If you happened across a gray-haired bag lady pushing a shopping cart in downtown Salt Lake City recently, and you thought she looked rather familiar, you were right.

It was Marion Ross, in town as a guest star on the locally produced CBS series "Touched by an Angel."Although she's wearing a $10,000 wig - the one she wore when she played a Jewish grandmother on "Brooklyn Bridge" - Ross' appearance has taken a few people by surprise. Especially the ones who recognize her.

"I was in the ladies' room and one woman said to me, `Oh, you've gotten so old. You used to look so nice,' " Ross said with a laugh.

"I'm finding it depressing to have to look like this. What a way to spend Christmas!"

The woman who became recognizable worldwide by playing everymom Marion "Mrs. C" Cunningham for 11 years on the hit show "Happy Days" has a lot in common with that character - she's charming, personable and funny. (She does a great imitation of Katherine Hepburn.)

She also sounds more than a little maternal when speaking not only of her son, actor Jim Mes-ki-men, but of her former TV son, director Ron Howard. Or when inquiring about how "my Henry" - Winkler, that is - did in his latest television role.

Ross is no '50s supermom, however. She's a fine actress - as she demonstrated on "Brooklyn Bridge" and in numerous guest-starring roles in recent years.

But the role she's currently playing, a homeless woman who the "Touched" angels - Della Reese and Roma Downey - try to help, is one that's making her think about the less fortunate in society, particularly at this time of year.

"I forget about that. I have a wonderful life, and it's a bottomless pit out there," Ross said.

The show has given parts to about a hundred homeless people from the local shelters, including mothers and children.

"And there's another hundred or so who wanted to be in it," Ross said. "And for them to get paid and get a couple of meals - this means a lot to them."

Those who got jobs working on the episode also discovered just how tedious making a television show can be.

"They watch us, and by the end of the day they said, `This takes so long.' They had no idea what the process of making a TV show was," Ross said. "This is quite an experience to act with these people. But it's funny how we discriminate against them without even thinking about it."

Last week, the show was shooting a scene in the old Union Pacific train depot.

"It looked like the scene from `Gone With the Wind' - bodies sleeping everywhere and you didn't know who were actors and who were local extras and who were real homeless people," Ross said. "And I thought, `Oh, I wouldn't want to treat them differently.' It's interesting, the gradations of feelings we have."

Playing a homeless person has made Ross aware of how invisible the homeless often are to the rest of society.

"I was walking down the street and I forgot I had my gray wig and my terrible clothes. I walked by the Greek Orthodox church and the priest came out and said hello to me. I felt so great - like I wasn't invisible. So I should be sure to speak to street people."

"I get all choked up talking about," said Ross, her voice breaking a bit.

Ross can still get a little emotional about her last series, the sublime "Brooklyn Bridge." She was sensational as the gray-haired Jewish grandma with an old-world accent, Sophie Berger.

"I adored Sophie. I adored Sophie," Ross said. "It does break your heart."

The role brought her plenty of attention. She suddenly found herself in demand - for older roles.

"I started doing these older things about eight years ago when I went out and did `Arsenic and Old Lace' with Jean Stapleton," Ross said. "And I thought, `Oh, I'm not old enough to play these parts.' But then I thought, `I guess I am.' "

Not that she's in demand solely to play old ladies. She's made recent appearances on "Sweet Justice" and "The John Larroquette Show," and she's co-starring as Robert Wagner's sister in an upcoming "Hart to Hart" TV movie.

"After `Brooklyn Bridge' I didn't want to do anything," Ross said. "But I'm really enjoying doing these different things."

She has actually been turning work down. She almost did a series with comedian Louis Anderson, and she turned down the chance to tour in a play.

"There's a time for everything, and right now I'm not ready for that," Ross said. "I thought, `Well, I might end up sitting and doing nothing, but I'm even willing to do that. I have a very nice life.' "

When she's not acting, she puts a lot of effort into remodeling her homes. (She named her primary residence Happy Days Farm, and when she landscaped the lot next door she named it Sophie Park.)

"I'm always remodeling," she said. "I have a couple of other houses, and I work on those too."

Although the remodeling is nearly complete, the home was damaged in last year's Southern California earthquake and may need more repairs. But at times like this, her fame comes in handy.

"I'll call the plumber and say (switching to her Mrs. C voice), `Hello. This is Marion Ross. Have you seen "Happy Days?" And they're over there in a minute."

And Mrs. C has followed her to the most unlikely of places - like when she was in Florence, Italy, with her husband, looking at Michelangelo's David.

"Behind us, we heard these American voices saying, `Awesome. It's awesome,' " Ross said. "And then they they were saying, `Awesome. It's Mrs. C.' So we all had our pictures taken in front of the David.

"It's really dear to be known all over the world."

While she's happy with her life, she's still looking for that one role that has eluded her.

"I want a movie," she said. "I want to get this small movie that wins all these prizes, that goes to Cannes."

And she's also like a chance to play somebody a little less nice, perhaps.

"I'd like to play rude people. Rude, snotty people. Heartless," Ross said, slipping into a haughty voice, then laughing uproariously.