5). This March, Leo and the posse reportedly bombarded paparazzi with grapes from upstairs at the Mercer Hotel. ("That doesn't sound like Leonardo," Guagenti told the Daily News. "Does it?" asked the paper.) And Leo was spotted throwing litter off the Brooklyn Promenade onto cars traveling below on the BQE ("before speeding away in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes," said the New York Post). In April, Leo was seen sporting a shiner. "He got it horsing around with his friends," said a beleaguered-sounding Guagenti.

But DiCaprio's reputation as a true bad boy has become widespread enough for it to be made a joke of: Two weeks ago at the MTV Movie Awards, DiCaprio accepted his honor for Best Male Performance by video; the spoof that followed featured a crew swaddled in bandages, all saying DiCaprio had freaked out and assaulted them. Uh, ha, ha. And DiCaprio has said that in Celebrity, the next Woody Allen movie (where art always mocks life), he plays "a cocky young Hollywood actor, the stereotype of what a disgusting young actor should be."

The currently suppressed indie film Don's Plum — originally called Saturday Night Club — may provide an inadvertent glimpse behind the curtain shrouding the secret society of Leo and his friends, mostly because it was made and largely ad-libbed by Leo and his friends. The characters "sit around, smoke, talk, say 'bro' a lot, insult the waitress, try to have sex with girls in the back room, fight," says one person who has seen it.

Don's Plum was directed by former posse member R. D. Robb — also a former child actor — who has recently been "expelled" from the group, according to someone still inside it, for attempting to spin the film's straw into the Leo gold of a commercial release. DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, who in 1995 put up a scant amount of money to get the movie made, said no way.

Maguire, according to the $10 million lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court in April by David Stutman, the film's producer, became concerned that "improvisational comments he had made during the Film revealed personal experiences or tendencies that would undermine his public image," and so he leaned on his "longtime friend," Leo, to block it, although DiCaprio allegedly didn't much care whether anybody saw it or not. At one screening, DiCaprio said he " 'really, really liked the film,'" says Stutman's suit. "He jumped out of his seat several times, laughing, clapping, and high-fiving his friends."

"Do you girls masturbate at all?" Leo asks in one scene. "Stop looking at me like that — I'll fucking throw a bottle at your face, you goddamn whore."

The film was pulled from Sundance. Miramax is no longer interested in investing. Maguire and DiCaprio's "campaign" against the movie makes "potential buyers, distributors and others afraid to offend DiCaprio," say court papers.

LEO AND THE LADIES

"The pussy posse" didn't get its name for nothing. "When you're my age," DiCaprio says in The Leonardo DiCaprio Album, "your hormones are just kicking in and there's not much besides sex on your mind."

The gossip mill has produced a Cannonball Run of beauties supposedly "linked" to Leo: Alicia Silverstone, Juliette Lewis, Kate Moss, Kate Winslet (who said, "To me he's just smelly, farty Leo"), Demi Moore (Bruce was in Delaware shooting a movie), Claire Danes (who called him "immature"), Bridget Hall (who told me, "Nothing happened," refuting the Globe, which quoted her as saying, "He was lousy in bed. The sex was bad"), Sharon Stone (Leo said, of their screen kiss, "I was expecting a little more from ol' Sharon, y'know? Actually, she hurt my lip").

And yet DiCaprio still can't seem to shake the rumor he's less than interested in the company of women. "If I want to go to a party with a few male friends, it doesn't mean I'm gay!" Leo has said. Totally, dude. After all, Sinatra hung out with Don Rickles, but that doesn't mean he was having sex with him, either. "Leo is not gay," laughs still another young L.A. actor who has hung out with his crew. "Leo's all about girls."

But no wonder if Leo's had it with all the young ladies trying to get their names in bold print next to his. Take the case of Vanessa Haydon, the 20-year-old blonde Wilhelmina model and New York native who caused a mini-sensation after she was seen nuzzling Leo at that premiere party at Moomba for James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy, in May.

Star, May 26 (breathless): "Leonardo DiCaprio has fallen hard for a stunning young model — and pals say this time it's love. The superstar is so smitten with blonde beauty Vanessa Haydon that he's now a one-woman man."

"He never dated her," Cindy Guagenti says flatly. At least one person saw DiCaprio walk out of an after-party for a Tony Shafrazi Gallery opening at BondSt. just as Haydon was striking up a conversation with a gossip columnist about how happy Leo was to finally be with someone as "down to earth" as she.

"Vanessa played the media really well," says a young man who has known Haydon since they were going to "teenyboppers" (or teen nightclub events) together. "Now she's all dolled up and ladylike and shit, but she used to be this hard-rock in leather and baggy jeans. She was a total gangster bitch."

"She was an ill thug," says a girl who attended the Dwight School with Haydon. "She went out with this Latin King for like three years."

In her yearbook, Haydon was voted Most Likely to Wind Up on Ricki Lake. Instead, she made it into "Page Six," which reported in May that her handlers were charging Sydney newspapers $15,000 for advance publicity stills while Haydon was Down Under shooting the cover of Australian Harper's Bazaar. "Vanessa Haydon got game," says another former schoolmate.

But no matter. Leo's supposedly on to an 18-year-old Russian modelette from Moscow, Alyssa Sourovova; or at least he was for a night — again, at Moomba. Later that same week, however, he was with David Blaine at Ten's, the strip club on West 21st Street. I just missed them, but a dancer whispered hotly in my ear: "He comes in here with all his friends and sits back like the Mack Daddy — he doesn't even tip!"

At Life, where I also did not find Leo, I talked to a drag queen named Meeka who looked exactly like Naomi Campbell (with whom Leo also reportedly had a dalliance this year). "He's cute! He's right now!" Meeka shouted thoughtfully above the theme to Titanic, which had been set to a pounding disco beat. "When all the 17-year-olds become 22-year-olds, he'll have faded, but right now, he's right now."

"And that's," she added, "what it's all about."

One night when I got home after looking for Leo, there was a message on my answering machine. A group of young guys — they all sounded drunk — were laughing and cutting up in the background. It was kind of strange. The speaker was telling me that if I wanted an interview with him, I'd have to "make a deal" along the lines of doing something for him that Monica did for Bill. "Then maybe we'll talk!" he laughed.

I'd been trying to get in touch with Leo.

But nah, I thought; it couldn't be Leo.

LEO AND THE LAW

It was the kind of night the posse should love: It was all about them — or, that is, Leo. The premiere of The Man in the Iron Mask was showing at the Ziegfeld Theater; Leo entered to the tearful wailing and undergarment-pelting of hundreds of teenage girls. The after-party at the New York Public Library was attended by everyone who was anyone — but even most of them couldn't get upstairs into the extra-exclusive chamber where Leo and some of his entourage, which included Jay Ferguson and David Blaine that night, puffed on imported cigars. They'd just been down to Cuba.

Elizabeth Berkley made it into the upstairs party on the invitation of an L.A. publicist named Karen Tenzer, a partner in the firm Michaels, Wolf and Tenzer, which counts among its clients Gabriel Byrne, who co-starred in Iron Mask as Leo's Musketeer. Not long after Berkley, best known for her flashy role in Showgirls, started mingling, Tenzer took her aside. "She said, 'Jay Ferguson and Leo are going crazy for you, and they want you to come to Elaine's after this — without Roger,'" says Berkley, whose hapless boyfriend, actor-director-whatever Roger Wilson (he starred in Porky's I and II), was nearby, getting some food.

Berkley asked, was this some kind of joke? Tenzer, she says, knew she lived with Wilson here in New York; the couple had recently had dinner with Tenzer and Byrne while in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. "'They're going nuts for you,'" Berkley says Tenzer laughed.

Berkley had also seen DiCaprio and Ferguson around for years. When DiCaprio was on Growing Pains and Ferguson on Evening Shade, Berkley was a Saved by the Bell cutie. "The last time I saw Jay, I was probably 17," says Berkley. "In L.A., you just see everybody around at events and auditions." However, she declined what seemed a rather odd request. Berkley says, "I told Karen I'm in love with Roger."

But that, apparently, wasn't the end of it. "The next morning on my voice mail," says Berkley, "there was a message from Jay, saying, 'Hey, baby, Karen gave me your number, we're going to dinner later, we want you to come.'" Throughout the day, Berkley says, she also received around seven messages from Tenzer, which she ignored, until finally, around midnight, there was one from Tenzer's assistant saying "Karen needs you immediately," giving Tenzer's cell-phone number, which she dialed.

"The first thing Karen said was, 'Why didn't you call Jay back?'" says Berkley, with quiet outrage. "She said, 'Your presence is requested here.' Her tone was very impatient. And I said, 'What, are you trying to deliver me to these guys, Karen?' And she said, 'Well, you know.'"

"Really upset," Berkley went to Wilson, who was in their living room watching sports. Hearing what had gone on, Wilson (who's from Brooklyn) asked for Tenzer's cell number and got Jay Ferguson on the phone. "I said, 'Look, Jay,'" says Wilson, "'I know you guys are having a great time and the town is your apple — but not this part of town. I don't know how this got started, but I'm just asking you please not to call my home again, and Elizabeth has asked please that you not call her again. . . . Okay?'"

"And then I heard a lot of profanity," says Berkley.

"There was a two-second pause," Wilson says, "and then it's, 'Fuck you, you fuckin' faggot, fuckin' motherfucker, we'll call whoever we want and if you don't fuckin' like it, why don't you come down here and tell us to our face?'"

"Thus," Wilson says with a sigh, "I put on my shoes and went to the Morgans hotel," where Leo and friends were dining at the restaurant Asia de Cuba.

The back table was full: DiCaprio was there (he had nine rooms booked at the hotel), as were Ferguson, Tenzer, Julia Ormond, Byrne, and about eight other posse members (no David Blaine that night). At the appearance of Wilson, the table fell silent. Wilson demanded of Tenzer why she was calling Berkley so late. "And then Jay Ferguson jumps up and says, 'I'm the one who called you, fuckface, and it's time for you and me to go outside,' " says Wilson. (Ferguson did not return phone calls from New York.)

Wilson went. Ferguson went. And then, according to a sworn statement reportedly given to police by the restaurant's chief of security (who, three weeks later, was no longer employed there), DiCaprio said to the others at the table: "Let's go kick his ass." And the rest of the table, minus Byrne and Ormond, followed.

Wilson claims two hotel security guards stood on either side of DiCaprio, who was smoking a cigarette, as he and Ferguson squared off on the sidewalk outside the entrance. "I'm facing Jay Ferguson, two feet in front of me," says Wilson. "The other guys are yelling at me, 'Fuck you, faggot! Go home, you fuckin' wimp, you're pathetic.' You know, all this."

Tenzer was also outside, according to Wilson, attempting to make peace; she held up her cell phone, saying, "I think this is all my fault. I can explain." Just then, as Wilson was momentarily distracted, someone — not Ferguson — punched him in the Adam's apple. He doubled over. And suddenly, the posse "went crazy, saying, 'Oh, no, oh, no, this can't happen!' And they jumped on the guy and threw him back in the hotel. They were protecting him," says Wilson. "And I never saw the kid again."

Wilson's larynx was damaged. His attacker still hasn't been identified. For now, the D.A.'s office isn't talking about the case, but Roger Wilson "was definitely assaulted," says Detective George Wich of the 6th Precinct, who's heading the investigation. "We're taking it seriously."

Karen Tenzer, contacted at her office in L.A., denied any involvement in the curious scenario. "I was just having dinner," she said. "Leonardo DiCaprio is not my client." "I can't answer whether any of Leo's friends called Elizabeth," Cindy Guagenti told me; elsewhere, Guagenti has said, "Leo's friend did call Elizabeth, but it was to invite her to dinner with them."

"That girl" — meaning Berkley — one of Leo's friends says lightly, "would have come in a second if we'd wanted her to. Any girl would."

FAUX LEO

Was there something about being Leo that attracted trouble? Do these sorts of things just happen to you if you're the most sought-after young man in the world?

I was at Ñ on Crosby Street, not looking for Leo, when I thought I saw him. I jumped out of my chair. "That guy doesn't look like Leo," said my friend Greg, pushing me down. "Maybe Leonardo Smith."

It turned out the young man's name was Troy Allen, and he was a recruit from Detroit for a large brokerage firm. He was the same age and height as Leo, had the same paleness, the same loose-limbed, lanky look. The fires of Leomania licked at my brain. "How'd you like to be Leo for a night?" I asked him.

"Well, sure!" he said.

My worst fear for this experiment was that nothing would happen, and I'd have wasted everyone's time on a harebrained scheme. Quite the opposite occurred, which turned out to be much scarier.

I brought along a photographer (Catherine McGann) and a bodyguard (a large fellow who goes by "Brick"), and I rented a limo, white stretch, from the Yellow Pages. It was all at the last minute, and the car was not exactly prime; it looked like the limo of losers.

The driver, Raymond, had a long shiny ponytail under his shiny black cap and a Pancho Villa mustache. He was told we were picking up "Leo," to which he stammered, "Oh! I will drive very carefully!"

It was a Friday night. We picked "Leo" up around ten. I'd told him to wear sunglasses. "Welcome to my limousine!" Raymond said nervously, throwing open the back door.

"Gee, thanks!" Troy said.

Three of Troy's friends — Kara, Lee Ann, and Steve — came along for the ride. They were all in their early twenties, all in marketing and the financial sector, all quite giddy at being part of the stunt. Troy confessed he had never been in a limousine before.

"How does it feel to be so famous?" I asked him.

"It's awesome!" he said, fiddling with the power windows.

He was taking to his role with alacrity. "What's Kate Moss like?" I probed.

"She's gorgeous," said Troy. "And she's a really nice person."

Our first stop was the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. There was a small crowd on the sidewalk surrounding a woman holding a large Gila monster on her shoulder — you could touch it for a fee. When the limo pulled up, Catherine jumped out, snapping pictures of "Leo" emerging; the onlookers rushed over, leaving the Gila monster in the dust.

"Who's that?" they demanded. "Out the way!" ordered Brick.

Some of them zoomed after us into the store, where "Leo" pretended to shop for CDs; it was a bit difficult for him to concentrate, however, as a gaggle of teenage girls and so-excited-they-could-burst tourists were shamelessly scrutinizing his every move. Security guards were suddenly appearing, hissing at one another on walkie-talkies. "Gosh," Troy whispered, growing paler, "they really think I'm him! Let's get outta here!"

Back outside, as we moved down the street, the number of fans trailing us had tripled; some were running around in front of "Leo" taking pictures of him with disposable cameras and then dashing away, as if they had gotten away with something. Brick pretended to order back the limo driver on a cell phone. "Where's the limo at?" he barked. "We can't leave Leo out here on the street!"

While Raymond was circling the block — perhaps nervous about his precious cargo — he had gotten into an accident; a tow truck had hit the limousine. We were now driving "Leo" around in a dented limo. "Once you go down with the Titanic," "Leo" said magnanimously, "you can deal with just about anything."

But "Leo" was getting antsy; he decided he had to have something to eat. "I'm hungry!" he moaned, at which we all jumped, making suggestions. After all, he was the star. "I wanna go to Planet Hollywood!" he said.

Troy was not aware of it, but the real Leo has been talking to the owners of the wildly popular snack joint (Schwarzenegger, Bruce and Demi, et al.) about becoming a shareholder. I didn't think this would be a problem; in fact, I thought it might be a good cover for why "Leo" would have nothing better to do on a Friday night than go check out the movie-star tchotchkes at Planet Hollywood. I called ahead: "We're coming with Leo," I said.

"Oh, okay!" said the maître d', Kathy, her voice taking on a solicitous tone. Would Leo be comfortable in the main dining room — or would he like them to set up the function room? "Leo" said to tell her he wanted to eat with everybody else, just like "regular people. Just because I'm a star, I don't think I'm better than anybody," Troy said sincerely.

Outside Planet Hollywood, a wait staff of about seven was waiting for us on the sidewalk. "They look like they should be holding up swords," Lee Ann observed. We all peered out the windows timorously. "Uh, this looks serious," Troy said.

Raymond flung opened the door. "Come on, Leo!" Brick boomed. Catherine started snapping pictures. "Leo" climbed out, baseball hat pulled down low.

They'd arranged for us to enter through a side door. Maître d' Kathy and Brett, the night manager, were following along behind us, peppering me with questions about Leo's visit. "Well, frankly, I was surprised he wanted to eat at Planet Hollywood," I said fishily. "Well, frankly, so were we," Kathy said.

As soon as we were in the main dining room — packed with patrons devouring mounds of fried food — heads began swiveling around; people were talking through their hands, mouthing "Lee-Oh," eyes wide, mouths full. Waiters from all over the restaurant were rushing into the room to get a look. "They on him," whispered Brick.

It all felt very dicey. I began to panic. "What do we do?"

"Talk to me. I'm the star!" hissed "Leo."

We sat down. I pretended to conduct an interview. "Uh, so you're thinking about becoming a shareholder of Planet Hollywood?" I asked.

"I don't want to disclose anything right now," muttered "Leo," sinking down behind his menu.

We had sent Kara and Lee Ann to the front to take the temperature (where, little did we know, Leo's tuxedo from Titanic is hanging in a large glass case; apparently, his legs are several inches shorter than Troy's). Later on, they told us that just then, a waiter passed by them announcing: "You girls are gonna pass out in a few seconds — I'm gonna pass out, too!"

On our side, the room had become strangely loud and animated, everyone showing off the way people do when they feel they're in the presence of someone known. "They on him," Brick said again, in disbelief.

"Can I get a picture?" said a portly woman who had appeared beside our table, flashing us with a disposable camera before we could answer.

A sweet-sixteen birthday party was already in progress. Long Island girls in short, sleeveless dresses and chunky heels were whipping out cell phones, mouthing "Lee-Oh!" excitedly into receivers.

Two 12-year-old girls in jeans came right up to us, arms crossed, faces drenched with disgust. "That's not Leo!" one said, turning on her heel.

But others weren't sure; a line of maidens was now circling the room like little Nerf sharks, in Gap shirts.

Brett was back. "Can you come with me?" he asked, in a high, pinched voice. Uh-oh, I thought; I telegraphed alarm to my tablemates, but they were transfixed by the weird swelling of the room. "Don't let them tear my hair out or anything," Troy was imploring Brick.

Brett and Kathy led me to an empty back office, where I expected to be dipped in batter and fried.

Instead, I was handed a telephone. Patty Caruso, the publicist of Planet Hollywood, had been called on Long Island (it was midnight). "How long is he going to be there?" she asked urgently. "Because I know Keith Barish" — the principal owner of Planet Hollywood — "will want to come down and meet with him. Would that be all right? He could be there in fifteen minutes — "

"Uh, I'll have to ask," I said, handing back the phone.

"We have to go," I told our party through clenched teeth.

Things were getting out of control. We got up. Brick had to wave people out of the way. "Leo just wanted to come down here and have a few drinks, get something to eat," he was shouting, "and look what y'all did! Y'all fucked up! We outta here! Come on, Leo, let's go!"

"Just let him know Eric took care of him," the waiter informed me politely.

We ran out to the limo. People were running after us, smashing their faces against the windows after "Leo" climbed in. "It's her 16th birthday; can't we get a picture?" People were taking pictures — of the car.

Back inside the car, Troy said, bewildered, "I'm a superstar. I can't believe what they did to me."

We took off into the night. The limo phone rang. Brick informed "Leo" that Raymond wanted his autograph.

Troy took off his sunglasses; he looked dazed. "Being in that situation is really stressful," he said unhappily. "I don't like being Leo anymore."

This article, written by Nancy Jo Sales, originally ran in the June 22, 1998, issue of New York magazine.

Photo: Steve Azzara/Sygma/Corbis