"Dancing with the Stars" was a big television hit over the summer, pairing celebrities with professional hoofers to see who could win the...

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“Dancing with the Stars” was a big television hit over the summer, pairing celebrities with professional hoofers to see who could win the hearts of America.

The concept is not dissimilar from investing in mutual funds, where an individual pairs up with professional money managers in hopes of dancing a profitable jig. But as viewers of the television show have learned, not all stars are created equal; some have rhythm and others have two left feet.

Recently, manager David Winters opened his new fund — the Wintergreen Fund — and while you may never have heard of Winters, few in the investment world would think of him as anything but a celebrity.

For five years, Winters was chief investment officer for Franklin Resources’ Mutual Series funds.

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From the time Winters started managing Mutual Discovery in February 2000 until he left in April, the fund earned a 9.5 percent annualized return, compared with an annualized loss of 0.7 percent for his average peer, according to Morningstar. That makes the Wintergreen fund mighty interesting.

Not only can you dance with a star, but you get in on the ground floor; studies have shown that new issues tend to have some pop, in part because the manager benefits from the flexibility of running a small asset pool.

A good investment decision on a star’s new fund requires going beneath the surface.

For proof, look back to some one-time hotties who broke away to hang out their own shingle, names like Ryan Jacob, Garrett Van Wagoner, Tom Marsico, Elizabeth Bramwell and Donald Yacktman.

Their history is mixed.

Jacob, who left the Kinetics Internet fund to start Jacob Internet, got off to a horrible start, finishing dead last in his peer group in his first full year in 2000. He was nearly that bad in his second year. While Jacob has now put together three straight years in the top 5 percent of the category, investors who rushed to join him got nothing but misery.

After leaving Govett Smaller Companies fund, Van Wagoner got off to a hot start, peaking as the industry’s top performer in 1999. Since then, however, he’s been awful. Van Wagoner Emerging Growth, his longest-surviving fund, is one of the worst funds of the 21st century, nearly dead last among all issues.

By contrast, Marsico starred at Janus before starting his eponymous funds in 1998. While his growth-oriented style suffered during the bear market, he has been consistently top shelf with both Marsico Growth and Marsico Focus when the market is on the rise.

The old guard of stars to go solo is Bramwell, who swapped Gabelli Growth for Bramwell Growth in 1994, and Yacktman, who quit Selected American Shares to start the Yacktman Fund in 1992. Both have been above-average over the long haul, with periods of knockout numbers and other stretches that could induce vomiting.

Stars tend to do that. They become big names, thanks to a run as a world-beater; starting their own firm is a chance to capitalize on what they have done well.

Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist at CBS Marketwatch. He can be reached at jaffe@marketwatch.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.