Susan Duff

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Many talented kids migrate to Hollywood with dreams of seeing their names on a marquee. Of course, few make it. Around three years ago, a very adorable Hilary Duff broke through as a superstar of the 6-to-14-year-old tween set on the Disney Channel's middle school saga, "Lizzie McGuire." Since then, she's become the center of an entertainment business empire.

That budding operation includes a recording contract, dolls featuring Hilary's likeness and a Web site. Now old enough to drive at 16, Hilary is making the transition to movies, with a slate of projects including this summer's "A Cinderella Story" from Time Warner's Warner Bros. There are concert dates supporting her debut album, "Metamorphosis," from Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records, and a summer 2004 tour is in the works. The album has gone triple platinum, selling 3 million copies.

All the while, Hilary is sticking to a good girl image that parents-and advertisers-love. Her Q Score, a measure of celebrity likability, placed her in the top 10 out of 1,750 performers included in a recent Marketing Evaluations survey among kids aged 6 to 11.

Hilary's mother, Susan Duff, 50, a former makeup artist and sales manager, had no formal preparation for Hollywood's famously hardball ways when she brought her two daughters (sister Haylie is 18) from Houston to Los Angeles in 1998 to pursue their passion for acting. What she had was innate business sense and the judgment to pick a cadre of savvy advisers-managers, attorneys, publicists-to nurture brand Hilary Duff long before there was such a thing.

urged to go home

"If I have anything to do with it, it's that I can recognize decent people and keep them around Hilary," Ms. Duff says. Predictably, in the early days, Ms. Duff and her girls faced rejection, including not-so-subtle suggestions from casting personnel that they should consider returning to Texas. "It was not what my children wanted to do," Ms. Duff says. They persevered. The opportunities came.

Along the way, Ms. Duff learned to decipher the nuances of deal memos and profit participation statements. "I had to learn about percentages, international residuals, all of that," she says. "You have to learn, or you're going to be at their mercy."

Last year, Ms. Duff earned a reputation as a tough negotiator during talks with the Disney Channel over Hilary's continuing participation in the Lizzie McGuire franchise. The two parted ways after failing to come to terms (though the show continues as a daily strip on the Disney Channel and Lizzie McGuire-inspired merchandise rocks on). "The driving force is always what's best for my child," Ms. Duff says.

Since then, Hilary's career hasn't missed a beat. At a time when pop culture performers bump and grind (not to mention the occasional immodest flesh flash on national TV), Hilary's natural demeanor gives her refreshing appeal.

"We have a lot of dialogue in our house about appropriate behavior," Ms. Duff says. Coming up: development deals with Viacom networks CBS and MTV for series to air in the 2004-05 season. There's also Stuff by Hilary Duff, a line including cosmetics, clothing, accessories and home items, which will show up on Target store shelves in coming weeks.

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