I think you'll be surprised who was the most memorable.
I've met a few famous people in my lifetime. Not many, but a few. Six of them stand out for different reasons.
The first one...well....I never met her, but I am including her because she is the first, and thus...very important.
When I was 8 years old, I fell in love with a show called That Girl. Marlo Thomas starred in it and she wore clothes that I felt would be perfect for me when I grew up. I wanted to be Ann Marie so BADLY. I was crazy about her boyfriend, Don Hollinger and planned to find someone exactly like him to hook up with.
When I was nine, I discovered that Marlo Thomas was making an appearance at a JC Penney's in Omaha. Luckily, both of my older sisters loved her too and wanted to see her. I remember that her appearance was on a Saturday, so my mother arranged for us to spend the night with an Aunt who lived in the city and my oldest sister, Patrice, was allowed to drive us. I was so excited that I could barely sleep. What should we wear? Patrice was 17 and Celia, 13. We planned carefully. I still remember the dress that I wore. It was a bright yellow sundress and I wore white patent leather shoes with it. I carefully polished the shoes with Vaseline before we left. I wore curlers the night before in an attempt to make my straight-as-a-seal hair curl. Unfortunately, the left side of my curlers all fell out in the night, so I had one side of curls and the other side was straight. No matter. By noon, the curls were completely gone.
We arrived at my Aunt Dottie's home and prepared to go with our girl cousins to JC Penneys. We decided to leave an hour early and it was lucky that we did because, boy howdy, it was packed. We finally parked the car in the farthest reaches of the parking lot and trooped in. I held my sister Celia's hand tightly. My head revolved back and forth as we approached the room where Marlo Thomas was to judge a teen fashion show. I honestly thought that she would just be strolling around and I didn't want to miss her. We were discouraged to find that all the seats were already taken and we would have to stand. No matter. Patrice promised to pick me up when Marlo hit the stage so that I would be able to see her. And she did.
The room darkened and the familiar That Girl! music came blaring over the speakers. Everyone hushed and then suddenly Marlo Thomas came bouncing in wearing a yellow sundress that was remarkably like MINE. Her hair was perfectly bobbed into a flip and her eyelashes looked like they were standing about two inches off her face. I clapped and clapped so hard that my hands stung for hours.
It was over in a remarkably short time. Patrice held me for a while but soon I proved too heavy, so she set me down on a nearby display case where I was sorely tempted to stand up to see better, but could still hear my mother's admonishing voice in my ears, telling us to "Keep your manners on!" I suspected that standing on a display case would be bad manners, so instead, I balanced on my knees, straining to see Marlo. Once, she looked over my way and I could have sworn that she winked at me. My sisters thought so too. When we went home the next day, they reported to our mother that "Marlo winked at Maria! She did!"
I don't think she really did. But, it was nice to believe it for a while.
My next celebrity meeting would not take place until 13 years later. (I'm skipping the Osmond Brothers, my very first concert, because I didn't meet them. I just wore purple for Donny and sang along to my favorite song, which was called "Crazy Horses." Go to u-tube and listen...it is hilarious. I do remember thinking it was sooooo cool when they all pranced around like horses and even pretended to rear up when the horse sound...areerrr...areerrrr....came.)
Oh, what the fuck...you haven't lived until you hear "Crazy Horses"....
My next experience was when I was 19 years old and I went home with Bing, who was my dorm mate to New Orleans for spring break.
There, in a restaurant, sitting AT THE NEXT TABLE, was Michael Cole.
Please don't ask who Michael Cole is. Please. He was the stone cold fox who played Pete Cochran in the television series, "The Mod Squad."
I loved every hair on his head. Even after the show ran it's course and I no longer sat in front of the family television, riveted.
And there he was. SITTING right next to us. I nearly swallowed my freakin' gum, dudes.
I nudged Bing and whispered in her ear that MICHAEL COLE was sitting right next to us. She was puzzled, looked even when I expressly said, "DO NOT LOOK!"
And had no idea who he was. Probably because she had never seen the show.
I sat thinking hard, trying to figure out how to get him to LOOK AT ME.
He seemed intent on talking to an older dude, probably his agent. Bing's Aunt was at the table too and had heard my murmurings of awe. She told me that she thought he was in town with a traveling theater production of Arsenic and Old Lace.
I wanted to meet him SOOOO BADLY. And then...remarkably...my chance came. The older guy sitting with Michael got up and left and without thinking it through, I swiftly got up from my seat, made my way to Michael and babbled some nonsense about how I was his biggest fan. He smiled. It was a tired smile, but he made it sincere.
"So," he said. "Do you want an autograph?"
"Um...well...I didn't bring a pen and paper," I said stupidly. He smiled, clicked a Bic that he drew from his pocket and signed a paper napkin and handed it to me. I took it. And then, he looked at me with his cool blue eyes and said, "So, what's your name and do you want to go into show business?
I told him no, that I was planning a career in medicine. He nodded.
"Good plan," he said. "Fame is fleeting. Curing cancer will last forever."
He motioned me to sit down and I did. And then he spent ten minutes just talking to me, like a regular person. He asked a lot of questions. What was my favorite band? Was I enjoying college? Where did I see myself in ten years?
And then the old dude came back and our conversation ended. Michael introduced him to me as his manager and said to him, "I'd like you to meet my new friend, Maria. She is studying to be a doctor."
Michael smiled at me lazily, sweetly. The old dude made some comment about did I know how to treat erectile dysfunction because it was rearing it's ugly head. And then he laughed sleazily over his use of the word head.
Micheal looked at me and rolled his eyes. I thanked him for the conversation and got up to leave.
He stood up and gave me a hug. Whispered in my ear.
"Thanks for not asking me if I date Peggy Lipton," his hushed voice poured into my ear.
I floated back to my table. Michael and the old guy left soon after and when Michael passed by me, he gently squeezed my shoulder. I could hardly breathe.
I told Bing that I would never wash my shoulder again and she snickered.
I just asked her if she remembered this part of our history and she had the audacity to say, "Who the hell is Michael Cole?"
I would meet another celebrity within a year.
Steven Tyler. Yes. From Aerosmith and American Idol.
It was 1979. They were playing at an arena a few hours away from my college. I was 20, but I had an id that said I was 21. I was also unbelievably high, as were all of my friends, when we went to the Aerosmith concert. We rented rooms at a nearby hotel and decided to sleep four to a room.
As we trooped into the arena, I was wearing jeans and high heels. A long man's shirt with a tie hanging halfway down. I'd worn my long hair in tiny braids for days and took it out so that it kinked around my head like a halo.
I thought I looked incredible.
Did I mention that I was really, really high?
The concert was great. As we were leaving, one of the band's networking team asked some of us if we'd like to go backstage and meet the band. The chose only three of us out of a group of 12.
"Only the hot ones are invited," they said.
I guess I was one of the hot ones.
If I had been older and wiser, I would have told them where to shove it. I wasn't. So I went, along with two of my friends, both willowy blondes.
We agreed to remember everything and share with our friends when we got back to the hotel room, which was in walking distance of the auditorium.
We were led down a long hallway and asked to show id that we were 21. We did this. And then I was suddenly face to face with Joe Perry. Walking around shirtless with boxers shorts on and a top hat. And he was ripped. He smiled, tipped his beer at us and held his arms out in a welcoming gesture. Bowed slightly. Almost tipped over, righted himself.
He was gorgeous. He was also tripping out royally on something. Not sure what it was.
And then I heard that trademark cackle. And sitting on a sofa, with a girl under each arm, was Steven Tyler.
He was incredibly ugly in a terrifically sexy way. His black eye makeup had run in two rivulets down his face. His painted red mouth was wide and his teeth whiter than snow. He was taking turns fondling two girls who were perched like hungry kittens next to him, pawing him for attention.
He looked up at us and said, "Wow. More maids a milking?"
I had no idea how to reply to that so I stood silently as one of my friends said something totally dorky about loving his work.
He stood up then, tall and lean. Bare chested and as he came to hug us one by one, I realized that he stank. Badly. Really serious b.o.
He could have cared less.
As he tipped his bottle of something brown to his lips, I thought to myself that he was the sexiest ugly man that I had ever seen. There was something unsettling and dangerous about him, but also something else. I decided it was charisma. He had charisma.
He smiled into my eyes once and I thought that maybe he was the devil but I didn't care.
He started to sing an old Beach Boys song:
The midwest farmer's daughters really make you feel all right....
We just smiled, three common midwestern bugs caught in his flossy spider web. As he swirled around us, the girls that he'd left sitting on the sofa sat pouting, literally puffing out their bottom lips. It would have been hysterically funny if I wasn't so mesmerized, so tantalized, so bewitched by Steven Tyler. Half of me wanted to jump up and down in front of him screaming pick me! pick me! while the other half was absolutely terrified that he would pick me and then what the HELL would I do?
Without warning, he suddenly seized me with one arm and crushed me against him, giving me a smacky kiss on the cheek. I stiffened and he burst out laughing and released me. He looked over at Joe Perry and said something like, "Here, take this one. You like the Jackie Kennedy ones." No idea what he meant by that.
I looked down at my feet and when I looked up, it seemed that Joe Perry had taken Steven Tyler's advice. He put his arm around me and guided me to the door. I felt very young, very unsure and almost nauseated. But no worries. When we got to the door, he opened it and smiled, told me to go left and when I saw the red door to go through it and I would be back in the auditorium.
"You're too sweet and pretty to be in that hardcore room," he said. He waved congenially at me as I walked out the door and I admit to being very, very relieved. Hours later, when my two friends returned, they were unnaturally quiet, didn't share much. Many years later, one of them confessed to me that nothing happened, that the guys in the band left soon after with a girl apiece under their arms, not them. And that they partied a little with the roadies but none of them were Aerosmith and they would all be leaving in the morning for Cleveland, so what was the use of getting down with them?
So, yes. I met Steven Tyler. And yes, he was and is a rock god. Charisma and charm spilling every which way. But, I think that Joe Perry was the better man. He got me to the door unscathed. I think that the girl that Tyler ended up with was probably eaten neatly in one gulp.
After that, 13 years would pass before I met my next celebrity.
I was 34 years old when I met Bill Clinton in Council Bluffs, Iowa at a campaign stop. I was pretty well into my career by then, working at a hospice for AIDS patients. I was, and still am, a liberal Democrat, but at that time in my life, I was pretty much a mess. I had escaped from a destructive relationship, was making an excellent living, lived by myself in a gorgeous town home that I paid a professional to decorate in Danish Modern, but I was less me than I have ever been in my life. I spent my days working hard, counseling dying men and went out after hours with my colleagues, all men. We partied hard almost nightly, escaping from the puke green walls of the hospice and the sweet, cloying smell of death. I slept around and preferred it that way. Men. Women. Didn't matter. When I felt the crushing loneliness of being disowned by my family, I found someone to go to bed with. And better if they had mushrooms, weed or Jack Daniels. Or all three. I once spent Christmas with a man that I met at a party. He had some very good weed and we alternated fucking and watching White Christmas. We laughed a lot. I forgot his name soon after he left and then ended up crying alone as Bing Crosby sang "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know...."
I guess this is why I blanch when someone tells me that my life seems so...golden. It is beautiful now, but I have paid my dues, people. And then some.
You can only party like that when you are young. I could never get away with getting tight every single night now. But, I pretty much did it then.
It was close to the 1993 presidential election and Bill and Hilary Clinton were making the rounds of the heartland. I went with Luke, a fellow shrink, to some hotel in Council Bluffs to hear our next president speak. And he was incredibly good. Afterwards, there was a picnic themed supper in tents, complete with long tables heaped with corn on the cob, hot dogs, chili sauce, potato salad and baked beans. Hamburgers. Cold beers.
I sat down with Luke and we chowed down and then heads started turning and there came Bill and Hilary, Chinet plates in hand. Remarkably, they both sat down across the table from us and to our left. Luke and I looked at each other and laughed in amazement. I couldn't resist peeking at their plates. Bill's plate was heaped with a hot dog smothered in chili sauce with potato salad and baked beans and corn. An aide set down a slice of apple pie next to him. He wasn't drinking beer, but Pepsi. Hilary's plate, on the other hand, was dainty. She had a small scoop of potato salad and someone had sliced her hot dog into small doable bites. She had no dessert and was drinking iced tea. Someone asked her if it was "sweet tea" and she laughed nicely. "No!" she said. "Actually, I don't even like sweet tea!" Everyone thought that this was hilarious. Secret service agents hovered.
I can't remember what the conversation was about that night because I was too busy watching the Clinton's eat like regular people. I can tell you that Hilary was mostly silent, except to nod sweetly at her husband. She got up halfway through the meal and was escorted to another table to visit. Bill stayed with our table for the remainder of the meal. I suspect that he talked about soybean and corn prices, the stock market and how he would clean up the budget. I remember that he had a wonderful laugh and used it well. He made small talk with everyone at the table, even me. I remember that he asked me what I did for a living and when I told him, he smiled genuinely at me and said, "Bless your heart, darlin. Bless your giving heart."
Like almost everyone there, I wanted him to be our next president.
And he was.
Five years later, I went to a humdrum seminar in Miami, Florida. I had left the hospice by then and was now working as psych on call in a hospital emergency room. I worked the 3-11 shift and dealt mostly with intoxicated men and women, a few seriously ill people, but mostly it was relatively boring. The more interesting cases would appear after midnight usually. But, when I went to this seminar, I was a little more evolved than the woman who met Bill Clinton.
I had just made the decision to try to get pregnant. I had decided on a sperm bank since I was not meeting any guys who wanted to be my baby daddy. I was three months clean and sober. Just getting over the jittery GOD IS IT EVER GONNA STOP HURTING? HOW CAN I LIVE IN THIS FUCKED UP WORLD DRUG FREE AND SOBER????
I remember that the hotel was gorgeous and that everything was sun splashy and golden yellow. I had left the prairie on the tail end of a sudden late March blizzard and arrived in this land of warmth and sun. I felt baptized with heat and I was happy. I had not packed my diaphragm and actually considered maybe meeting a good looking, smart stranger and getting knocked up.
I can't remember what the seminar was about now but I do remember that there were a lot of new age products there, holistic ideas to go side by side with western medicine. During a dinner of shrimp on a weird looking barbie, I overheard someone mention that Jerry Lewis was staying in our hotel, that he was playing at some resort. I remember thinking that he was that telethon guy, wasn't he? And then forgetting all about him.
The next day, I decided to go shopping for a new purse to take home with me. And just as the elevator opened, a man looked out at me and said harshly, "You need to catch the next one. Sorry." I looked past him and saw this old looking other man sort of hovering in the back. He looked at me and then said, "No, Pete. Let her in. She looks harmless enough!" And then he smiled at me. And I thought to myself, Wow. That's Jerry Lewis!
I got on the elevator and the doors closed. I looked over at him and smiled but didn't try to start a conversation. Right before the doors opened, Jerry looked over at me and smiled. His teeth were yellowish and that surprised me. I thought movie stars all had very white teeth.
And then Jerry said, "Thanks for bringing your beauty to an old man's day. Enjoy!"
I was tongue tied. No idea why, but I was. We both got off the elevator. Jerry and his body guard, or whoever the hell he was, went left and I went right.
And that was my meet and greet with Jerry Lewis.
And now...the worst experience.
Let's see...this happened when Bing and I had just gotten back together for the second time. Liv had just turned five, so I was 46. Bing booked a gig to play percussion with the symphony when Judy Collins was giving a concert with them.
I have always adored Judy Collins' songs. That brilliant soprano. Those gorgeous eyes. Send in The Clowns always made me tear up. Also...another sort of obscure song of hers called Houses. I asked Bing to get me a ticket so that I could see her play percussion with Judy Collins. She was able to get me a back stage pass.
The day of her first and only rehearsal, I drove her to the Orpheum theater and we walked in. Bing reminded me that I was NOT to go up to Judy Collins and try to talk to her and I promised that I wouldn't. She had shown me a memo that she and all the other musicians had received. It said:
No one is to speak or look at Miss Collins. Keep within six feet of her at all times. No exceptions.
I figured that it was just a precaution. It wasn't. During the rehearsal, she came out and stood woodenly to the side. She spoke to the conductor a few times but that was it. Otherwise, she only spoke to another elderly woman who was with her, maybe an aide. The aide would then speak to the person that Judy Collins needed to know something. She completely ignored the musicians and they politely obeyed the rule, although I'm sure some of them snuck looks at her. I mean, even at her advanced age, she was gorgeous. Bing respectfully kept her eyes averted and stuck to her timpani playing.
It was absurd.
Later, as we were walking through the lobby to go out to our car, I happened to see a flash of pink emerge from a side door. It was Judy Collins and her friend. They had coats on and were heading towards the door at the same time that we were. Judy had on a sort of pillbox hat with a shimmery pink veil. Bing grabbed my elbow to stop me but I kept on walking. When we got to the door, I opened it for her. She glanced icily at me and said simply, "Thank you." I said, "It's my pleasure, Ms. Collins. I love your music."
She completely ignored my statement and walked away.
Bing was furious with me, worried that I had cost her the job and I felt terrible, but nothing was said when she arrived at the set that evening. I sat in the audience and saw Judy Collins looking elegant and lovely, warm and kind as she chatted sweetly with us in the seats. No trace of the frozen faced, glacially cold songstess who had been at the rehearsal, who had snubbed me as I held the door open for her. In retrospect, I suppose she was probably sick of being asked for her autograph, being gaped at, with people wanting to speak to her, touch her, be her friend for the hour. I guess I get it.
But, still. Well, I can never listen to her music now and think of her as this free flowing gorgeous hippie woman with the flowing silky hair and the soft soaring voice. Now, I think of her icy glare at me when I opened the door for her.
So...now it's YOUR turn. Who have you met? Were they nice? Not so much.