Laser-Accurate Lookalikes

We were exploring the show floor at the 2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Francisco when we found ourselves face-to-face with Albert Einstein.

No, we were not experiencing a rupture in the space/time continuum, but observing an uncanny imitation, down to the accent, mannerisms, rumpled hair and clothing. For 15 years, California actor Benny Wasserman has impersonated Einstein for Lookalikes-USA /Impostor Bostonians. Besides science show promotions, he's portrayed the famed physicist in Pepsi television ads. "We have four Einsteins, but Benny's the most in demand," said company founder Ron Bartels.

The Rockland, Mass., firm handles bookings for 800 celebrity impersonators, who perform at everything from weddings to casino openings. Novice impersonators usually start at about $800 per day plus travel and expenses. Good, experienced lookalikes command more and are always in demand. Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators are perennial favorites, but the Aerosmith lookalike band is also popular. The person who imitates Aerosmith's lead singer has bona fide groupies, even though they're fully aware he's not the real rock star. "From the fan's point of view, it's like the next best thing," said Bartels.

He added that there is always hope for budding impersonators, even it they don't look like a rock star -- or Einstein. "We're always looking for new talent," he said. "We get calls from people saying 'I look just like the guy who built the Hyatt in Boston.' We take their pictures and keep 'em on file, just in case. You never know."

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