In her "The Way We Are" column in the April issue of Good Housekeeping, Lois Wyse tells a funny story about someone who almost met actor Paul Newman and got dreadfully flustered. "It happened," wrote Wyse, "in a little ice-cream shop in New York."

Pardon me, but I'm always suspicious of funny experiences that supposedly happened to friends of friends, especially when I've heard the story before - in this case, nearly five years ago.Some of Wyse's readers recognized the urban legend she told, clipped the column and mailed it to me. And many of them wrote something like this on the margin: "Look! `The Great Ice-Cream Cone Caper' has returned!"

The cone-caper legend emerged in 1986, and I discussed it in "Curses! Broiled Again!" I even included a cartoon illustrating Paul Newman's role in the story.

After a dormant period, the legend popped up again last fall, and now it has hit the pages of a national magazine.

Wyse explained that she heard the story from Heidi - who's identified only as "one of my girls." It seems that a friend of Heidi's came face to face with Newman in the ice cream store.

Dazzled by seeing "the man of her cinema dreams," the young woman ran on automatic pilot as she dreamily ordered an ice cream cone, paid for it and wandered out of the store to watch Paul Newman disappear into the crowd while licking his own cone.

Wyse even supplied the details that the woman was a chocoholic who absent-mindedly ordered a vanilla cone and paid for it with a $5 bill.LEGENDSContinued from FACING PAGE

Coming back to her senses after Newman was gone, the woman realized that she had no ice-cream cone. She went back into the store and said to the clerk, "I forgot to take my ice-cream cone." The clerk then explained what had happened:

"I gave you your change. Then you opened your wallet, put the change away, put the wallet in your purse. Then I handed you the cone. You took it and put it in your purse right next to your wallet."

Heidi's friend peeked into her purse, then snapped it shut and "exited red-faced."

I have a feeling that Lois Wyse is also going to be somewhat red-faced when she learns that she's fallen for an old urban legend. She apparently has never heard of an FOAF (friend of a friend), the typical source who is credited with having experienced an urban legend.

Last fall I noted another example of the revived story, but until now I lacked evidence that the legend was circulating again. In October the cone caper was mentioned in a National Public Radio feature about the making of the film "Mrs. and Mrs. Bridge," which starred Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The incident was said to have happened in Kansas City, where the film was shot.

The heyday of the cone caper was in 1986 when the story was hot on the grapevine and was being retold endlessly in the media. At that time, Jack Nicholson, Tom Brokaw and Robert Redford were also mentioned as the celebrity spotted at the cone counter.

While Redford was filming "The Milagro Beanfield War" in Santa Fe, N.M., in September 1986, a local newspaper gave the anecdote front-page treatment, implying it was true. Two days later the paper printed a retraction.

As the tale got around, a USA Today story claimed that Newman had playfully said he intended to sue Nicholson and Redford, "because the ice cream tale is his false story."

It certainly looks like Newman was right about that, but he must be getting pretty tired of denying the legend by now.

I wonder where legends like this stay when they're not being told, and why people suddenly start telling an old one again, not recognizing its recycled plot. As Wyse says in her column, I guess that's just the way we are.- "Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.