Friday, Aug. 10, 2001 | 4:25 a.m.
Since appearing in a commercial for Thrifty Drug Stores at the age of 5, 16-year-old Julianne Michelle has been building her career as an actress.
The Las Vegan played tug-of-war with Ellen Degeneres over a coffee cup on the ABC sitcom "Ellen" and played Anne Archer's daughter in the 1991 film "Family Prayers." Her resume includes 14 television appearances and three roles in motion pictures.
But it was the celebrity oil portraits that Michelle paints for charity that earlier this year grabbed the attention of Teen People magazine, which highlights celebrity and real-life teenagers.
In March the magazine named Michelle among 20 teens who will change the world. The annual story highlights teens and teen celebrities who have made a contribution to bettering society.
Among this year's featured teens were an 18-year-old apprentice firefighter from Connecticut, a 17-year-old environmental activist from North Carolina and tennis star Serena Williams.
"We're looking for (people) who are doing unique and exciting things," said Michelle Hainer, assistant to the managing editor for Teen People. "We thought (Michelle) was perfect for that."
The magazine learned of Michelle from a press release that was sent to its offices by her publicist.
Michelle has painted more than a dozen celebrity portraits, donating them to charities, such as Children at Heart and Foundation for Positively Kids, a local nonprofit organization that is raising money to open a center in Las Vegas for medically dependent and fragile children.
Her paintings, which include portraits of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Lance Burton and Rosie O'Donnell, have brought as much as $17,000 in auctions. She recently finished portraits of actors David Boreanaz, star of WB's series "Angel," and Jonathan Jackson, who played Lucky Spencer on ABC's soap opera "General Hospital." Both paintings will be donated to charity.
"We all have talents to share," Michelle said. "This is just my way of giving back."
A home-schooled student, Michelle said she began sketching and painting as a young child and took up oil painting at age 10.
She said she was surprised when her painting of Allen, donated by her mother to the Children at Heart Foundation, raised thousands of dollars. Allen, who lived in the building in New York City where Michelle's family has a second home, signed the painting for Michelle.
Scorsese provided her with a head shot of himself and also signed his painting.
Michelle has been a Las Vegas resident since the age of 3. She's identified in Teen People as a resident of New York City because her family lives part time in New York, and her agent is also in the Big Apple.
Michelle takes singing and piano lessons in Las Vegas and is also a freestyle figure skater. She credits her parents for inspiring her to help others.
"My parents are great support for me," Michelle said. "They taught me to do good and be a positive role model. I can't imagine ... not having someone telling you right from wrong."
Michelle's father, Joseph Di Palma, founded and established the Di Palma Forum at UNLV, a television-celebrity panel show on which celebrities discuss national issues, including abortion, sex and violence on television and affirmative action. The show airs four times a year on KLVX Channel 10. The next installment is scheduled to air Aug. 22.
Michelle has been participating in charitable causes since she was a child, and in 1996 she received a letter from President Bill Clinton commending her for her work.
Michelle said she was surprised when she was told that she would be featured in Teen People.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "There are so many wonderful teens who change the world. It's a great honor."