The world of fan clubs is one of enjoyment, disappointment, great pleasure and pride, heartaches, headaches, and sometimes a lot of thankless hard work. ... Most fan club presidents wouldn't change places with anyone they know! -- From the Fan Club Monitor, official publication of the National Association of Fan Clubs

We're not talking about the nut cases, okay?

Like the lady who keeps breaking into David Letterman's house, claiming to be his wife. Or the woman with the assault rifle ("kamikaze lesbian," as one tabloid described her) arrested last spring in the home of TV star Sharon Gless. Or the guy who pleaded guilty to sending 200 threatening letters to actress Stephanie Zimbalist. "Obsessed fans" is what the media call such people. "Obsessed Fan Sentenced in Gless Break-In." "Obsessed Letterman Fan to Face Competency Hearing."

This story is not about them.

And it's not about the 34 separate organizations formed in honor of Engelbert Humperdinck (the Engelettes, Enge the King, Hump's Happy Hoosiers ...), or the 87 Monkees-related fan clubs, or the 89 dedicated to Barry Manilow.

This story is about the unsung heroes of fandom, otherwise ordinary women and men who have devoted a chunk of their lives to celebrating a celebrity, even if only a few other people on the planet share their enthusiasm.

We're talking about people of uncommon loyalty. People such as Ruth K. Becht of Cranford, N.J., president of the David Birney International Fan Club. "There's nothing phony about him," she declares. "He is a genuine person. He cares very deeply about people."

You know David Birney. From "Bridget Loves Bernie." He married his costar, Meredith Baxter. And he played Salieri in "Amadeus" on Broadway. And, ummm ... he was in the original cast of "St. Elsewhere."

Yes, he has a fan club. With more than 100 members worldwide. Becht, a 39-year-old office manager, has been running it for seven years. But her interest in Birney dates back to his short-lived 1972 sitcom "Bridget Loves Bernie."

"I'll be honest. The first thing I noticed was that he's an awfully good-looking fella," she says, chuckling. Becht also realized that Birney was a fine actor, she says, and she started watching for his name in TV Guide. To this day, she can tell you the plots of episodes of "Medical Center" and "Police Woman" in which he appeared 15 years ago.

By the time Birney starred in the 1976 police series "Serpico," Becht was such a die-hard fan that she still recalls her disgust the night the show was preempted by a Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter debate.

Most members of the David Birney International Fan Club are women, "from 16 to 76," she says, united by "a genuine interest in David's career." (Enough of an interest that they'll pay $7.50 a year in dues.) They are not "fanatics who have shrines, the wall papered with pictures," she says. "They carry on a normal life."

David Birney certainly doesn't mind them. "Ruth has been a friend and a supporter for a long time, and she has been helpful in terms of answering {fan} mail," he says. "She writes to my mom. My father died last year, and she's been very supportive."

Earlier this year in Kansas City, Mo., a fan club contingent saw Birney do "Camelot." "They do show up around the country. And they seem to actually know your work, instead of just wanting this year's 8-by-10," he says.

"What touches me about them is that, in some ways, they become important to themselves. They make contact among themselves, and those contacts are obviously meaningful to them."

Then Birney, evidently thinking the worst of his inquisitor, asks, "Is that racy enough for you? I have nothing racy to tell you. 'Yeah, they collect old jockstraps ...' "

You may have been hearing Andrea on television lately. She has recorded the "jingles" for several commercials, such as Windex and Ban Roll-On. Her baby, Alexis, has also been in the spotlight. She was in a print ad for Toys R Us and on the cover of Baby Magazine. -- From the official newsletter of the Andrea McArdle Fan Club

Frankly, it doesn't take much imagination to be a goo-goo-eyed fan of Tom Cruise or Michelle Pfeiffer. Or to follow with some degree of seriousness the career of a Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep. But when you talk about the Aldo Ray Fan Club or the Tanya Roberts Fan Club (dedicated to the last of "Charlie's Angels"), you're getting deep into the glorious mysteries of fandom.

Glenda Monroe, a 37-year-old housewife in San Bernardino, Calif., had never even watched "Battlestar Galactica," the late-'70s series for which Richard Hatch is best known. When she saw the actor at a science-fiction convention, though, she responded instantly to "his personal aura."

That was 1984, and there wasn't an organization for Richard Hatch fans. So Monroe spent the next six months trying to contact him and create one. "It had been so long since 'Galactica,' he was surprised there was any interest," she says. Today, the Official Richard Hatch Fan Club has about 75 members.

"It's hard to say what attracts fans to these people," says Blanche Trinajstick, president of the National Association of Fan Clubs. "But there's all kinds of people and all kinds of tastes."

She understands. During the late '50s, Trinajstick ran a couple of fan clubs devoted to admittedly obscure country-and-western performers. "One was a girl singer, Sunshine Ruby. She was 13 years old at the time. We had about 125 members, which was not bad at all for somebody who wasn't better known." Alas, "at 16, she got married and retired," Trinajstick says. The fan club disbanded.

She then took over a club honoring a singer known as Baling Wire Bob, but he soon quit show business to attend college.

Trinajstick found lasting success with an association of country music fan clubs, which in 1977 she expanded into the National Association of Fan Clubs, whose logo is now proudly displayed by more than 300 member groups. That makes Blanche Trinajstick of Pueblo, Colo., sort of the grande dame of fan clubs, the defender of the faith.

Many superstars nowadays, she says, such as Tom Cruise, hire a professional service to answer their fan mail and to send out glossies. "That's not really a fan club. I'm not sure they're very responsive to the fans. I warn {people} not to expect too much."

A true fan club, she says, is a thing of the heart. Just ask Betty Cole of Arlington, president of the David Hedison Fan Club. Hedison, you may recall, starred in the '60s adventure series "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

"When my father died {in 1965}, I wrote to David and told him how much my father had enjoyed the series," Cole says. Hedison wrote her "a lovely sympathy note, which I still have to this day. It was something that was very special to me. ... I really needed that right at that moment. And I made up my mind that if there was ever anything I could do for him in return, I certainly would." She joined his fan club then, and helped to resurrect it a few years ago.

Today Cole, a 44-year-old mother of two, owns 1,600 pictures of David Hedison, many of them publicity photos from old movies. (He was the fly in "The Fly.") They're neatly arrayed in heavy three-ring binders. Lots of close-ups showing off his swarthy, Armenian good looks.

Hedison's career is not what it once was. "He turns up periodically on 'Murder, She Wrote' and stuff like that," Cole says. The fan club has only 100 members. But at the height of Hedison's popularity, she's been told, there were as many as a thousand.

His wasn't the only club to thrive during the '60s. "Every major actor that I can think of back then had a fan club. A real fan club," she says. "Michael Landon, James Arness. David Janssen, who was in 'The Fugitive,' had a fan club. I mean, they were everywhere. And they were large." Cole herself belonged to Leonard Nimoy's fan club as well as Hedison's.

It was like a Golden Age. "At that point, you've got to realize, we had 20 to 30 movie magazines coming out on the stands every month. Twenty-five cents apiece," she says. Elvis and Liz were always on the cover. "And you would go to the drugstore and you would go through the movie magazines, looking for pictures."

Cole, of course, is no longer a shy 19-year-old girl. She says resolutely, lest you get the wrong idea, that "I have other things a lot more important in my life than fan clubbing." For one thing, she is a devout Christian. Her living room shelves contain her husband's collection of Bibles.

Yet she diligently keeps up with the comings and goings of David Hedison -- "He went to Poland in March to film a movie called 'The Undeclared War' " -- and she notifies fellow fans by way of her portable electric typewriter.

She can barely explain it herself. "They say old habits are hard to break, I don't know." She smiles gently.

Q: Have you ever been to a Tupperware party?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever served jury duty?

A: No.

Q: Are you ticklish?

A: Yes. -- From an interview with Richard Hatch in the newsletter of the Official Richard Hatch Fan Club

Just how much do fan club members want to know about their favorite star? How much do they have a right to know?

Ruth Becht has had to confront these questions more than most. Not only does she run David Birney's fan club, but Moments With Meredith as well. When the Birneys' marriage fell apart last year, and the tabloids printed ugly speculations, Becht was caught in the middle.

"There was a lot of sadness to hear that it had broken up after all these years," she says. But "you can't probe and say, 'Give us all the gory details.' The fans recognized it was a private matter." The couple graciously dictated a statement to Becht for both fan club newsletters, acknowledging the split. "And life goes on from there," she says.

Becht's bulletins haven't dwelt on the performers' personal lives, though she did feel the need to answer published rumors that Baxter-Birney was about to remarry. "This is the most ridiculous of all the stories that those 'rag sheets' have run this year," she wrote in a 1989 Moments With Meredith newsletter. "Remember -- don't buy those trash magazines, and if you do, DON'T believe anything you read there."

Not every celebrity feels obligated to his or her fan club. Conversely, not every fan club president feels a deep personal connection with his or her honored celebrity.

Kenneth A. Bealer heads the 350-member Barbara Eden International Fan Club. But he readily confesses, "I'm a fan of a lot of other female celebrities," such as Loni Anderson, Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret and Lynda Carter. (Notice anything?) Barbara Eden just happens to be "the only one I've come across who had a fan club."

A 40-year-old self-employed model builder in Allentown, Pa., Bealer has been president since 1978. He led an eight-year drive to raise $3,500 to sponsor Eden's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Yet he hasn't spoken to the actress in two years. "I talk to her publicist about once a week," he says.

When four different publicists took over Eden's account in a span of six months, "it became kind of frustrating," he says, "because they didn't know who I was."

I apologize again if my communications have been a bit haphazard this year, but I've been in four countries, and try as I might, when I'm working this hard it is difficult to keep in touch. Please, whatever you do, don't blame Judi. -- Peter Coyote, addressing members of the Official International Peter Coyote Fan Club in its annual journal

Then there's the occasional superfan.

Judi Banevicius of the Bronx runs the Official International Peter Coyote Fan Club. She virtually brags about her access to Coyote, who's had supporting roles in hit movies such as "E.T.," "Jagged Edge" and "Outrageous Fortune." She usually talks to him twice a month, she says. Last spring, while Coyote was doing a film in Vancouver, Banevicius had his number there. "If I called up," she says, "I would always get to him. And that's the way it should be."

A good fan club must have a cooperative star, she says. "Some of these performers, they promise you the moon, they do nothing." Listen to the nightmarish tale of "a close friend of mine" who runs a fan club for a certain TV star, a man whose name Banevicius won't reveal.

"Why she has this club, I don't know, because I would have kicked him square in the rear end. I mean, there is no way on earth I would take the abuse she takes. He doesn't send her information for the journals. He doesn't tell her what he's filming." This has been going on seven, maybe eight years, and the club's membership is "down to practically nothing."

"I have told her to dump him. I really have. But she says, 'Oh, maybe he'll come around.' But I mean, hey, after all these years, you know, he's not going to come around.

"And she works hard. That's what gets me mad."

Well,not everybody can have a Peter Coyote. "I am extremely lucky," Banevicius says.

Her interest in the actor has actually changed her whole spiritual outlook. Coyote is a Zen Buddhist, you see. Now, so is the president of his fan club.

"I was a Buddhist before I became a Zen Buddhist," Banevicius explains. "When I saw a spark coming from him that I didn't have, I went, 'Hmmm, I've got to look into this.' So he gave me the name and address of a Zen Buddhist colony in New York."

Being a Coyote fan has also drawn Banevicius into the controversial case of Leonard Peltier, an American Indian activist serving two life sentences for the killing of two FBI agents in 1975. Coyote is among those who believe Peltier was unjustly convicted. And so is the president of his fan club.

"I speak to Leonard. He calls me from prison," Banevicius says. "I became friends with him through Peter." The fan club even raises money for Peltier's defense. "We raffle off Peter's clothing," she says, laughing. Someone paid $800 for the jacket Coyote wore in a recent movie, "Heartbreakers." The club's 1989 yearbook includes a profile of another Peltier supporter, country singer Willie Nelson.

Are the 600 members of the Official International Peter Coyote Fan Club getting more than they bargained for with this Leonard Peltier business? "We tell them that Peter is a friend of his. They know about Leonard because we let them know," Banevicius says. "But we don't push anything, because there are people who don't want to get involved with the FBI. And I can see that. But we let them know. If they want to {support Peltier}, fine."

To think, it all started six years ago when she saw a lowly regarded British action picture, "Slayground." She was struck by Coyote's performance. "I saw that special thing which you don't see often. Certain people have it. He has it." She tracked him down and asked to organize a fan club.

By that time, Banevicius had already been running the Michael York Fan Club for more than a decade, as she still does. "I run that under the name of Justine," she says. "See, my name is Justine, my nickname is Judi. But to keep things straight -- Peter knows all about it -- Michael is Justine and Peter is Judi."

Coyote offers praise for his No. 1 booster. "She does a yeoman's job of keeping up with my schedule," he says.

It must be sort of a head trip for Coyote, huh? "Of course it's flattering to know that people are interested in you," he says. "But I would never have been hired a second time if people weren't interested in me. So I know that. I don't need to go out of my way to get flattery.

"And if I wanted flattery, I would go into the guru business, where people would worship me directly."