For the purpose of this two parter, we are defining ‘Celebrity Sightings’ as casual encounters with persons who have a reason to be widely known to the public. Getting to see the Black Crowes first at the Hollywood Palladium and later at the Wiltern Theater don’t count as ‘encounters’. Seeing a celebrity standing five feet from you at one of those concerts would count. Not to split hairs here, but it took a long time for me to match my wife and the West Coast Bureau in terms of seeing well known people in Los Angeles.
To be fair, Elizabeth and Todd spent ten years in LA so one would expect them to see more famous faces than those of us who came out to visit for a week or so at a time. Strangely enough, a good share of their sightings coincided with these visits, particularly during the times when my wife would be out west. One of the first was a chance encounter Elizabeth and my wife Christine had when they went on a little shopping trip toward the Hollywood side of town. They happened to eat lunch in the same spot as Tyra Banks. Later, it was a meal in the same restaurant as movie director M. Night Shyamalan. Kareem Abdul Jabaar at a coffee shop in Westwood was not hard to spot as seven foot tall celebs tend to stand out among a room full of normal sized folk.
My wife also seems to have her share of encounters at airports. On the way to her gate on a return flight from LAX, she happened to pass Snoop Dogg as he was holding court in a small crowd of fans. Having only seen him on the small screen or in magazines, she was rather amazed at how tall he was in person. She wasn’t surprised that he was keeping everyone entertained with his smooth answers to their probing questions. Waiting in line at a bistro at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, a tall gentleman with a tweed sport coat and corkscrew locks was in line just ahead of her. As they neared the counter, he stepped aside and in a noticeable British accent said, “Excuse me, ladies first.” Only upon boarding her flight west did she realize that the face staring back from the Skyways Magazine cover (a free promo mag offered in the seatback holders on most planes) was none other than the same British gent who had just insisted that she step ahead of him in line at the terminal. Not being a big Led Zeppelin fan, she wouldn’t have had reason to know it was Robert Plant although she is more familiar with him now as she likes his work with Alison Krauss.
Even my father got into the celebrity game when he was still working for the Michigan Board of License and Regulations. When Mohammed Ali came to Marquette to do an exhibition match at the old Hedgecock Field House at Northern Michigan University, it was his job to pick up the Michigan State Boxing Commissioner who came into the Marquette County Airport at the same time as Ali. Always the observant detective, he mentioned that Ali wasn’t as tall as he looked in the ring, but you could tell he did a lot of leg work as his thighs resembled those of a marathon bike rider. As for his demeanor, my dad said, “He pretty much kept his head down and nodded slightly to his handlers when they would point and say, this way champ’ or ‘over there, champ’ (apparently no one called him Muhammad or Ali). When the news cameras began to roll, then he became the Mohammed Ali that everyone was used to seeing on TV bantering with Howard Cosell. When the cameras went off, the loud, boisterous Ali also turned off.”
On the second Black Crowes concert trip I made, Todd and I took the train to the Wiltern Theater on the corner of Wilshire and Western Avenues. It was standing room only so we found a spot on the second or third tier left of the roped off VIP area (which also contained the sound board). We had an empty aisle to our right and a velvet rope separating us from the VIPs (who also got to stand). Just prior to the band coming on, I looked to my right to see Scott Ian from the band Anthrax munching down what looked to be a chili dog while his lovely blond wife held their $14 libations. This was my first and only ‘two fer’ celeb sighting as Ian is married to the daughter of one Marvin Aday – better known as Meatloaf in music circles.
An earlier trip found us wandering around the carnival rides on Santa Monica Pier. I had kind of wandered away from the others looking to see if I could see Daniel and Todd’s mother riding on the Ferris Wheel. I was minding my own business when a rather husky man with a dark beard, backward baseball cap, baggy shorts, and an oversized hockey jersey started gesticulating to someone on the ride to our right. Another nice looking blond woman finally responded and over the din of the carnival rides, I finally figured out they were man and wife, apparently trying to communicate something about their children who were on the ride. Suddenly it dawned on me that the man was Kevin Smith who you may or may not have seen on TV on Comic Book Guys or in the movies (he played Silent Bob in the movies containing those titles, Warlock in one of Bruce Willis’ Die Hard movies). I also recently saw him on an installment of Tanked on The Animal Planet network.
I will not spend any time speculating on what attracts nice looking blond women to relatively short guys who could play parts in movies about trolls without too much makeup magic. That sounds like I don’t get the whole Hollywood power broker thing, but I do understand the ‘fame begets money which attracts attention’ part of fame. For all I know, they are all happily married and have fine families . . . but it still makes one wonder. With that said, I will note that the first encounter I had with a celebrity made me vow to never become one of those drooling, “Oh my GOD!” fans.
While performing my duties as a dishwasher at the Huron Mountain Club, I had a close encounter with actress Julie Harris. I had seen her in the original version of the movie The Haunting and knew later that she had a storied career playing Mary Todd Lincoln on Broadway and parts on TV (like that of Val Ewing’s mother in Knott’s Landing). Julie had come to the club late and popped into my work area as I was finishing up my evening duties. She told me that she had just arrived and the club store was closed. Ever so politely she asked if I could get her a quart of milk to take back to her cabin so she could have something to tide her over for the night. To me, she was a short, pleasant young woman in a flannel shirt and jeans so I did my Yooper thing and said, “Sure” as I trotted off to the pantry to get her some milk. The door had hardly swung shut behind her when I was accosted by a gaggle of waitresses who wanted me to tell them what she was like. “Who? I asked. “Julie HARRIS!” they all but screamed in my ear. “Well…. She was short!” was all I could come up with. I did promise myself then and there that should I ever have a close encounter with someone famous, I would do my utmost to NOT act like a rube. In most cases, I suspect that celebrities start out as normal people. Sure, some of them go off the rails with fame, but you have to wonder; is them or the fans that put them in that position?
There had been one previous episode in my short life rubbing elbows with celebrities and it was this early encounter that made me decide that I would never be an autograph seeker. Getting autographs is a fine hobby, but not for me. In late elementary school, my dad had some business downtown and one of the Marquette banks was having some sort of celebrity meet and greet with a couple of Detroit Lion players. Not being a Lions fan, I resisted getting in line to get an autograph until my dad said, “This is going to take me some time so you might as well.” Both players scribbled (and I mean scribbled) their names on a half sheet of white paper and handed it back to me. It sat in my drawer for years until it got pitched when we moved from Norway Ave to Summit St. To this day, I have no idea who they were because you couldn’t make out more than a few of the letters in the scrawled signature. That was my first and last autograph!
Celebrities are people and in ordinary circumstances, I am sure it would be possible to sit down and talk with them about relatively normal things. Like honey attracts flies, celebrities attract fans and they learn to deal with these encounters in their own way. Not having this particular problem in my life’s path, I can only say that it looks like something that would wear on you after a while! They say fame is fleeting, but I am not so sure about “fandom”.
Top Piece Video – Ray Davies says it all!