"Sam" Puts on his Poker Face - Newsday

by Liz Smith

"You tangoed with my mother, but did you kiss her? Was she a good kisser?" Actor Sean Astin put this unusual question to fellow actor Joe Spano. Sean was speaking of his famous mother, Patty Duke. He knew that Joey and Patty starred together on the 1995 TV series Amazing Grace. Joey feinted and refused to answer. This sparring took place at the inside and friendly poker table of onetime music agent Norby Walters in his elegant West Hollywood condo. Also on hand were Michael Biehn, James Farentino, George Dzundza and Charles Durning. For 10 years, Norby has hosted a nondrinking, nonsmoking card game once a week for so many stars that he has to rotate his players from a roster of 100.

In the middle of this game, Alec Baldwin, who was supposed to drop by, called to say via cell phone that he was trapped on the 101 freeway. He said he'd come to the game in two weeks. Several players left the table to speak to Alec-Astin, Farentino and Marilu Henner. (This star was energized. She was on the verge of announcing her divorce and on the eve of her sixth book coming this fall titled Healthy Living for Children.) But Rod Steiger never left his seat. He seemed unfazed by Baldwin's phone call. Poker-faced, the Oscar winner refused to be impressed. At one point, Steiger deadpanned, "I usually let a director introduce himself to me after the picture!" Sean Astin is fresh from filming Lord of the Rings, and he has signed for both the sequels along with all the other cast members. He and Elijah Wood are two of the movie's main characters, alongside heavyweight co-stars Cate Blanchett, Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee and Liv Tyler.

Sean already has a rare reputation for being a fine fellow and a good friend in shark-infested Hollywood. He said he was exhilarated by word of mouth about Lord of the Rings. He noted, "The Web site already has 450 million hits. This is a fine piece of literature that has stirred minds and hearts. We got a good response in Cannes. I took this project very seriously." He and his wife, Christine, and their 4-year-old daughter lived in New Zealand during the making of the movie and then toured Europe.

Sean said nobody goes to Norby's games for the money. "I was down $4, but I ate $15 worth of his food, so I'm OK."

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