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Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Not to Behave When Meeting a Genuine Movie Star

Kim Novak today
I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man, or a grumpy youngish man, but the "stars" of today have nothing on the true movie stars of yesteryear.  Having had the dubious privilege of seeing Tori Spelling eating salad at an out door cafe in Beverly Hills, or seeing Nicolas Cage walking down Rodeo Drive in a yellow suit with a baby, I think I know something about true celebrity...  Well, perhaps not.  But, I can tell you that when I did meet a genuine movie star, it had a quite different effect.

A few years ago, traveling with three of my little sons, I found myself in an Olive Garden restaurant in Medford, Oregon.  Now, Medford is a nice enough place, buy hardly what you'd imagine to be a celebrity filled enclave.  As we finished our Chicken Alfredos, I noticed a woman and her husband walk past.  The gentleman was very normal looking - late sixties, not too tall or distinguished, grey hair, dressed like a rancher - but his wife was very noticeable.  An older woman, pronounced cheek bones, blonde hair, dressed all in black and the sort of person who you notice when they walk into a room.  I'm not talking about looks, rather, presence.

As fans of old movies, we know our golden age film stars.  Even our now sixteen year-old son was able to name Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart as his favorite actors in third grade.  This lady reminded us of someone, and that someone was Kim Novak.  While the years had certainly passed if you looked for just a moment, you could clearly see that this woman looked just like her. 

I discreetly asked the server whether she thought that the customer looked like Kim Novak.  After explaining to this twenty-something dilettante who Kim Novak was, she said she wasn't sure (kids today).  She asked her manager, a slightly older twenty-something what he thought.  "Kim who?"  Obviously, these were not the people to ask.

Giving up hope on getting any kind of outside confirmation, this lady's escort got up and made his way for the restroom.  Torn between being incredibly rude and following him to ask whether his partner was the genuine Kim, and being a normal, thoughtful person and leaving him alone, my sons spurred me on.

Now, let me be clear.  When in the bathroom, I never...  NEVER, feel inclined to strike up a conversation with my fellow travellers.  Avoiding all eye contact at all times is my idea of restroom propriety.  I'll never understand that male willingness to chat away as if you are sitting by the fireside at what I view as a most private moment.  Completely forgetting these simple rules of behavior, I entered the room and very apologetically asked if his wife was, in fact, Kim Novak.

Caught in a stance that would have prevented him from doing anything but looking at me as if I was a complete idiot, the very patient man confirmed my suspicion.  Yes, it was her.  Did he think she would mind if we said hello and asked for her autograph?  His first response was that it was probably not a good idea.  What more could you expect when you had a man cornered against a large porcelain wall hanging of dubious use?  But, on second thought, why not, he said.

Returning to my table, I summoned up the courage to hustle my boys over to say hello.  Sounding and looking like a complete imbecile, I said, "Excuse me, we really don't want to bother you, but when you came in we thought you were someone and we asked your husband and you really are her!"  She smiled very kindly and seemed to find it a little amusing.  Telling her how much we loved her films, she took my hand and squeezed it warmly.  She asked the boys what movies they'd liked, perhaps trying to see who the real fan was, and they were good enough to answer, "The one with Jimmy Stewart", meaning Vertigo.  She was happy to sign our receipt and thanked us for stopping by.  She seemed genuinely pleased, and it was clear that she knew how to handle her public.

Now, I've reflected on this moment many times.  I am usually very articulate.  I've spent years talking to groups of people.  I've always been interested in important figures - royalty, presidents, authors.  But the only times I've forgotten myself so completely have been on meeting or seeing three people - giving flowers o the Queen, to Margaret Thatcher and meeting Kim Novak.

I guess that's what a real movie star can do.  Without saying a word, they can reduce you to a quivering mound of foolish fan-dom, or someone who will approach a complete stranger in a bathroom to ask about the identity of his wife.  But, whatever it took, what a fabulous and fun memory!

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