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NEWSWATCH

Oh. So Liza Minnelli and Diana Ross aren't good enough anymore?

Wearing pigtails and above-the-knee nylons, the winner of a recent Britney Spears look-alike contest in Los Angeles was twice as old as most of the other contestants and seven years older than the 17-year-old sensation herself.

Here's another difference: the winner was a man.

"I'm going to die," Robert Stephens exclaimed at the thought of standing side by side with his favorite diva. As Stephens was handed his prize _ tickets to the singer's sold-out concert at Universal Amphitheater, where he will also get to meet Spears backstage _ the 24-year-old drag queen shrieked through thunderous applause from the lunchtime spectators, many of whom thought he was a she.

Although the contest was not limited by age or gender, the majority of would-be Britneys ranged from 11 to 14 years old and were decidedly lacking in Y chromosomes.

Despite their losses, the girls took it in stride.

"That's show biz," shrugged 11-year-old Rachel Snow of La Crescenta.

Now if he could just figure out how to bury himself

Dick Alexander knows where he's going when he dies: into the coffin he's making for himself.

Concerned about burdening his family with the cost of a casket, Alexander, who lives in East Canton, Ohio, spent the last six months building his own. Made out of poplar, the coffin cost $500, about a third the retail price.

"I had a lot of fun building it," the 76-year-old retired carpenter said. "I did slip into it to see if it would fit. No problem."

Alexander is in generally good health, but is philosophical about his advancing age.

"When you've had 65 to 70 years, that's it. Why worry about it?" he said. "I've made my peace. I'm ready when they are."

Alexander said he doesn't make long-range plans. For instance, he won't buy green bananas and recently rejected a five-year warranty on a new TV.

"How about 90 days?" he asked the clerk.

Battle of the ages

Gloria Owens of San Jose, Calif., said she had been looking for a parking space for 10 minutes one day last October while taking her mother to a doctor's visit. She finally spotted one, only to see Edna Gilliam glide in just ahead of her.

The two women got out of their cars. Ms. Gilliam said Ms. Owens grabbed her sweater and flung her to the ground, hospitalizing Ms. Gilliam for six weeks. Ms. Owens recently pleaded no contest to battery and will get three years of probation.

Ms. Owens is 68; Ms. Gilliam is 88.

Biggest turn-ons: candlelight dinners, strolls on the beach and Newswatch

A recent survey by DiMassimo Brand Advertising reveals that 12 percent of Hershey's chocolate eaters have had more than one sexual partner at a time, 59 percent of Pepsi drinkers say they would cheat on a spouse, Newsweek readers enjoy three times as much sex as Time readers, Touched by an Angel viewers make love 12 times more often than loyal CNN watchers (three times a week vs. once a month), and people who read the features section of a newspaper report better sex lives than those who read the sports or business sections.

What a waste it is to lose one's mind

During the July 28 edition of Inside Politics on CNN, former vice president Dan Quayle said the media has eased up on the kidding he got after he misspelled potato and made other gaffs. Then Quayle attacked Bill Clinton, saying the president "has done more damage to the White House than anyone since the British burned it in 1812."

The heat's back on, Danny Boy.

It was 1814.

Clowns scare me

It was the night of July 29, and deadline was fast approaching. An editor at the Kansas City Star, one of the most respected newspapers in the Midwest, needed a photo of a clown to illustrate a calendar item about National Clown Week. The editor grabbed an old photo from the newspaper's files of a man in clown suit, slapped it on page 26, and it ran the next morning with this caption: "It's a rule. You MUST celebrate Clown Week, starting Sunday at the City Market."

First came the angry phones and e-mail, then the special editor's note the following day, apologizing for the error.

The man in the photo was Chicago mass murderer John Wayne Gacy, who often dressed as a clown.

Compiled from wire reports

ILLUSTRATIONS BY EARL TOWERY _ Times staff

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