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The Secret of the Ourisman Chevrolet Girl

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

If you ever turned on a TV in the D.C. area in the 1970s or '80s, you remember the Ourisman Chevrolet girl.

She was Susan Gailey, the radiant blonde who marched through the car lots in all those commercials singing the most indelible jingle of the era: "You'll always get your way-aay/At Ourisman Chev-ro-let!" The ads, an instant sensation, got her dubbed "Washington's only sex symbol." She was mobbed in local restaurants, recognized on the street as far away as Paris.

Her career seemed so promising; then, she vanished. Now we know why: Gailey's daughter was the 13-year-old girl at the center of director Roman Polanski 's sensational 1977 statutory rape case.

Though her daughter, Samantha Geimer, went public with her story more than a decade ago, a still shell-shocked Gailey remained in the shadows -- until last month, when she agreed to accompany her daughter to the N.Y.C. premiere of an acclaimed new HBO documentary about the case, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired."

"She said, 'You need to stand up and face this -- you're going to feel better,' " Gailey told us. "You know, I did feel better."

We reached Gailey via phone in Kilauea, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Now 69, she's a real estate agent who hasn't worked in showbiz for years. We read Gailey a quote she gave in a Washington Post profile nearly 30 years ago that, in hindsight, breaks your heart. ("There came a time in my life that I don't want to talk about -- I don't know how you'll explain that, but I just went away.") Indeed, she told us, discretion was essential.

"Our first thing was to protect Samantha," she said. "The second thing was to protect my job."

The York, Pa., native had moved her family to Los Angeles a few years after the Chevrolet commercials put her on the map. She quickly won roles on "Starsky and Hutch" and "Police Woman" -- but after the Polanski incident, "I stopped dead in my tracks," she said. Gailey wanted to shield her daughter's identity. And because the unnamed mother who would let her young daughter attend a photo shoot with Polanski was being pilloried in the media ("I was so stupid and naive," she told us), she also had to conceal her own involvement. Otherwise, she feared, she would lose the Chevrolet gigs that were supporting her family.

Gailey continued as the Ourisman Chevrolet girl into the late 1980s; she kept shooting ads for Casey Chevrolet in Virginia's Tidewater area into the 1990s.

She passed up a chance to be interviewed for the HBO documentary. "The first time I watched it, it freaked me out, reliving that time," she said. She felt calmer by the time of the premiere. "I met Roger Gunson, the prosecutor, who was just wonderful. He said, 'All those things they said about you weren't true.' "

Gailey moved to Hawaii nearly two decades ago -- "in the mountains, with peacocks and goats, horses, chickens, ducks, macaws." Both of her daughters and all of her five grandchildren live just minutes away. "We're all happy, healthy, fine, healed, good," she said. So if anyone asked whatever happened to the Ourisman Chevrolet girl, she told us, "You can say she died and went to Heaven."

In the Presidential Bake-Off, the Chips Are Off Old Blocks

The recipe police are at it again! Both Cindy McCain and Bill Clinton are accused of stealing a sweet treat for Family Circle magazine's "Presidential Cookie Bake-Off."

The candidates' spouses were each asked to submit their favorite cookie recipe for readers to vote on: McCain offered an oatmeal-butterscotch recipe from a "good friend," Clinton submitted an oatmeal variety by a family cook, and Michelle Obama shared a fruity shortbread courtesy of her daughters' godmother. Sharp-eyed bakers quickly noticed that McCain's recipe -- "an absolute must" for family get-togethers -- was a duplicate of Hershey's, and Clinton's had been lifted straight from Betty Crocker. (This is the second time the McCain team got caught: In April, a campaign aide posted some family favorites that turned out to come from the Food Network.)

Let's cut them some slack, people. Generations of home bakers (yes, even moms ) have passed off plagiarized peanut puffs as original family heirlooms. And honestly, how many amateur cooks ever create their own recipes? Pass the chocolate chips and we'll forget the whole thing.

A Joycean Irish Toast to a Day of Epic Proportions

Belated Happy Bloomsday! The Irish Embassy celebrated June 16 -- the 1904 Dublin day chronicled in James Joyce's "Ulysses" -- with actors from Scena Theatre reading from a stage adaptation on Monday. Guests at the cocktail reception listened hard to keep up with the heavy brogues and brisk stream of consciousness, prompting Ambassador Michael Collins to joke later, "I hope you understood at least some of it." Well, we glanced at the faces around the room as Kerry Waters portrayed a lusty Molly Bloom. ("He asked me would I yes to say yes . . . and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.") Yes we say yes they definitely got that part.

Hey, Isn't That . . . ?

· Michael Chertoff lining up for discount books at Olsson's on Monday. The Homeland Security chief dropped by the Seventh Street location's going-out-of-business sale; was buttonholed by an activist until he closed the conversation with, "You'll have to go through channels. I don't do drive-bys."

· Peter Angelos at Nationals Park, of all places, for the annual American Friends of Lubavitch benefit dinner on Monday. The Orioles owner joined Nationals owners Ted and Mark Lerner to honor team President Stan Kasten; Rabbi Levi Shemtov gave a shout-out for two kosher hot dog stands at the new ballpark.

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