The 8-year-old girl offers up a piece of paper and a pen and pleads, "Could you just write one more?"
"You just want to be a big cheese in school, don't ya?" says Ringo Starr, cigarette dangling from his mouth, as he cheerfully signs another autograph.The girl, Nicole Leach, is no pint-size autograph hound, but one of Starr's co-stars on PBS's new children's series, Shining Time Station (Saturdays at 1:30 p.m., Ch. 11; Sundays at 9 a.m., Ch. 7).
Starr, the rest of the cast and the producers had just completed a cross-country promotional tour for "Shining Time Station," which has gotten more than the usual dollop of publicity due even the most charming of children's programs - which "Shining Time Station" is - thanks to the presence of the former Beatle in the cast.
"We all know it's the truth. It's a lot easier if I'm on the tour, too, because people want to come and ask what you've been doin' for the last 100 years. But somewhere in there they mention the show," said Starr, chatting in a suite overlooking Central Park.
Starr is already a children's star in England where he is heard but not seen as the narrator on the popular tot-appeal "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends," a storybook segment included in "Shining Time Station."
"I'm savaged by 5-year-olds," he says, laughing.
In the American show, Starr plays Mr. Conductor, a tiny special-effects figure who lives in the walls of the train station, popping up occasionally to entertain the children and help teach the simple lessons aimed at the program's target audience. 4-to 7-year-olds.
"I've always enjoyed children," Starr said. His own three children are grown and he has a 3-year-old-granddaughter, Tatia.
"The songs in the old days, I sort of went to the kiddie crowd, so it was sort of a natural thing, you know," he said. "But to be magic and little, it was fabulous."
Britt Allcroft, co-creator and producer of the show with Rick Siggelkow, said she talked Starr into narrating "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" in England after hearing him on the television in another room.
"I heard this voice being interviewed, and I thought, that's the voice of Thomas' storyteller," she said.
She calls the show "storybook television - television programming that has sort of qualities more akin to those you'd find in children's literature."
Starr said he "can't wait" to be as big a kiddie star in this country as he is in England. After all, his career has not exactly been booming.
"The first half of the last 100 years, I was really busy doing albums and records and films and everything, and then it all started sort of slowing down and slowing down, and lately I haven't been doin' much at all.
"So I'm just pleased of this opportunity," he says with mock pitifulness.
He said part of the reason for the career slide was his recently admitted alcohol problem. He and wife Barbara Bach checked into an unidentified substance-abuse clinic in the United States last year.
"Yeah, I had an alcohol problem," Starr, 48, said. "I still have the problem, of course, but I don't drink anymore. I've had the problem for a long time. It's been three months to yesterday that I haven't had a drink - 90 days. I had to get help, and I got help, and I'm feeling better. It was just getting on top of me."
A deal to star in an American television sitcom never materialized last season, but Starr hasn't been totally idle. He sang "When You Wish Upon a Star" for Stay Awake," an album compiled of Walt Disney tunes sung by various rock stars. And he has his own compilation coming out Feb. 28 on Rhino Records called "Starr Struck."
"I'm pulling myself together. I'm sort of starting the year off now, and we'll do what we're going to do. There's really nothing laying around - 'Oh, I've got this in the pipeline, and I'm reading these scripts.' There's nothing like that at all. We're startin' the year clean. So, be interesting if you come and see me in December, and you'll see what happened - 'Oh, didn't do a thing, eh?"