Star-Struck Among the Notorious, the Rich, the Famous and the Legendary

Facebook’s “applications” run the gamut from Mafia Wars and Texas Hold ‘Em through responses to provocative quizzes resulting in “totally accurate” personal profiles all the way to exchanging of mixed drinks, pumping bling-blinged-up hearts, cuddly stuffed toy animals, smiles, hugs, or pearls of wisdom.

In the wee hours of the morning, not one of us FB enthusiasts rises above gleeful participation in the wiles, whimsy, or temptations which Facebook’s “playland” offers. Silly. Fun. Surprising. Addictive.

One of these efforts blossomed into incredibility. No, not that I may have been Mahatma Gandhi in a past life nor that my personality mimics Sheriff Andy Taylor’s? “LIST FIVE FAMOUS PEOPLE YOU HAVE MET.” Hesitatingly and with some impressive effort, I recorded tiny man Billy Barty with whom I danced because once I rivaled his height of three feet—of course, I was four years old at that magic time. Band leader Spike Jones watched from the stage as Billy hustled into the audience to choose me as his partner. So, the first two blanks were easy filler-inners.

Ah, Robert Young, who starred on “Father Knows Best” every Wednesday evening, passed by our family, pedestrian style, as all of us ambled along the Chicago sidewalk outside Marshall Field’s Department Store on a sunny afternoon. “Hey, how ya doin’, sir?” Daddy inquired of a passer-by in the windy city of “big shoulders”! Mother, sister Sarah and I asked whom he had just greeted. He reached, grasped, struggled for the name, “Oh, you know…uh…uh…FATHER KNOWS BEST?” “ROBERT YOUNG?” we squealed as we rapidly pivoted to pursue this “beyond popular” television and FILM star for a full two blocks, noticing the patches on his sport-coated elbows, his signature look for certain. Pigeon flocks, however, congregated and slowed us to a phobic halt as Mr. Young became tinier and tinier, dissolving somewhere into the far distant horizon.

President Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan rounded out my facebook response, vice-presidential hopeful and long, tall Texan Lyndon having appeared at a local Democratic Fish-Fry Fund-Raiser at our 4-H Pavilion in 1960 and Ronnie featured as the main speaker at a 1983 PTA convention, immediately following his encounter with an assassin-wannabe only one month earlier. We ladies left our hand-bags in the huge lobby of the auditorium as a security measure in order to ogle and to listen to the bullet-proof-vested movie star/president.

Ten-year-old “young author” Roy, who had won that trip to New Mexico in order to read aloud for the pleasure of conventioneers his RAGGEDY ANDY’S TOUR OF THE U.S.A., spotted official White House reporter Sam Donaldson standing agitatedly in a lengthy ticket-line at the Albuquerque Airport and snapped his picture, prior to our boarding a plane only to be seated beside a secret service agent who resembled Pat Boone. This affable, rather surreptitious gentleman never frisked nor disarmed Roy of his newly purchased, official, copiously feathered, sharp Indian spear souvenir which the three of us straddled throughout the journey to our next stop, Denver . That fellow turned out to be quite “legit” as he eventually hand-delivered little Roy’s prize-winning essay to President Reagan who personally wrote a tremendous “thank you” note upon a glossy photograph which arrived in the mail the very week my dad, Roy’s beloved grand-pa and namesake, died.

Thus, six celebrities readily at my beck and call. Suddenly flood-gates opened:

Song and dance girl Mitzi Gaynor; a temper-tantrum throwing John Davidson; an unfunny Bob Newhart; a hilarious Pete Barbutti; character-actor-and-Grandpa of the Waltons–Will Geer portraying Robert Frost; Eric Sevareid; Helen Hayes whom I served tea; Fredric March and wife Florence Eldridge; Count Basie; John Carradine and Shepherd Strudwick and Duncan Reynaldo (the latter in full regalia as the jingling, sombrero-ed, over-dressed CISCO KID!)–all three actors at our downtown Walgreen’s Drugstore after Sunday morning church services.

Incredibly, as a sixteen-year-old apprentice at Warsaw ’s Wagon Wheel Playhouse, daily “hobnobbing” with McLean Stevenson filled an entire summer vacation. “Mac” later achieved his greatest fame as a substitute host for Johnny Carson’s TONIGHT SHOW, portraying Doris Day’s boss on her seventies’ sit-com…and most notably as an integral player on the MASH television series—Lt. Colonel Henry Blake!

More gloriously glittering souls glided through my percolating mind: Ossie Davis (whose character’s name in his original Broadway play, PURLIE VICTORIOUS, became the name of our beloved first shelter dog acquired during our third year of marriage); Donald O’Conner (star of LITTLE ME!); Forrest Tucker as THE MUSIC MAN; James Whitmore portraying Will Rogers; quasi-idol of fifties’ teens, Tommy Sands (Sinatra’s son-in-law for ten minutes); Ray Romano; Alex Haley; George Plimpton; director John Sayles, John Cusack, Charlie Sheen on the set of EIGHT MEN OUT; jazz singer/riffer Bobbie McFerrin; unforgettable, wholesome, dreamy Van Johnson starring as Murray in A THOUSAND CLOWNS, the most poignant and undoubtedly funniest Broadway play ever written!

Celebrity sightings galore exploded within my recollections: Bob Hope (special guest appearance when the War Memorial Coliseum opened in very early fifties’ Fort Wayne—first shuttle bus I ever rode all squished together with frantic humanity, and my dad nearly came to fisticuffs with a bullying, pushy fan); Marilyn Maxwell; gorgeous and sublimely talented Calypso-King Harry Belafonte at the Detroit Opera House; Francis Sternhagen with whom I chopped onions and who recently starred in that Julia Childs movie alongside Meryl Streep; Tom Bosley (as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia); Crystal Gayle; Lou Rawls; Johnny Mathis; Michael Feinstein; the lead singer and creator of Four Bitchin’ Babes in solo concert; eight-year-old Evan Bayh walking tentatively and shyly between his parents Marvella and Birch while holding their hands…(and wearing a formal dinner jacket and short pants!); pop singer Linda Eder; June Allyson and her daughter; and possibly, reclusive Greta Garbo in sun glasses and scarf maybe approximately17 times while we spent three days in downtown New York City. ;D

Oh, the Harlem Globe Trotters featuring Meadowlark Lemon. An ancient Jerry Lewis. Jack Nicklaus. Gary Player. Bill Clinton. Just missed Dyan Cannon who skipped a matinee of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING to marry …. CARY GRANT! And a local legend who cured me of tonsillitis on Christmas Day the very year I received the walking, blinking doll of my dreams as well as my home-permed “TONI” (secretly dressed by next-door seamstress Aunt Lellie) and Dick Tracy’s newborn daughter “BONNIE BRAIDS” whose long flaxen hair could be tugged from two holes on either side of her smiling, rubbery face. Realizing I needed to “mother” three new malleable “children”, Dr. John (Langohr) met my dad and droopy, sniffly me at the Linvill clinic, where the good doctor stethoscoped, tongue compressed, poured medicine down my throat, inoculated and, thus, facilitated my reunion with my new miniature family waiting, patiently and rather non-animatedly, beneath the live, decorated pine-tree branches for my return to our cozy living room.

But, hey, what to my celebrity-star-struck eyes should appear?
My most beloved childhood “hero” with or without his deer!

Twas 1950, I saw ole Santy trapped in our upstairs.
No, not at Wolf & Dessauer’s holding kids singly or in pairs.

Locked inside our only bathroom donning his Kris Kringle clothes,
Into the hall-way he walked! Boot by boot, down the steps he goes!

I crept ‘long behind this chap who left through our green-wreathed front door.
Why, Mama, is Mr. Claus leaving us now? Whatever for?

‘Twas “our little secret” she shared as S.C. moved outta sight:
“He’s headed downtown for ALL the town’s kids—so shout out, ‘Good Night!’”

Whether you believe this tale or not, Father Christmas dressed here
Once upon a time, then headed outside to spread festive cheer.

Visit the tiny crimson house on the courthouse lawn—you’ll see
That happy fellow who once stopped at our house and winked at me.

I personally knew this “Ole Santy” 37 years.
His specialty? Gifts of Wrangler jeans to little local dears!

“Merry Christmas to all…and to all a good night,” from THE OLD TYPE WRITER!

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