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CROOKLYN'S SOLE SISTER

Zelda Harris in ''Crooklyn'' -- The film's biggest role is played by Spike Lee's youngest talent discovery

Credit Spike Lee for spotting fledgling talent. He put Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Martin Lawrence, and Halle Berry in his films before most of Hollywood heard of them. Lee's latest discovery is also his youngest: 9-year-old Zelda Harris, plucked from the 1,000-plus children at the open auditions for Crooklyn. ''So scary,'' says the not-easily-scared fourth grader of the tryout that won her the film's biggest role. ''All these things were zipping through my head. The devil in me was like, 'Go ask for his autograph!' But my own voice was saying, 'No, no, no. You wanna get this part.'''

Her resume was skimpy-appearances on TV's Sesame Street and one episode of I'll Fly Away. All the better, figured Lee, who shuns most professional child actors as too mannered. ''She's very natural,'' he says. ''She has strong concentration. She didn't get rattled. Her father (Philip) is a tennis pro. I think that helps Zelda.''

Harris lives with her parents and two sisters, Kenya, 6, and Quinn, 3, in upper Manhattan and attends the School for Children at Bank Street College, where her mom, Karen, works in continuing education. The star, decked out in denim and red Pumas, had little trouble becoming Troy, who, she says, ''is a girl who won't let anybody push her around. She's a lot like me. I'm a tomboy. I don't have brothers, but I'm pretty rough.''

Relations with her Crooklyn ''brothers'' were familial. Harris spit on them, out-hit them in stickball, and insulted them in ''dissing contests.'' Carlton Williams, who plays Clinton, kept calling her ''breastless chicken.'' She says, ''That got on my nerves because I'm flat-chested. I would've punched him but I'll wait for the premiere.''

She's dealing with stardom's stresses. When she took her first stretch-limo ride, ''my little sister Kenya got so excited she threw up on the pavement.'' Harris craves fame, but who knows as what. An actress? A tennis pro? Or a boxer, she says. ''This stuff, it's all possible. I'm not even 10 yet,'' she sighs. ''In the year 3000, when everybody's walking around in tinfoil, I want them to remember that girl who was in Crooklyn.''

Originally posted May 20, 1994 Published in issue #223 May 20, 1994 Order article reprints