Filling In Blanks

"I used to get teased all the time," Tae-Bo guru Billy Blanks told us yesterday. The 6-foot, 190-pound former karate champ suffered from dyslexia growing up in working-class Erie, Pa., the fourth of 15 children. His teachers never diagnosed his learning disability, and Blanks himself didn't figure it out until he was 37. "My teachers thought because I was shy, I was dumb," said Blanks, now 44. "They put me in special ed from seventh grade through high school. I was in a room with kids who were mentally retarded."

Blanks--who will be honored Nov. 8 at the Washington Hilton at a gala for the Lab School of Washington, which helps the learning disabled--told us karate saved his soul. He took up the sport at age 12 and went on to win seven world championships before retiring in 1991. He developed Tae-Bo--a blend of boxing, karate and aerobic dance--in his garage studio while working out to the "Rocky" theme song. Now it's the fitness craze du jour and, at his World Training Center in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Blanks teaches stars such as Magic Johnson, Goldie Hawn and Carmen Electra. Still, he insisted, "I'm just a regular guy who has a job and likes to help people."

A Leaner Berger

* Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, is pursuing a historic change in policy. "Sandy believes that we have a very broad and comprehensive agenda left in the 14 months before the president leaves office," says Berger's spokesman, David Leavy, explaining why his portly boss is trying to become far less broad and comprehensive. "He wanted to be in slim and fighting shape to meet these challenges, and he has gone on a regimen to help him slim down."

In the past month, Berger has dropped around 25 pounds on a diet that involves various protein powders that occasionally, when mixed with carbonated water, resemble a high school science project. Leavy wouldn't reveal his boss's weight, but says Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) remarked on the change when he met with Berger recently at the White House. "I'm not eating until the CTB passes," Berger told the man who helped defeat the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. "Well, then, you're going to be losing a lot of weight," an amused Lott replied.


* We hear that equestrian extraordinaire and Virginia newspaper publisher Arthur W. "Nick" Arundel was resting in the hospital yesterday after cracking three ribs in a fox-hunting accident. While galloping after the hounds Wednesday with the Orange County Hunt in Middleburg, the 71-year-old was catapulted over a chicken coop by his horse, Rocky, and landed hard in the dirt.

* Much chuckling at Stanley Greenberg's polling firm over an article this week by Washington Times media reporter Jennifer Harper. In her story about Greenberg's "feeling thermometer"--in which voters assigned numeric values to their "warm" or "cool" emotions about candidates and parties--Harper reported that various percentages felt certain candidates and parties are "mean." But the mean, in the polling biz, is an average, not a feeling. Harper acknowledged her goof and added: "I hope this doesn't put them in a mean-spirited mood."

* Reformed smoker Sam Donaldson, who underwent successful groin cancer surgery four years ago, wants kids to steer clear of the evil weed. To that end, he's trying to enlist Snoop Dogg, TLC and Will Smith in his cause. Not that Donaldson ever listens to these acts. "I've never heard of these people, but the kids have," he told us.

* Before he died in May of last year, Ol' Blue Eyes talked with daughter Tina about Mattel's plans for a Frankie Sinatra doll, she tells "Access Hollywood," and he had one wish: "Just don't make me fat."

* Vice President Gore continued his charm assault in Dubuque, Iowa, yesterday, letting the traveling press corps have its way with his Palm Pilot V. After Gore unclipped the mini-computer from his belt, reporters pushed buttons to reveal Gore's "Press Manipulation File," featuring such items as "feed them on the plane, provide them with softer chairs, shorter days, taller risers, and longer dinners." Cute.

CAPTION: The Chairman of the Board, in plastic.

CAPTION: Bet Tae-Bo master Billy Blanks doesn't get teased anymore.

CAPTION: Sandy Berger's been slimming down.