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Stars are born

Stars are born — Tim Allen, Juliette Lewis, and John Grisham are some of the stars who jump-started their career this year

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Tim Allen
There’s an explanation for all that ape-meets-hog grunting that emanates from comedian Tim Allen: He’s the missing link, the evolutionary tissue that connects Alan Alda to Sam Kinison. And Allen’s cheerful credo — ”Men are pigs! Red-butted monkeys! Primate bastards!” — has made him television’s brightest newcomer. In ABC’s sitcom Home Improvement, a top 10 hit that pokes fun at the back-to-macho movement while riding its crest, Allen, 38, plays an equipment-obsessed family man bent on rewiring anything he can nail down. His concept — a world in which man is ruled by the Tool — is sly enough to fuel both his hilarious R-rated stand-up act and his gentler PG series. ”What do we want?” yells Allen every week. ”More power!” He’s getting it.

C+C Music Factory
You can’t fault C+C Music Factory for deceptive advertising. The name of their dance-heavy, triple-platinum debut album, Gonna Make You Sweat, is no brag, just fact. And if they hadn’t already stuck ”Factory” in their moniker, surely somebody else would have, considering their string of hit singles (like ”Here We Go, Let’s Rock ‘N’ Roll” and ”Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…”) and their fruitful collaborations with Mariah Carey, Martika, and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. C+C writer-producers Robert Clivilles, 27, and David Cole, 28, became dance music’s major players in 1991. Coming up next: a collection of their greatest remixes, including a remake of U2’s ”Pride,” sure to make you go hmmmm…

Katie Couric
Reporter Katie Couric, 34, substituted in February for the Today show’s Deborah Norville, who was taking a few months off to have a baby. But Couric’s spunky charm and uncanny nose for news (she got Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s first postwar interview) quickly won her a huge following all her own.In April, after Norville quit to devote more time to motherhood (and, later, to a new radio career), Couric, a former Pentagon correspondent for NBC, was made a permanent part of the program — at least until July, when she left to have her own baby. Her return in September pulled the show’s ratings to within a fraction of first place, territory the Today show hadn’t been near since the golden days of Jane Pauley.

John Grisham
In terms of stamina, lapsed lawyer John Grisham’s second novel, The Firm, was the fiction best-seller of 1991: With 515,000 copies in print, it spent 40 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. His first book, A Time to Kill, had come out in 1989 with a flash-in-the-pan printing of only 5,000, but The Firm got an early boost when it was nothing more than a manuscript: Paramount bought film rights for $600,000. Already the film rights to Grisham’s next book, The Pelican Brief, which is due March 1, have gone to director Alan J. Pakula (Sophie’s Choice, All the President’s Men). And Grisham, 36, is not done: ”We’re gonna try to publish once a year for the next four years. Fortunately there’s no shortage of ideas. The words are coming fast.”

Juliette Lewis
She seems, at first blush, like a bit of fluff: a dimple-chinned, pouty-lipped, perfectly ordinary kid. But Juliette Lewis warrants a closer look. As a teenage daughter headed for death row in tabloid TV’s Too Young to Die? (1990), she got solid notices for helping turn flimsy generic trash into high art. When Martin Scorsese needed a Teenage Daughter for the ultimate genre picture, Cape Fear, Lewis was a natural choice. Tremulous, sharp, emotionally transparent, and gawky as a colt about to bolt the stable, she actually steals the movie’s seduction scene from Robert De Niro. At 18, Lewis has outdone the whole pack of Hollywood brats. Now she sits at the grown-ups’ table: She was just cast to replace Emily Lloyd in Woody Allen’s next movie.

Whitney Otto
Before Villard Books published How to Make an American Quilt, nobody had ever heard of Whitney Otto. Nobody except the patients at a San Francisco dental office where Otto kept the records. This year Otto made her name with her first novel, which spent seven weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Villard printed 62,500 copies, a staggering number for a first novel. But they sold: At readings, women came to Otto with armloads of books for their daughters and sisters. ”It’s a book about women,” says Otto, 36, who is now at work on a second novel. ”Quilting is one of the few things that belong to them. Quilting encompasses artistic, practical, and political purposes for women.” And so does Otto’s book.

Joseph B. Vasquez
An inner-city Diner? An Afro-Latino American Graffiti? A way, way Uptown Saturday Night? Audiences didn’t quite know how to label Hangin’ With the Homeboys, a gentle, funny story about four South Bronx buddies veering through a night of aimless adventure, but there was no mistaking the quietly assured talent of its writer-director. Vasquez, 29, spent his boyhood shooting Super-8 movies in the Bronx and grew up on a diet of ’70s blockbusters (American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Rocky); he portrays his characters with a clear-eyed compassion that won him a screenwriting prize at the Sundance Film Festival. His next film, Writing on the Wall, will deal with a racially explosive high school killing.

Trisha Yearwood
A supple, vibrant voice, a collection of crisply produced, radio-friendly tunes, and a little help from Garth Brooks — what more could an aspiring country-music singer require? Twenty-seven-year-old Trisha Yearwood, who once worked in a record company publicity department, turned those promising ingredients into a debut album that went gold, yielded two hit country singles (the summer smash ”She’s in Love With the Boy” and ”Like We Never Had a Broken Heart,” with Garth Brooks providing harmony), and announced the arrival of Nashville’s newest sensation. Building on the further momentum she’s gained while opening for Brooks on his concert tour, she’s planning to record a follow-up album right after the first of the year.