Civilians in cameo roles -- Non-acting celebs are taking bit parts in big flicks, from ''Philadelphia'' to ''Reality Bites''

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated March 18, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Hollywood’s newest club includes members Pete Hamill, Quentin Crisp, Larry Bird, and MTV’s Duff: They’re all famous nonactors taking tiny roles in fiction films such as The Paper. Here, a handy cameo spotter’s guide:

The Paper Who: Mike McAlary, Joanna Molloy, Linda Stasi (all from the New York Daily News), Jeannie Williams (USA Today), Pete Hamill (formerly at the New York Post). What’s the idea? Director Ron Howard says he spent weeks at New York City’s tabloids ”to add flavor and honesty to the movie.” While there, he invited journalists to attend the filming of the newsroom scenes. ”It kept the actors on their toes.” Inside gag: Michael Keaton’s character, Henry Hackett, is named after Larry Hackett, a News reporter (and pal of co- screenwriter Stephen Koepp) who appears briefly in the film.

Blue Chips Who: Larry Bird, Bobby Knight, Bobby Hurley, Rick Pitino. What’s the idea? Just as the film’s basketball sequences use real players (such as Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway) for authenticity, the cameos help make Blue Chips seem like the basketball movie — endorsed by the pros like a pair of Nikes. Inside gag: The casting of former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian (who in real life resigned amid controversy surrounding alleged recruiting violations) is ironic: He plays one of Nick Nolte’s rival coaches, willing to do anything to lure star players to his team.

Philadelphia Who: David Drake (actor and playwright), Karen Finley (performance artist), Quentin Crisp (author). What’s the idea? The casting lends the film street cred with gay moviegoers. Inside gag: Real-life party fixture Quentin Crisp seemed right at home at the film’s costume bash.

Reality Bites Who: David Pirner (lead singer of Soul Asylum), Evan Dando (lead singer of the Lemonheads), Karen ”Duff” Duffy (MTV VJ). What’s the idea? Director Ben Stiller may have intended these cameos to be cleverly cool, but it’s pretty uncool to bill these split-second stars in the film’s opening credits. Inside gag: A short scene during the movie’s closing credits shows Dando and Duff as two tragically hip lovers in a spat — a jab at the Real World dramas that endlessly air on MTV.