Friday, September 11, 2009

Please, no autographs

The Onion AV Club has a fun piece about encounters with celebrities. Since The Velvet Blog is starved for comments, I'll open up the topic here. Any celebrity run-ins you'd like to share?

When I was fresh out of college, my first job was as an editorial assistant at publisher William Morrow. I met quite a few writers and celebs peddling books there. In passing: Roddy McDowall (tiny!), Barbara Mandrell (hey, it was the '80s -- and, also tiny!), John Irving (very nice, and he signed The Cider House Rules!), Eva Gabor and Zsa Zsa Gabor (separately!), that guy who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and his wife, who was in The Manchurian Candidate and The Giant Spider Invasion (annoying!)!

The only one I had a real conversation with was actress/comedian/Madonna canoodler Sandra Bernhard. She was surprisingly nice, not at all like her prickly public persona. I knew she had just finished doing a film with director Nic Roeg, so I asked her about that. (It was enjoyable!)

I can't help thinking, though, that celebrities you meet in your office don't really count, somehow. I mean, they're in your place of work for a reason.

So, outside of those, I think I've only really had two celebrity encounters.

The first was actually William Morrow-related, but not explicitly, so it still counts. It was also a little weird.

We were publishing a book by some big writer. I'm drawing a blank on exactly who, but a safe bet is James Clavell. (Oh, BTW, you can also read this old entry on how I schooled the author of Shogun and King Rat, etc., etc., on basic grammar.) The owner of Morrow in the late '80s was Hearst Corp. That's Hearst as in newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, fictionalized by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. Long dead, of course, but one of his sons -- William Randolph Hearst Jr., I'm pretty sure -- headed the company at the time. He wanted a copy of the manuscript we had just paid multimillions for, and he didn't trust couriers. (The disgustingly rich -- so eccentric!) I was handed a Xerox of the ms. and told to take a cab to Hearst's office off Times Square and plop it into his cold, slightly moist hands.

Which I did. I don't remember much about him other than he was old. But, oddly enough, this isn't a story about meeting William Randolph Heart's progeny.

Rather than take another cab, I decided to ride the subway back to work. And as I sat down on the NYC subway system's gloriously uncomfortable seats, I looked over to my left and realized I was perched next to Phillip Glass, perhaps the most famous of the late 20th century's serious composers. It was really hot that day, more so down in the subway, and I thought at first I might be imagining things. But no, it was definitely Glass. I was struck with the compulsion to hum circular rhythmic patterns under my breath, but somehow fought off the urge.

The other non-work celeb encounter, also from the late '80s:

I met a bunch of friends for dinner in New York one Saturday. Kim worked in midtown and recommended an inexpensive Italian joint around the corner from her office. Midway through the meal, Lee (hi, Lee, who reads this blog but never comments!) leaned over the table and whispered in my ear: "Don't say anything, but Shirley MacLaine is sitting over there."

I turned around and looked at the woman sitting with a South American-looking fellow at the table diagonally across from ours, and there indeed was Warren Beatty's sister eating pasta. And I blurted out, in a voice much, much louder than I had intended: "OH MY GOD! IT'S SHIRLEY MACLAINE!!!" She flinched a little.

Shirley left before we did, and we asked the waiter about her. He said she seemed pissed off and tipped poorly.

Hmm. I wonder why.


TootsNYC said...

Back when I lived on the Upper West Side, friends and I threaded our way through a movie shoot to go to the local diner for grilled-cheese sandwiches.

I said to my friends, as we went in the door: "Did you see that guy? He looks just like Sylvester Stallone!"

He was short, actually, which I think is why I didn't recognize him.

And I once saw Nancy Marchand coming out of a restaurant on the UWS, and made her nervous because I hung on the street corner (she was waiting for her dinner companions to exit as well), fighting off the urge to gush to her, "my mother says she wants to be you when she grows up." I meant it to mean, "my mother admires you tremendously," but was afraid it would come off, "my mother thinks you're old." She looked really relaxed when I finally stepped off the curb to cross the street, without speaking.

ChefNick said...

Once I was going to boarding school in England as a kid, maybe 13 or so. For some reason, Mick Jagger was walking in front of me at Heathrow airport. I immediately went up to him and said "Hey, aren't you Mick Jagger?"

And he said "Fuck off, kid."

Another time, I was in Osaka, Japan. My bandmate the drummer and I had just been to a concert with Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer.

After the concert, we managed to get backstage, which wasn't too hard to do for two drunken white guys. Edgar had left the building, but Rick (who has played with Steely Dan, among others) was hanging around with his portly wife. He informed us that he would be going to some bar (actually an isakaya) so we followed him there.

We bellied up to the bar with him and his wife and he was a total cretin. This guy who I'd worshiped all my playing life was a cretin, and his wife was White Trash, trailer-park material.

Google Rock and Roll Hoochie-Koo. You'll find ol' Ricky boy.

THEN, I went to a Bonnie Raitt concert at the Montreal Jazz Fest a couple of years ago. I won't say how I know her, because the person wouldn't want me spreading it around.

But I got a free ticket and was front and center at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. She mentioned me by name during the concert: "This one goes out to Nick."

Afterwards I went backstage into a rats' warren of little rooms and met her. She was very small. She offered my a beer, some Molson pisswater. After about three minutes of desultory conversation she said "I'm sorry, I have a lot of people to talk to, so please stay and finish your beer."

I suppose that was better than "Fuck off, kid."

Wasn't it?

Dave said...

I'll take the bait.

I've met a lot of famous people, mostly in the sports world. Most, unsurprisingly in a bar, surprisingly to me the after-work place I go to on a regular basis.

The best - Phil Niekro. (Hall of Fame pitcher for those uninformed.) He used to come in occasionally a few years back. My friend Big Rick saw him down the bar and pointed him out. He decided to go down and say hello despite my saying he shouldn't bother him. He bothered him.

Ten minutes later, Phil came over and asked if we minded if he sat down. After that, if he and we were there, we talked. Very regular guy, completely unaffected by his fame.

Worst - a number of unnamed sports figures who think the world exists for their sole benefit.

Most famous people that I've met are just people, not too bad.

ChefNick said...

Wait -- I forgot. Charlie Brumfield

It was the most bizarre encounter with anyone I've ever had. I was heavily into racquetball in the San Francisco Bay Area and one of my idols was one of the originators of the sport, the above-named Charlie Brumfield. He was a legend within racquetball circles.

So one day, I drove to a tournament in San Francisco in which he was playing. I watched a practice match with him and afterward, went up to him and babbled the usual gushing tripe.

He came and sat with me in the stands after the match and was very outgoing, very friendly. A bit later, after the day was winding down, I said "Hey, Charlie, I don't live around here but let's go find a place to knock back a couple of scotches."

Big mistake. After about five, he starts telling me "You know, my wife would kill me if she knew, but I like little boys." (I was about 25 at the time, and handsome as pea soup).

Well, I was horrified, but my idolation of him prevented me from escaping forthwith.

So I, in my cups myself, said "Hey Charlie, screw your hotel, dude, why don't you spend the night at my house?" (Think about the bragging rights at my racquetball club!)

Big Mistake number two.

I drove him to my house in Alameda but suffice to say, he was drunk as a skunk. He was all over me like a cheap suit. I finally had to protest. "No Charlie, I'm not . . . that way! You're making a mistake!"

I fended him off and finally he fell asleep. But the next day he had a big match and we both drove to San Francisco with pounding heads. Needless to say, he lost the match. Spectacularly.

Almost forgot about that. I should track down his wife.

ChefNick said...

Oh, and Jim,

Having re-read Shogun for about 1,000 times (I read it the first year it came out), usually skipping through five pages at a time, I moved to Japan for five years.

As you might know, James Clavell was in Changi prison during WWII. This is obviously where he got his inspiration for his Asian series.

But "inspiration" is the only word for his atrocious Japanese. I once took it upon myself to go through Shogun, just looking at the Japanese, and almost EVERY EXAMPLE was wrong or at the level of a first-year student.

I thought I should write the publisher and correct the Japanese, free of charge, so I did. Never heard back.

Knatolee said...

I have an unfortunate dearth of celebrity sitings, other than shaking Pat Boone's hand at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto back in the early 1970s when I was 11. Of course, if I spent more time in NYC, I might see more celebrities!

I did see Tom Jones having underwear thrown at him, but that was at a concert my mother dragged me to when I was a kid.

ChefNick said...

It's not unusual to be loved by anyone!

Posol'stvo the Medved said...

I've never even met the famous people I'm supposed to be related to. A couple of A list actors and one former A list actor, now an aging character actor, but forgive me for not name dropping. I'd hate to have you figure out who I am through my association with them.

I need my anonymity.

I did meet Rutger Hauer, who was a bit of a prima donna. And I saw the guy who plays Will Smith's cousin on Fresh Prince with the guy who plays the butler in the Honolulu airport, but I didn't watch the show so had no idea who they were. Later I saw Charo at a restaurant. She was withered and wrinkled and scared me a lot.

I used to tell people that I partied with Modern English in the 80's, but that was a lie. And I almost met They Might Be Giants, but they left the show early because they were afraid to drive their van in a snow storm at night in upstate New York.