Famous people get really frustrated around me, because I’m weird. Mostly, because I spend the first few minutes around them in a complete and total fog about who they are and what they do. Really, the only famous people that I behaved normal and appropriately flummoxed in front of — were Burt Reynolds and Michael Jackson.
Mr. Reynolds, I met when I was a teenager and I was completely dumbstruck by his appearance at my family’s home in the 1970’s, around the time he’d completed filming Smoky and the Bandit. He was nice enough and waited patiently while they basically dragged me out to have a photo taken with him. You can see by the picture, I was a mess. He was handsome, charming and known around the world and I was still trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other in low heels without tripping over myself. I had no business being in the spot on the pavement where he cast his shadow, much less next to him, captured in an image forever. I absolutely knew who he was and how popular he was all over the world and here he was, in our kitchen with me. It was weird.
Over the next decade I had meetings of the most strange and bizarre, when it came to the famous and infamous. I had the odd misfortune of being at the 30th birthday party in Santa Monica of one of the future Governor’s of Calfornia, a night when one of his guests happened to be Roman Polanski and was shoved into a candid photo with him – before he was shown on every national news story involving another teenager. That was weird.
Eventually, I had a lengthy and interesting career in television production, but I almost never watched the odd little black box. In fact, all throughout my 20’s the only television I owned was a gift from the executive producer I worked for and his wife. It was a cute little novelty television — a mini two inch black and white winky thing that I reserved to watch the Grammy’s once a year and the news now and again. I was NOT an episodic television junkie. I’d kicked that habit in the 6th grade after hours and years spending company with the Brady Bunch, Bewitched, the Partridge Family, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, Gilligan and Dark Shadows. I weaned myself off slowly, in my teens, with episodes of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Welcome Back Kotter and finally went cold turkey and turned off the tube after the 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live finished their run.
By 1980, television had completely lost its sheen for me and I no longer required its bright company and distraction from the dark existence that was my childhood. I’d moved to Los Angeles toward the end of the 70’s, life got a bit better under the roof of loving relatives, and the entertainment field was all around me, so who needed television?
Well, you apparently need a little bit when you’re meeting famous people. They don’t much like it when you don’t know who they are. Even a slender diet of television input might have saved me from some uncomfortable and incredibly weird encounters with celebrities.
Poor Richard Mulligan (of the sitcom Soap) had to endure an insane walk-by hugging from me on Larchmont Boulevard when I mistook him for someone I actually DID know. “Oh, my gosh! Would you look at you!! It is so nice to see you. You need to know, I’ve been working really hard on all of my material and can’t wait to see you soon!” I didn’t realize until I was four long blocks away that Mr. Mulligan wasn’t the dynamic vocal coach Walter Farell, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of months, due to a virus. No-no, this guy was that other guy who played that really funny guy from that ridiculously popular (ranked #13 at that time) late night show on ABC that I was only peripherally aware of (unlike most of America) and now he’s going home, thinking that I’m a total fruitbat.
That paled in comparison to a decade later when I met a gentleman at an event and politely asked him what he did for a living. He gave me a toothy grin and told me he was “involved with a television show.” I asked him which one (this, I might add — was in front of a small crowd of about eight people) and he said (a little more forcefully than I might have liked), “Hunter.” Trying to be respectful, I asked him exactly what it was he did with the show. He looked around, clearly indicating to the people assembled that he thought I was kidding. “Lady! I am Hunter.” My blank expression didn’t help either of us, when he said, “Maybe you know me from FOOTBALL?!” Uhm… no? Someone in the group mumbled something about the man having spent 13 years in the NFL and playing close to 200 games with the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams. Oh, hello?! Where do you people think I would I have seen THAT?… on TV? He DID sort of resemble Max Headroom and that was weird.
I won’t embarrass myself further by telling you the nitty gritty details about the time, this last decade, I told a woman — who’d just revealed she was part of the reality television show The Biggest Loser — how unbelievably great she looked and that boy, she must have worked hard, only to have her wrinkle her nose and rapidly shake her head, “No-no. I wasn’t a contestant!” Apparently, over ten million viewers (minus me) knew that. Weird-y McWeirdness.
Over the course of my life (so far), my celebrity run-ins have been pitiful, at best. I feel like I might owe apologies to people like John Corbett, Shannon Doherty, Don Johnson, Regis Philbin (to be fair, I met him along with Dick Gautier and HIM I knew as Heimi from Get Smart – Reg, not so much), Chuck Norris, Rafer Johnson, Jim Brown, Harry Nilsson (who I’m super sorry that mistook for a hobo in the parking lot of a well-known recording studio), Eric Carmen (who I kept asking, in the Green Room of Good Morning America, “Eric Harmon? Eric Armin?! I have no idea who you are.”), Kato Kaelin… (okay, maybe not Kato). Weirdness, all.
Of all the weirdness in the celebrity world, the one person who wasn’t weird about his international pop star status was Michael Jackson. He came up to me in the hallway, slid his sunglasses down to the end of his nose, looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, hello. I’m Michael Jackson.” I laughed loud and heartily at the simple introduction, because at this point (right before the Victory Tour with his brothers) he was one of the brightest stars in the universe. Of course, this was before all of the other weirdness eclipsed his talent.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always seen people as people without placing crazy amounts of value on their status, their position or their popularity. While I have tremendous respect and admiration for who they are and what they do, I still feel that people are people. What was it that Gertrude Stein wrote? A rose is a rose is a rose. Trying to be anything else, would just be… weird. But, maybe that’s just me.
xo – t.
“Fame is a bee. / It has a song / It has a sting / Ah, too, it has a wing.” – Emily Dickinson
“The absolute truth is that there is no power in celebrity.” – Bill Cosby
“Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.” – Horace Greeley
“When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it’s because he’s so human; and that is the secret of his popularity.” – Walt Disney
“In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” – Andy Warhol