I met my first celebrity while working at the Steinway building in New York. Down the street from CBS Studios. It was 1967 and the filming of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was finishing up. For several weeks, each lunchtime I bumped into Sidney Poitier on his way to lunch. He was tall. I'm short. Tall people -- even non-celebrities -- awe me. And he was oh my wow handsome.
We crossed paths at least a dozen times during a three-week period and never once did I have the courage to do more than look yearningly in his direction. Later, I could think of lots of cool stuff I could have said, but I was tongue-tied and incoherent. I could just look. That would be my pattern with celebrities for the rest of my life, at least on first meeting. If I was able to spend time with them and get past awe, recovering my ability to form words, I could have a conversation.
So while I passed by, mute, other people stopped him, asked for autographs and he graciously complied. But not me.
The area was crawling with celebrities. CBS wasn't the only studio in the area. NBC's 30 Rock was not far. And the Russian Tea Room, a very popular eatery for stars of stage and screen was across the street. One day, at the deli where everyone ate -- it was the only fast lunch place on West 57th street -- I found myself sitting next to George Hamilton. 55 years ago, he was unreal, so good-looking he might have been molded from dreams. What did Marilyn say? He was right next to me at the counter, knee to knee on stools at the counter.
"Pass the ketchup, please?" I squawked. It was the only thing I could think of. There's a very small possibility our hands brushed during the transfer.
Fortunately, stars are familiar with these reactions. They are aware the effect they have on "civilians" and do not necessarily assume we are babbling idiots or mute. They just assume we are star struck. And that's what we are. Star struck.
I am not normally tongue-tied, but each time I've met a celebrity, I can't say a word. I stand there like a stuffed dummy making gurgling noises. I did once have a little tug of war with Carly Simon over possession of a clearance sale blouse in Oak Bluffs. We didn't talk. She pulled. I pulled. She had height on her side; I had grim determination on mine. I got the blouse. She could have out-talked me, but fortunately for me, no words were required. We eye-balled each other and she decided it wasn't worth a cat fight.
Married to Garry, I got to meet President Clinton and his family twice. Close and personal with POTUS, most people find they have nothing to say. It's not just me or the man. It's the office. The aura of power surrounding it. Not to mention William Jefferson Clinton was a big, handsome guy in whose presence I would likely have been awed even if he weren't the Prez. I believe I squeaked out "You're the President; I'm not." Witty, eh?
It turns out that my behavior isn't unusual. Regular people in the presence of fame and power tend to stutter or blurt out something stupid. No one is immune, not even celebrities meeting other celebrities. We are all, on some level, Star Struck.
Just once, I'd like to meet someone I admire and say something intelligent. Anything coherent would do.