Many of the paintings in the Franklin Mint show - 10 works purchased in 1973, originals of the mint's limited-edition portfolio of celebrity art prints - are unexpected revelations of personality. Other paintings in the exhibit show how a performing artist interprets his or her idiosyncratic style in another medium.
You are probably surprised that Kim Novak, that golden deadpan, turns out to be a symbolist with a taste for dark foreboding. In Novak's painterly seascape The Gull, a shipwrecked figure is powerless against nature; only a seagull rises above the punishing blows of waves against rocky cliffs. A lighthouse looms in the background in this painting combining Virginia Woolf despair and Jonathan Livingston Seagull hope.
And you are probably surprised that on canvas, Candice Bergen - a most ironic screen personality - reveals a girlish affinity for butterflies and daisies utterly devoid of her trademark sarcasm.
You are definitely surprised by Elke Sommer's The Gamblers, which resembles a psychedelic rethinking of Paul Cezanne's The Card Players. Blessed with a naive artist's cheerful ignorance of perspective, Sommer has an eye for the bold, decorative rhythms that distinguish the canvases of so many self-taught painters from Henri Rousseau to Morris Hirshfield.
But then again, you are probably not surprised that Red Skelton, America's beloved clown, paints clowns in their tragicomic variety. His oyster-eyed buffoon is both self-portrait and self-criticism, the entertainer designed for sweet laughter - note the maraschino nose and the vanilla-icing smile - is a sourpuss underneath. Though Skelton's maudlin jester is an article of unapologetic kitsch, it has integrity because in all its naked pain, it never pretends to be profound.
(You won't learn this at the exhibition, but among Skelton's patrons was singer and art collector Maurice Chevalier, who, during the 1950s, installed his Skelton clown between a Monet and a Renoir.)
Neither are you surprised by Henry Fonda's still life, Third Floor Rear, as meticulously detailed and weatherbeaten a piece of realism as his portrayals of Young Mr. Lincoln and Mister Roberts. Fonda, who declined a scholarship to the Parsons School of Art to pursue a career in acting, is the most technically accomplished of the group at the Franklin Mint, in Middletown Township, Delaware County.
Spare in theme, Fonda's picture is rich in symbolism. In a tenement apartment from which a paint-chipped casement window looks out onto a bleak fire escape, vibrant tiger lilies strain toward the sun. As in Fonda's best- loved performance - Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath - there is the sense in Third Floor Rear of renewal amid squalor. Skelton and Fonda are examples of actors who extend their favored themes and style into a new medium.
If Fonda paints the way he acts, then Duke Ellington composes a canvas like a piece of music. His Ever Onward and Upward is both a portrait of composer- arranger Billy Strayhorn and a painterly extension of Ellingtonian style. Strayhorn's likeness emerges from a vortex of gliding, swirly brush strokes, as sinuous as Ellington's music. Each brush stroke looks like a musical note and indeed, close scrutiny reveals that Strayhorn's jacket is a music staff, its clef and notes giving the portrait a jazzy rhythm.
In addition to the aforementioned, the exhibition includes a Sussex landscape by Richard Chamberlain, a New York cityscape by Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee's naive portrait of Claude Debussy's muse Gabrielle Dupont and Dinah Shore's social-realist portrait of a migrant worker's children.
Most Sunday painters dream of recognition. The Sunday painters in the Franklin Mint show already are universally recognized. It can be said that for these actors passing time between takes, and musicians passing time between gigs, painting is performing by other means.
And it can be a profound outlet for creative expression. As Sommer says in a videotape that accompanies the exhibit, "When I do a movie, directors tell me what to do and how to dress; I am a tool. Painting gives me control."
IF YOU GO
The Celebrity Art Exhibit runs through Sept. 25 at the Franklin Mint Museum, on Baltimore Pike in Middletown Township, four miles south of the Media bypass. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free. Phone: 459-6168.