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David Letterman, Goldie Hawn, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Greg Louganis and George Bush are all an arm's length away from winning a left-handed compliment.

Literally."We just counted the ballots" and the six have received the most votes to become the 1989 Left-hander of the Year, says Kim Kipers, executive assistant of Left-handers International.

The Topeka-based group will name the winner later this month.

Oprah won the honor last year and appeared on the cover of LI's Left-hander Magazine, which reads from back to front. The columns start on the right side of the page and run to the left.

Each year, LI's 27,000 members vote for their favorite left-hander in eight categories: general sports, tennis, male and female entertainers, music, soap operas, politics and overall Left-hander of the Year.

The 13-year-old group created Aug. 13 as International Left-handers' Day for the estimated 10 percent of the world's people who write and eat with their left hands.

LI, which has members in all 50 states and 14 other countries, chose that date because the first International Left-handers' Day fell on a Friday the 13th.

"They did it to poke fun of all the superstitions surrounding left-handedness," Kipers said.

"We've come a long way as far as dispelling myths," she said. "They used to, in the Middle Ages, put the left hand in boiling water to discourage its use."

Kipers, a right-hander, said Missouri school teachers in the late 1930s and early 1940s tried to get her left-handed mother to switch hands.

"Teachers used to hit her knuckles with rulers, tie her hand to her side to keep her from using it," Kipers said.

"Teachers and the educational system seem to be more aware that that is not a good thing to do so we don't hear much about that anymore," she said.

LI publishes a catalog listing hand tools, scissors, knives, can openers, playing cards, spiral notebooks and even pens for the estimated 24 million American left-handers.

"The big thing as far as kids go was writing over a spiral - our number one complaint," Kipers said.

"We have quick-dry ink pens so you don't smear ink on your hand when you write," she said. "We even have cork screws for the lefties."

Right-handed card players typically fan out their cards with the uppermost card on the right, exposing the markings in the upper left corners. No markings are visible to a person who puts the uppermost card on the left and fans the rest of the cards to the right.

LI's cards have markings in all four corners, "which are great for everybody," Kipers said.

Smaller companies have been the most receptive when approached about making a product for left-handers, Kipers said.

Bigger companies "don't really see a market for it, even though you're talking about 24 million people. You'd think that would create some dollar signs in their eyes."

Famous left-handers include Bob Dylan, Jimmy Connors, Ted Koppel, Oliver North, George Burns, Marilyn Monroe and Mark Twain, according to LI's list.

The name of former sportscaster Jayne Kennedy, who has made a number of workout videos, is on the list but has been marked out.

The problem is that published lists of famous left-handers are wrong about one-third of the time, Kipers said. Someone apparently assumed Kennedy was a leftie because she starts her stretching exercises by bending to the left, then to the right, she said.

But Kipers discovered the error by watching a television show.

"I saw her on Win, Lose or Draw and she wrote with her right hand."