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Psst. Here's some gossip about the actress, Christine Estabrook, who plays the noisy neighbor, Martha Huber, on ABC's darkly comic and mysterious tale of beautiful suburban women, "Desperate Housewives."

Mrs. Huber might have been in your neighborhood as recently as last spring. Estabrook is a 1968 graduate of East Aurora High School, and she comes home occasionally to visit her mother, Julianne Shed, and a brother, Bill, who still live in East Aurora.

Estabrook last was home in the spring, months before she became famous as the desperate busybody who advised Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) to remove her out-of-control little twins from her minivan and leave them at a curb to teach them a lesson. It was also before, armed with a charred measuring cup, Mrs. Huber figured out that Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), the divorced single mom, was responsible for burning down Edie Britt's (Nicollette Sheridan) house and tried to blackmail her. And it was before she delivered this delicious line, "Edie may be trash, but she's still a human being."

This odd, uncensored behavior isn't new to Estabrook. After all, she played a crazy first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, in perhaps the most critically savaged comedy of all time, UPN's "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer." She also played the crazy mother who tried to kill her entire family in Christopher Titus' Fox comedy, "Titus."

Why does Estabrook think she gets so many crazy roles?

"It's something I don't like to examine," she responded in a telephone interview. "These are the great parts. You always want to play the person who is quirky, kooky. Otherwise, it is no fun."

Estabrook, who is married to actor Vic Polizos and has two stepchildren, has had a 30-year career playing peculiar, fun character roles like Mrs. Huber.

"I think I see the sense of humor in it, and it tickles me to do it," she said. "My characters say whatever they want to say. Mrs. Huber says horrible things to people."

The Yale Drama School graduate isn't exactly a household name, but her stint as the desperate busybody in the new season's hottest show could change that.

It hasn't happened yet. When Estabrook goes to the Universal lot to work, the guards still ask her what she is doing there.

"I say, 'I'm an actress,'" she said. "They don't believe me. They have to look me up. Now I have a badge."

Estabrook got more respect recently from a man with a badge, "NYPD Blue" star Dennis Franz, when she was a guest star on the long-running show.

"I finally did an episode, you know I'm the only actress in the world who hadn't done 'NYPD Blue' once," she said, laughing. "When I went to the set, Dennis Franz wanted to meet me because I was on 'Desperate Housewives.' I thought that was so nice."

The role also has increased her visibility on the street, the supermarket or in the elevator even if people often don't know if her name is Christine Estabrook, Christine Baranski or Christine Ebersole.

"People think they know me, that I shop in their supermarket or live in their neighborhood," said Estabrook. Before Mrs. Huber blackmailed Susan, a fan asked Estabrook if she was an actress.

"She said, 'You look like Mrs. Huber,'" said Estabrook. "I said, 'I am Mrs. Huber.'"

Well, actually she isn't Mrs. Huber. It takes Estabrook two hours in the hair and makeup chair to roll and tease her hair to get Mrs. Huber's look.

"It is like special effects makeup," she said, that a friend recently gave her the kind of passive-aggressive compliment that Mrs. Huber is becoming famous for.

"The other day a friend said to me, 'Chris, you look so thin in person. You look 50 pounds heavier on TV.' I thought, 'Does she really know what she's saying?' And this is a friend of mine. People pick on me, I don't why. I'm like a walking target."

Marc Cherry, the creator of "Housewives," is also a friend. Estabrook starred in a short-lived Cherry TV comedy, "The Crew." For "Desperate Housewives," Cherry wrote the part of Mrs. Huber especially for Estabrook.

"Marc ran into me at a deli and said, 'I've written a part for you,' " said Estabrook. "I was thrilled, and then I didn't hear from him for two years and forgot about it."

Her character has the same name as Cherry's mother, Martha, who was one of the inspirations for the series and its plot lines.

"I've met his mother, and we have the same hairdo," said Estabrook. She added the advice that Mrs. Huber gave to Lynette to scare her kids by leaving them at the curb and driving away was inspired by Cherry's childhood experience. "Marc's mother actually did that to him," said Estabrook. "My mother did it to me, too. That was standard practice in those days."

The curb scene and others inspired by Cherry's childhood have made "Desperate Housewives" -- a show that plays off the cliche "Heaven help those who get what they want" -- the most talked about of the season. But Estabrook doesn't think too much should be read into its success or message.

"You can relate to certain aspects, but then you do, 'Ohmygod, I wouldn't do that,' " said Estabrook. "I don't look at it as any kind of guide to motherhood."

Estabrook has gotten some nice national raves for her performance and at times has had more memorable moments than the other sexy, "Housewives." What Estabrook hasn't gotten is star billing. She is listed as a guest star, even though she appears in five of the first nine episodes. Estabrook wouldn't say why she isn't listed as a regular, but traditionally shows save money that way.

Money certainly is an issue with Mrs. Huber, which is why she resorted to blackmailing Susan.

"She is in terrible money straits, she has a mother in a coma," Estabrook said of Mrs. Huber. She also has a houseguest, taking in Edie after the fire destroyed Edie's house.

"She's trying to be a good person, taking Edie in," added Estabrook. "She thinks of herself as the neighborhood watch, the overseer of the community."

Before the show premiered, she wasn't sure any neighborhood would watch.

"You don't know," said Estabrook. "I have such an offbeat sense of humor that I never think that the general public is going to like what I like. I didn't know this much of the country would like the humor in it. I like stuff that is a little edgier than other things. A little darker maybe. It could be because I'm from Buffalo, overcast skies in the winter. You get real creative when you're in Buffalo, because you stay indoors so much."

At 9 p.m. Sundays, Buffalo is staying indoors in increasingly large numbers each week to watch "Desperate Housewives." The crazy thing is the local lady from the neighborhood, Christine Estabrook, is finally in a big TV hit.