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Pine Crest Preparatory School is 49 acres of manicured lawns in northeastern Fort Lauderdale. Behind the five-tier parking garage is a fountain that sprays water across a pond and a running track that meanders through groves of black olive trees. There are tennis courts and a newly renovated boathouse, where the Pine Crest Panthers' nationally ranked crew team practices after school.
At the moment, a line of first-graders dressed in green aprons and white-collared shirts with the Pine Crest label are circling the pond. Their teacher sings a song called "Following the Leader," but the kids seem to have a hard time listening. No one is concentrating on following because, well, they probably all want to lead.
This is South Florida's power school. Twenty National Merit finalists last year, more than any other private or public school in the region. Four of last year's graduates, Harvard-bound. Famous alumni: Kelsey Grammar, Wayne Huizenga, and Barbara Bridge, the first female Florida circuit court judge in Broward County. You have to take the mother of all achievement tests just to get in.
Mary Ellen Cook, class of '98, is Pine Crest's most illustrious recent graduate. Using her nom de guerre Mary Carey, she is right now in the thick of California's October madness, running for governor in Tuesday's election.
For some reason, though, Cook's name has been stricken from the school's e-mail contact sheet, the alumni database, and even the newest issue of Pine Crest Previews, the school's in-house publication. Despite her fame, Cook doesn't make the honor role of notable graduates. Why do you get the feeling that Pine Crest doesn't want to have its name spoken in the same breath with "Mary Carey," star of such movies as Double D Dolls and Dirty Girlz?
No hard feelings, says Boca Raton native Cook. "I think when I'm 40, I'll start donating to Pine Crest," she says by telephone from her home in California. "I just want to wait till I have everything I want first."
Pine Crest was a big part of her success, she says: "The school gave me a good education. Part of the reason I became a porn star is that I knew I'd be smarter than everyone else. In a year and a half, I've made more money than most performers have in ten years. That all goes back to Pine Crest."
Not exactly the kind of endorsement most school administrators hope for.
Despite her apparent status as persona non grata around the exposed brick and mahogany environs of the administration building, Carey is remembered with fondness by some classmates. She was low-profile with an occasional penchant for the bizarre, but there was always that winning smile, they say.
"She was a quiet girl who was always on the periphery," says Ari Margolis, class of '98, a soon-to-be divinity student. "The in crowd never really knew she existed."
Slim, slender-hipped, flat-chested, Cook was known mostly for her dancing abilities, classmates say. Her biggest moments in school were as the star of dance productions.
Mary Ellen, the shy high school student, seems a far cry from Mary Carey, known for her double-D breasts and her uncanny physical flexibility in big-screen girl-on-girl scenarios. The girl who once won Pine Crest's esteemed Founders' Award for her dance performances is now a high-profile star of the porn world.
"My mom has been dying to call up all the ladies who were on the council and let them know where one of their fine awardees has ended up," says Vail Miller, class of '99, now an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Come to think of it, classmates say, there were a few glimpses of the porn star within. In ballet classes, while some girls perfected the art of dressing in private, slipping off their bras underneath their shirts and pulling their shirts down while taking off their panties, Mary Ellen would strut around the room naked.
In her current identity, though, the hits just keep coming. The premiere of her latest film, Mary Carey Rules II, was in California in July.
"I didn't even know you had premieres for those type of shows," says former classmate Joshua Goldenberg, class of '00, a current student at Northwestern University. "I mean, what are you supposed to say afterwards, 'Great job -- you were really believable in that role'?"
But Goldenberg is an unabashed fan. When fellow graduates learned three years ago that Mary Ellen Cook had become "Mary Carey," they were enthralled, he says.
"She became this huge celebrity," says Goldenberg, who was a senior at the time.
Over spring break, Goldenberg and his friends donned their sixth-grade Pine Crest uniforms and went to a strip club in Fort Lauderdale where Mary Carey was performing. They sat in the audience, calling out her name. Mary Ellen greeted them as old comrades. "She was like 'Oh my God, hey guys, that's so sweet,'" Goldenberg says. "Then she screamed and smiled and laughed and proceeded to touch herself in a very hot way."