Thursday, November 13, 2008

Famous People I Have Kind Of Known

Thirty-some years ago, I read in Esquire magazine a humorous piece by Ed McClanahan entitled “Famous People I have Known.” I’d like to get my hands on that essay again, just to see if it’s as funny as I remember it being. This week, Joe Posnanski described on his blog some awkward encounters he has had with celebrities. It reminded me of the McClanahan piece. *

And of course Mr. Posnanski’s blog post touched off a flurry of comments in which his brilliant readers described their own brushes with the famous or infamous. This naturally led me to make my own list, with which I now proceed to regale you. These are not in chronological (or any logical) order.

Kevin Kline, the actor. He and I were theatre majors at IU. We were in a couple of classes and one production together – a radio play based on the Apollo I launching-pad disaster in 1967. Kline was dashing and smart and funny but not yet famous.

Jack Teagarden, the musician. His quintet played a concert in my home town when I was in high school. My mom knew the piano player from their time in the Army together, so we got to go back stage. I shook hands with Mr. Teagarden, but was more interested in meeting Barrett Deems, the drummer. Mr. Deems wasn’t too keen on meeting me.

Quincy Jones, the music legend. Jones was a judge at the Notre Dame jazz festival (1969 or so). My ticket was one of the winners in the drawing for some records, so I got to meet the pianist Billy Taylor and Quincy Jones and take home a couple of their LPs. I think those old records are still in the basement.

Jimmy Carter, the President. Carter visited St. Paul in about 1979 and took a riverboat cruise. A friend recruited me as a crowd control volunteer (she knew somebody who knew somebody in the Secret Service, I guess). Somehow, I got assigned to help check press credentials at the entrance (the companionway?) to the boat. Sam Donaldson, the reporter, just about knocked me aside as he hurried by. The President and his wife said hello (from behind a phalanx of secret service guys and reporters) as they boarded.

Rudy Giuliani, the political dilettante. I went to a conference (1982 or thereabouts) in Denver sponsored by the Department of Justice. Mr. Giuliani was at that time a high-level functionary at DOJ. He gave a very boring speech one morning. Because I was on the discussion panel for the session following his speech, we shook hands as he left the stage.

Rudy Perpich, the Governor of Minnesota. Governor Perpich signed some kind of grand proclamation related to my profession. I and about a dozen others each received a signed and sealed copy of the proclamation and each had our photo taken with the governor. I gave my picture to my mother-in-law, who had been a high-school classmate of Rudy Perpich. She thought that was pretty cool.

John Volpe, the Governor of Massachusetts. My grandmother gave Volpe some money during his campaign so she got invited to a reception at his house. She dragged her darling little grandkids along, which the Governor’s staff clearly did not appreciate.

Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett, baseball players. At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, my eldest son and I got to meet Mr. Winfield and Mr. Puckett. Just a handshake in an impromptu reception line, but it was pretty fun. Some years later, I was walking through the Los Angeles airport when Winfield strode past in the other direction. I waved and yelled “David!” About an hour later, I realized that Winfield was flying back to Minneapolis to attend the public memorial service at the Metrodome following Puckett’s untimely death.

Tony Oliva, baseball player. Walking along the Metrodome concourse before a game, my youngest son and I ran (almost literally) into Tony O, who must have been on his way up to the broadcast booth (Tony does commentary on the Twins’ Spanish-language broadcasts). I introduced my son and they shook hands. Tony is one of my all-time favorite players. He is such a gracious gentleman.

Tony Bouza, cop and erstwhile politician. Bouza is a minor Minnesota celebrity, having been a very colorful and entertaining chief of police in Minneapolis. He once threw me out of his office. After he retired and was running for something (governor?), we played on the same charity softball team for one game. Dude could not hit a lick.

My daddy. Ok, he’s not famous, but he’s my favorite character. He’s a very kind, very modest, very smart guy. The epitome of control and class. He rarely swore, preferring some euphemism. If another driver did something dumb, dad would mutter “you hamburger” under his breath. If one of his kids did something dumb, he might say “Judas priest!” Working on getting a stubborn bolt unbolted or hammering a nail into an especially hard board, he’d say “that thing is tougher’n whang leather!” His strongest general-use epithets were “sonofabuck” or “well...hell.”

* The interwebs are so amazing. Ed McClanahan, I learned with just a few mouse clicks, turned his essay into an autobiography with the same title. The sonofabuck even has (surprise) his own web site, where you can get free samples of his writing. He’s wobbling toward geezerhood, but some of you might enjoy his stuff.


Bleeet said...

I guess I'm wondering why I was not in your list.

Penelope said...

I was a kid who read a lot, and one of the authors I enjoyed was Marilyn Sachs, the author of many, many works of juvenile fiction over the course of her long career, but at the time known to me primarily for Veronica Ganz, about a girl who was a bully, and a trio of books about feuding sisters named Laura and Amy. My mother got involved in SF Bay Area literary circles in the early '70s and we were eventually invited to meet Marilyn, who also lived in San Francisco. Well, our families went on to become longtime friends: her children were about the same ages as my brother and me, and we all attended many picnics and holiday gatherings together. Coming as I did from a quiet, not very sociable, isolated family unit (all our not-very-many relatives were in England), I discovered via the Sachses a whole new world of friendly but vigorous dinner-table discussions, of warm welcomes, of New York accents, of lives lived by words and art (Marilyn's husband was a sculptor). Knowing them was one of the great blessings of my youth.

When I was in high school I was invited to attend a talk the great anthropologist Margaret Mead was giving specifically for selected students. I didn't actually meet her, but I still remember the awe I felt to be in the same room with her -- as I remember it, she sat in the center of the room and the students were arrayed around her in a circular arrangement of chairs.

I got to hear Mary Chapin Carpenter, known then and I believe still to her friends as Chapin, sing in the late '70s at Brown, where we were both students; she was already amazing (news of her talent spread quickly through the school), and I still feel that if I could choose to have anyone's voice, it would be her smoky alto.

At the Carleton faculty/staff start-of-year garden party at Nutting House the day that Garrison Keillor spoke at Opening Convo, sometime in the mid-'90s, he walked right up to me and shook my hand, and engaged my little group in conversation for several minutes. I remember I had recently lost some weight after the arrival of my second child and felt I was looking pretty good for a change, and I couldn't help taking the fact that he picked me to walk up to as a kind of compliment (probably completely misguided of me!).

Jim H. said...

Dearest Brendon:

My oversight, and I apologize. Look for a blog post detailing our appearance together in that Marx brothers radio play at Theatre Afield. That was way more fun than the oh-so-serious radio play from 1967 with Mr. Kline.

Besides, your sun shines so brightly now, you hardly need this little blog to enhance your profile (so to speak).

Jim H. said...


Didn't Marylin have a little store on Fifth Avenue, too?

Good story about the imposing Mr. Keillor. If recall correctly, Rob Hardy did some work for Keillor and, after that experience, dubbed Keillor "The Great One."

John T. said...

Around 1980 I worked at a 7-11 store on the corner of Fairview and St. Clair Avenue in Saint Paul. I was at the till and a grandmotherly woman I knew was near the back of the store.
A really tall guy walked in. I was thinkng,"this guy should play basketball".
He handed me a check and I saw that it had no phone number as policy required so I requested it(his phone number) from him. He told me I couldn't have it. I told him that was fine, he couldn't have any gas.
He said no I really can't give you my phone number. As the exchange continued, "you don't understand, people call me." I said "Why would I ever want to call you."
Just then my elderly work partner came up from the back. She almost got on here knees and exclaimed, "Kevin McHale! blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Mr McHale looked at me as if to say,"I told you so". Then he put his number on the check and walked out past a line of wide eyed people behind him. I was pretty embarassed.
He's the only famous person I ever met, or that I know I've met.
One of my roomates at the time was a big sports fan. Telling him the story was almost more exiting than the actual encounter.

Rob Hardy said...

I've met Brendon.

At her boarding school in Northampton, Mass., my Mom had tea with JFK. At Cornell, she took a class with Nabokov. But meeting famous people must skip generations.

But I have met Brendon. That was a thrill.

Pat Fuller said...

I loved this post! However, I don't have ANY memory of a reception at Gov. Volpe's. . . oh, oh.