HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — Some say Paula Poundstone's best moments are in her HBO specials. Others point to the comedian's trademark voice when in 1997 she did ABC's acclaimed animated series, "Squigglevision."
Devoted Poundstone fans insist that her backstage commentary to the 1993 Emmy Awards telecast, and serving as the official correspondent for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" during the '92 Presidential race, were career peaks.
Now, friends insist that Poundstone sparkles on her new "gig." She's at her ad-lib best on the syndicated game show, "To Tell the Truth," which premired Sept. 18. It airs Monday through Friday (check local listings for time and station).
Some may recall "To Tell the Truth" when it debuted in 1956. It became a TV staple for the next 26 years. Now Pearson Television, the world's largest international producer of entertainment and serial dramas, has a new version.
John O'Hurley, who played catalog king J. Peterman on "Seinfeld," is the host. Poundstone and Meshach Taylor ("Designing Women") are the permanent panelists. The show features three guests all claiming to be the same person. The panel must guess who is telling the truth.
"The first week of taping I was a miserable failure," Poundstone admits. "Sure I had the audience splitting seams laughing and the contestants grinning like Cheshire cats. That's because I kept guessing the wrong person, and they kept winning money."
When asked about her favorite role, she answers with lightning speed: "Being a mom." The single mother has adopted two girls, who first came to her as foster children seven years ago after she took an instructional course and became a certified foster parent. Since then, she has cared for seven youngsters (not all at once!), three of whom have joined their birth parents. "The only reason I'm open about this is I think there are so many people who would be good foster parents," she says.
Reverting to her clown persona, she adds, "When they point to me, they realize how low the bar is" for foster parents.
The tall, slender performer adds, "I thought you had to be part of a couple, or be at a certain income level, or have a house. Not so. You do have to be available and prepared to provide a safe home with love and guidance to kids who are victims of abuse and neglect."
Poundstone was first asked to care for Allie, a three-week-old baby girl. When Allie turned one-and-a-half years, Poundstone received another foster daughter who was older. "These two came from very different backgrounds," she says, "and it wasn't easy for them to bond. Now, they have become sisters, for which I take great pride. I adopted them."
In the foster program, Poundstone says, the court removes children from their birth family because of abuse or neglect. The birth family is given time to learn how to provide a safe home for their child. They may take parenting classes, go through alcohol or drug rehabilitation, counseling, or do all three.
"I remember when Allie was four, I received an emergency call saying there was a baby boy in need of a foster home.... Without missing a beat, this four-year-old said, 'Mummy, we'll take very good care of him.' " Poundstone's eyes well up as she adds, "This child, with whatever baggage she came into the world, really understood what we were doing."
The comedian also understood it.
"No one would describe my childhood as love-filled. I was in a residential program, and in my teens some good folks in Massachusetts took me into their home.
"They already had seven kids of their own, and their small duplex had only one- and-a-half baths, but we really bonded. Today, one of their daughters, Renee, is a dear friend, and we speak often."
After her career began to climb in the '80s, Poundstone went back to have Thanksgiving dinner with that family. By then, the seven kids were adults and had children of their own. "We were in the kitchen," she recalls. "They were cooking, and I was being helpful by staying out of the way."
Poundstone was sitting on a stool by the sink and had just told them a joke, when the kitchen door suddenly pushed open. The youngest grandson came in and asked, "Is Thanksgiving over?"
He'd heard all the talking and laughing and thought he'd missed the holiday.
"Paula," the tot announced, "makes everyone happy!"
"It was the best review I've ever had."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society