Friday, August 9, 2013

My Brushes with Celebrity

Inspired a bit by a Jonah Keri article (within the last mention in this post appears).

While I have never been famous at any point in my life, I am one of those people who seems to have had many brushes with celebrities. Whether it has been through my jobs (working at two film studios helps), or just by living in Santa Monica, where celebrities appear all over the place, I've had my share of unique moments. So, in an off-the-top-of-my-head-somewhat-chronological order, here are some of the highlights:

Mike Kruczek: You never forget your first. Sure, most of you don't know who Mike is, but when you're a child living in the middle of Pittsburgh Steeler country, an event such as the backup quarterback showing up at your mall for a signing merited mandatory attendance. Sure, he only threw for 1185 yards for his career, but he was a Steeler, and I was seven. It mattered.

George "The Animal" Steele: After moving to Los Angeles, every summer I would come back home to Pennsylvania for a month or so. One of the highlights each summer was going to Steeler training camp at St. Vincent College. We would stand by the cafeteria, and when the players would come out from lunch, my brother and I would stand there and get autographs in little 3" x 5" notebooks. While there were a few highlights almost comparable (Jack Lambert fake-growling at us while he gave us autographs), nothing prepared us for the sight of professional wrestlers George "The Animal" Steele and Don "The Magnificent" Muraco. Even at 13, I knew that wrestling was fake, but I was a fan. Steele was known for being a man-child (just look at his picture), grunting with a painted purple tongue, and known for eating the foam out of the turnbuckle. My brother and I, giggling, walked up to Steele, wondering what weird noises would come out of him when asking for an autograph: "May I please have your autograph, Mr. Steele?" He turned around, and in perfect diction, said, "You most certainly have my autograph." Little did we know that his other job was as a teacher, and that he had a master's degree. You never know.

George Carlin: My favorite celebrity sighting. I was working at a yogurt store on Montana Avenue when I was 19, and while other celebrities had come through the door (I swear you were flirting with me, Barbara Hershey), I always made it a rule to never fawn over celebrities - they have every right to live a normal life without being bothered. But around the third time Carlin came into the store, I had to say something, as I grew up listening to his work, I went to his Carlin on Campus HBO special, he was an influence. So, I told him that I was a huge admirer. He walked out to his car, grabbed a couple of cassettes of his latest work, and told me to take a listen, tell me what I thought. I was on cloud nine. Any time he came in and I wasn't there, he'd ask, "Where's the red-headed kid at?" One of the nicest celebrities I've ever met.

Julia Roberts: At the last minute I was invited to my first movie premiere, Hook. While it was made clear that I wasn't famous (I walked down the red carpet, and the sight of all of the paparazzi dropping their cameras as I walked by was incredibly humbling), it still was one of those moments you don't forget, where you feel like you're in the inner circle. While I met several impressive celebrities that night (Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, etc.), the one who stood out the most for me was Julia. We were about twenty feet apart, but it was one of the rare moments where I said to myself, "That is a movie star." The picture here doesn't even do justice - in person, you could feel her star power.

Charlize Theron: ...and in a similar situation...taking a temp job at MGM out of college, I started working premieres, the biggest being The Birdcage (where I talked to Robin Williams, very nice) and Goldeneye (where Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer buddied up to me to get better seats). The most memorable moment for me, though, was the premiere for a tiny film called 2 Days in the Valley. We were at Chasen's for the post-party, and most of the guys were looking to see Teri Hatcher, who was the female lead in the film. Charlize had a smaller, but incredibly memorable role (specifically for this), but when I saw her on the dance floor at the premiere, it was clear that she had the "it" factor. I'm surprised I didn't get in trouble for gawking and not doing my job.

Thomas "The Hitman"Hearns: Mandalay Bay casino, in town for the De La Hoya-Vargas fight. This day was memorable for two things: 1) my friend, seeing Lakers owner Jerry Buss with two young, beautiful ladies, yells "YOU ARE A PIMP!", causing the girls to blush and Jerry to raise his glass to him; 2) seeing The Hitman, one of my favorite fighters of all time. As I see him coming toward me, I am torn between telling him, "You are one of my favorite fighters," or, "You are one of the great ones." I shake his hand, and, stumbling through my words, say, "You are one of my favorite ones." Tommy, possibly punch-drunk or not caring, doesn't even hear it, but my brother and friends, they definitely did. "Favorite ones? Favorite ones of what? Black people?" I deserved my punishment.

Claudia Schiffer: Speaking of stumbling...the lovely model had a calendar signing at a bookstore, and I decided to go take a peek with a buddy of mine (but not wait in line for an autograph, no that wouldn't be cool). As I was looking at some books, I see Schiffer walk my way. I start walking toward her, trying to be cool, but as she gets near I trip over my feet and half-stumble in front of her. She giggles. I try to hide behind a bookcase.

Charles Barkley: While in Vegas, at the Bellagio during Super Bowl weekend, I got to see Michael Jordan play blackjack in the high rollers room, but I didn't get to talk to him. I did get to talk to Barkley, who knew my sportswriting buddy who was there with me. Charles gave me the Handsome Black Man Handshake, and was totally cool, far from the reputation he received during his playing career. I've always been a huge Chuck fan since.

Steve Martin: Technically, I've only met him once, in a flower shop, and we didn't talk, but like Carlin, he was a huge influence on me, and when he started on Twitter, I responded to a couple of his comments. He didn't retweet me or respond back, but that's not something huge (sidebar: my favorite Twitter experience was tweeting back and forth with my favorite female singer, Neko Case, while both of us watched Little Big Man). However, a few months later, Mr. Martin's assistant wrote to me, asking if he could use a couple of his tweets in his book. All I'd get is a free, not autographed copy of the book, but to be in the same book as a comedy legend, hell yeah!

Greg Maddux: So, I was at the wedding of my cousin in San Diego, and the best man was Greg Maddux, who played minor league ball with the groom. How was Greg's toast? Just like his pitching: efficient, not flashy, incredibly effective. You know what you're going to get with Greg Maddux.

If you have any amusing anecdotes to share, I'd love to hear them - drop a comment below!