Move Over, Maury - Here's Mary. Mary Thompson-Hunt Of Orlando Has Always Wanted To Host A Talk Show. She Gets Her Chance With Maury Povich.

Maury Povich has pictures of wife Connie Chung all over his dressing room. And he's really much more handsome in person. And did you know that he tapes two shows at a time, so some weird guests share a green room? Yep, "Girl Gangs From Miami" were sitting right there next to "Fat Men Whose Wives Are Fed Up."

Those backstage secrets are courtesy of Orlandoan Mary Thompson-Hunt, who won a national "Co-Host For A Day" search on The Maury Povich Show. The show, which was taped in early February, airs Friday at 11 a.m. on WESH-Channel 2. Altamonte Springs resident Nancy Tait, who was one of five finalists in the search, also appears.

Tait and Thompson-Hunt saw each other on the plane from Orlando to New York, but neither knew the other was a contest finalist. They rode separate limos to the studio and finally met when they got there.

A 61-year-old who has done a few commercials and plays, Tait is currently spending most of her time taking care of her 94-year-old mother, Lydia Tait. She wasn't too disappointed about not winning the co-host spot.

"The thrill for me was the free trip to New York and getting out of the house," Tait said.

At the beginning of the hourlong show, the five finalists answered questions a la Miss America. A live audience, by its applause, then selected Thompson-Hunt and another contestant.

Those two then conducted mock interviews, and Thompson-Hunt won again.

For the next part of the show, Povich and his staff coached Thompson-Hunt on how to use a TelePrompTer and how to interview guests. Then the two acted as hosts for an episode entitled "Fat Men Whose Wives Are Fed Up."

Thompson-Hunt liked the part when she got to run around the audience with a microphone: "It was really fun. I felt like I was being Oprah."

But she got a little choked up during the interview.

"The first guest, Doug, they warned me, 'He's a weeper.' But I didn't know he would start crying immediately, and he even got up and started to leave." Thompson-Hunt got teary too. But Povich offered some pointers during a commercial break.

"I told Mary, 'Look, you do that. You get caught up in all the emotion. Tears come to my eyes sometimes on stories that strike me,' " Povich said in a telephone interview from New York. "Later on she calmed him down. I thought she did a good job."

The spotlight is nothing new for 35-year-old Thompson-Hunt, who performs improvisational theater at Walt Disney World's Comedy Warehouse at Pleasure Island and is emcee at Orlando's Hilarities Comedy Theatre.

But the talk-show gig was a dream come true.

"I used to watch Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore when I was a kid and then take my dolls and line them up on the bed and interview them, and the stuffed animals would watch us," she said. "I've always wanted to do a talk show."

Thompson-Hunt grew up in Somerset, N.J., and majored in theater at Montclair State College outside of Manhattan. She worked in improv theater and waited tables in New York until she got the Disney job a year ago and moved to southwest Orlando. She lives with her artist husband, Jason, and a pug named Merlin Merlique Shabazz Hunt ("We want him to know he's a black dog.")

She's had bit parts in several TV shows and films, including Soap Dish, Saturday Night Live, All My Children and Swamp Thing, and is currently appearing as a desk clerk in a Howard Johnson's commercial that airs nationally.

Oh, and because she's a celebrity now, you should know some personal tidbits: She's into rubber stamp art; she plays the flute; and her favorite Beatle is George.

She heard about the contest while watching the Povich show. Friends helped her put together a videotape where she interviewed herself. She told a story about her dog and a worm, and that's about all we can report in a family newspaper.

More than 1,000 entries from across the country were received, Povich said. Besides her free trip to New York, Thompson-Hunt has gotten some career advice.

"Mary has a great smile, a great look about her; she looks like a caring, sensitive person," Povich said. "There should be lots of opportunities in television for her . . . If she wants something to happen, she's going to have to make it happen. If I were her, I'd be marching around to those television stations like WESH (Channel 2) down there in Orlando."

Today, contest winner; tomorrow, anchorwoman? Stay tuned.

Orlando Sentinel - Orlando, FL