Stars' donations to charity auction prime the pumps A Really Big SHOE

Ever yearn to dress like a celebrity, from the ankle down at least? Here's your chance to walk a mile in Robin Leach's loafers, George Bush's Nike Airs or Kathie Lee Gifford's suede pumps.

They're among the 84 pairs of star-worn footwear donated to "Tough Shoes To Fill," a silent auction to benefit the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter. Beginning Friday through Sept. 9, the autographed cleats, boots and wingtips of the nation's bigwigs will be up for bids at Hess Shoes in Towson Town Center.


And what do Bette Midler, Bruce Jenner, Shirley MacLaine, Reba McEntire and Nancy Kerrigan wear to pound the pavement -- or, um, step into their limos? On the feet of the rich and famous, you'll find leopard stiletto heels and stinky garden shoes, Doc Martens and deck shoes, Keds painted like a Matisse masterpiece and French clodhoppers the shade of Bazooka bubble gum.

While they may not be windows into the soul, shoes do reveal an owner's personality.


Take Whoopi Goldberg's sneakers with radial-type treads.

"What we've got here is the height of grunge fashion," says George Bernstein Jr., president of Hess Shoes, as he cradles a shoe in his hand. "Whoopi has a great sense of style. It's every bit as sophisticated as Glenn Close's, but it's different: It's comfortable."

Like a palm reader examining a hand, he flips the shoe, running his fingers along the bottom. "Look," he says gleefully, "she pronates."


"She's wears down the sides of her shoes," he explains.

Moving on to George Bush's tennis shoes: "Here's what I can tell you: He's got a wide foot. He's blown out the sides of his shoes," he says, pointing to the bulges several inches from the toe. "He's very conservative. A lot of people wear colorful tennis shoes. He's gone for simple white with a gray stripe. Andre Agassi would not pick this style."

Laced inside many shoes are stories. Glenn Close wore her Italian black suede boots while playing Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard." Johnny Unitas slipped into his tasseled loafers the day he left the University of Maryland Medical Center after coronary bypass surgery. And Sally Thorner said her "I do's" to her doctor-husband Brian Rosenfeld in cream satin pumps now on the auction block.

The idea to make money off of famous old shoes was the brainchild of public relations executive Amy Elias. "It was one of those things, no pun intended, that was a natural fit," she says. Hess wanted to draw business into its expanded store and help a good cause, she says.


She sent letters from honorary chairman and Orioles outfielder Mike Devereaux to more than 750 stars in fields including sports, music, television and politics. But even she was surprised at the turnout -- and at what people sent.

Some clearly didn't get the message: The estate of Raymond Burr sent a black tie with the actor's autograph on the back; Michael Bolton autographed a picture of himself. And Lee Iacocca donated a paperback autobiography.

And others -- including President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton -- declined to participate, preferring instead to keep their shoes in the closet.

Event organizers didn't realize how valuable the shoes were until after they arrived. Ms. Elias considered keeping the shoes on Hess shelves until the auction but feared they might be stolen. Instead, she's been storing them in the basement of her North Baltimore home, while protective Plexiglas cases are built. (They'll go on display at Hess on Friday.)

The goal is to raise $10,000, and shoe pros are expecting Cal Ripken Jr.'s orange and black Nikes to bring top dollar. Although stars like Kathie Lee Gifford, Louis Goldstein and Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder sent seemingly brand-new shoes, most shipped the shop-worn variety.

If they handed out awards for shoes, Bette Midler would likely win in the petite feet category. The Divine Miss M's Mario Valentino shoes -- with whimsical faces on the front -- are the smallest of the lot and the only mismatched pair; one is a size 5 and the other a 5 1/2 .


The big-foot prize would go to Jim Palmer for his size 14 gardening shoes. They also would be a top contender for dirtiest, stinkiest pair.

"You have to remember they've been around grass seed and fertilizer," says Mr. Palmer. "They're a very earthy shoe."

Wasn't he embarrassed to have people see -- and smell -- his old shoes?

"After you've done underwear ads for 20 years," he says, "who cares if people know what your shoes look like?"


Here is how the celebrity shoe auction will work:


* The shoes will be on display at Hess Shoes in Towson Town Center beginning Friday. A catalog with pictures and descriptions is available there.

* Bidding begins at 2 p.m. on Friday and ends at 2 p.m. Sept. 9.

* Bidders must register at the store during store hours in the two-week period. Bidders will be given a card and number to use throughout the two weeks. This number can be used to bid on more than one pair of shoes.

* To find out the status of a bid, a bidder must return to the store. The current highest bid will be displayed on shoe cases.

* A minimum bid of $25 or $50 will be assigned to each pair. Bids will increase in $10 increments.

* At the conclusion, the highest bidder will be notified by phone. Shoes may be picked up and paid for on Sept. 10 or 11.



Here are the answers to the celebrity shoe quiz:

A. These whimsically faced white shoes belong to Bette Midler.

B. George Bush wore these Nike Airs on the tennis court.

C. Glenn Close donned these black suede lace-ups for her role as Norma Desmond in the musical "Sunset Boulevard."

D. After recovering from heart surgery, Johnny Unitas walked out of the hospital in these well-padded tasseled loafers.


E. Easy Spirit wingtips help Jay Leno stay on his feet late at night.