[age ]: doesn't matter unless you're a cheese . -- Billy Burke

You've developed an unnatural fascination for the number 39, Gail Sheehy is your favorite writer, dieting is a way of life and your attitude about plastic surgery has suddenly relaxed. You're perilously close to D-day, and you're concerned. Absolutely nobody wants your autograph; you remain an anonymous figure.

What you need is good shot in the arm. Nothing impresses like success, and the following roster of late bloomers is enough to quell the most vocal of cynics. Take courage, the ravages of time do not fall heavy on the strong of heart. You may yet find yourfself flush with inspiration, besieged with fans. h

Raymond Chandler published his first novel, "The Big Sleep," at 51.

Sigmund Freud had to wait until his early 50s for his work in dream interpretation and infantile sexuality to be accepted by the medical community. i

At 41, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue to discover America.

Julia Child took the mystery out of French cooking when "The French Chef" aired on television. She was 50.

Michelangelo Antonioni directed "L'Avventura" at the age of 47, boosting his reputation outside the narrow circle of highbrow film magazines.

Jonas Salk was 40 when he developed the life-saving polio vaccine.

The first volume of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance" of Things Past" appeared when he was 42.

Charles DeGaulle was 69 when he became president of France's Fifth Republic.

Timothy Leary, messiah of LSD, dropped acid for the first time at 41.

Paul Gauguin endured 41 birthdays before he moved to Tahiti and began painting scenes of Polynesian life.

Bela Lugosi was 48 when he frightened filmgoers for the first time in his premiere performance as Dracula.

In 1948, Satchel Paige became the seventh black baseball player to don a major-league uniform. He was 44.

Founder of modern astronomy Copernicus was 70 before his theory explaining the earth's orbit of the sun was published.

At 44, Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress.

Joseph Conrad published "heart of Darkness" when he was 45.

Great-grandmother Ardeth Evitt made her first parachute jump at 74.

At 43, pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock published the "Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care."

Daniel Boone blazed the "Wilderness Road" and established Boonesboro on the Kentucky River at 41.

Phyllis Diller was 40 when she made it big for the first time on "The Jack Paar Show."

Konrad Adenauer, "Der Alte," became, at 73, the first chancellor of the German Federal Republic.

Pseudoprimitive Henri Rousseau did not exhibit his paintings until he was 42.

Wallace Stevens was 44 when he published his first book of poetry.

Charles Darwin suggested in this 62nd year that man and chimpanzee were descended from a common ancestor.

Feminist Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique" at 42.

Mohammed's principle of Islam were not recognized until he was 60.

Karl Marx was 49 when he published "Das Kapital."

Sitting Bull led the charge against Custer's bluecoats at the Battle of the Little Bighorn when he was 45.

Ed Asner earned the allegiance of TV viewers when he portrayed Mary Tyler Moore's boss, Lou Grant. When the sitcom first aired, Asner was 45.

John Milton was 59 when he published "Paradise Lost."

At 51, astronaut Donald K. Slayton took part in the Apollo-Soyuz test project and flew his first mission into outer space.

George Bernard Shaw established his fame as a playwright in England at 48.

Dwight Eisenhower won recognition as a miltiary commander at 52 and was elected to the presidency at 62.

Casey Stengel remained unknown until, at 58, he became manager of the New York Yankees.

Henry Miller waited until he was 47 to titillate us with "The Tropic of Cancer."

At 56, Mao Tse-tung and his state socialism replaced Chiang Kai-shek's right-wing authoritarian regime.

Susan B. Anthony was 49 when she established the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Jean Stapleton was struck with one-line parts (see her in "Klute") until she played Edith Bunker in "All in the Family" and became a star at 48.

Clara Barton, "The Angel of the Battlefield," established the American Red Cross at 60.

Con artist Clifford Irving was 41 when he duped publishers with his bogus autobiography of Howard Hughes.

Issac Singer was in his early 40s before he perfected the sewing machine.

At 65, conquistador Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incan empire.

George Eliot published her first full-length novel, "Adam Bede," when she was 40.

Adolph Zukor joined with Jesse Lasky to form Paramount Pictures at 43.

Colonel Harland Sanders was going on 66 when he drove across the United States selling franchises for this secret-recipe fried chicken.

Juan Domingo Peron was considered an insignificant upstart at 49. Two years later the hero of the "desamisados" was elected president of Argentina.

Confucius was 54 before he began traveling around China reciting clever maxims, proverbs and general rules of good conduct.

Thanks to President Kennedy's public praise of James Bond thrillers, Ian Fleming's tales of espionage brought him fame in his early 50s.