On a recent Saturday afternoon, 86-year-old Uncle Doug shared a bit of family lore about his grandfather (my great-grandfather).
When great-grandpa Henry Lee Gipson was four years old, a stranger came knocking on the door. The visitor introduced himself and went inside to conduct his business. As he was leaving, he apologized for using a pseudonym and confided that his real name was Jesse James!
(This was when Jesse and brother Frank were living in Nashville, and three or four years before “that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard” “laid poor Jesse in his grave,” as the folk song goes.)
Times have changed. Now kids are paranoid about accepting a Milky Way from a kindly stranger. In great-grandpa’s day, the protocol was “You’re getting’ a butt-whuppin’ unless you hurry up and let the train robber in!”
That insight into family history made me start thinking about the handful of famous or near-famous people I’ve met over the years. In 1977, while on a youth tour of Washington, D.C., I cornered Sen. Howard Baker (famous for the “What did the president know and when did he know it?” line during the Watergate investigation) so I could deliver an impassioned plea. The hapless senator was obviously thinking, “What is a TASER and when can I get one?”
On the same trip, outside the White House, a fast-walking President Jimmy Carter told me, “The Secret Service will have to take that.” (You’ll have to wait for my memoirs for the context on that one.) Suddenly, as I sit typing, I FINALLY experience my “what I should’a said” moment. I should have said, “Well, excuuuuuuse me!!!”
On September 23, 1980 I got to shake hands with William F. Buckley, Jr. (founder of “National Review” and host of public television’s “Firing Line”) after he delivered a speech on campus. I got the impression that if the erudite Buckley ever hit one of those thumbs with a hammer, there would be a torrent of 14-letter words.
On September 22, 1981 I turned down a chance to interview actor William Windom because leaving the theater in time to meet the writing deadline would mean missing his performance as James Thurber. Also, without the modern research crutch of the internet, I would’ve been stuck in Chris Farley mode. (“Remember when Thurber wrote that story for some magazine or another? That was awesome!”)
On November 19, 1981 I dined with public speaker/filmmaker/activist Jean Kilbourne before introducing her presentation about (sexist) “Images of Women in Advertising.” Despite promising, I STILL haven’t sent her a copy of my news article about the experience. (There are some remaining commitments ahead of her. Mrs. Shelton, I promise to have that vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano done before summer break!)
But enough about me. I’d like to hear your own accounts of meeting celebrities, either before or after they became famous. Chats in the autograph line are fine, but it would be especially interesting if you “met cute” or there was an ongoing relationship.
Have you kept the encounter to yourself, or are you a name dropper? Was the celebrity everything you expected, or less? Did they put their pants on one leg at a time, or did they lecture you that the evil capitalists at Levi should volunteer to put the pants on for you?
Enquiring minds want to know!
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.