Tuesday, November 09, 2021

My brushes with stardom (or famous people I’ve bumped into by accident)

by Rick Blechta

I loved the post by Douglas yesterday, and having not a jot of an idea about what to write about today, I’m going to riff off his post.

I seem to have a knack to run into famous people. I don’t know why this is; it just happens.

Here’s a list and a very brief description of each encounter:

  1. When I was 15, I caddied for Ed Sullivan. Really. He wasn’t a terrific golfer and disliked giving up on a ball off the fairway, so I spent a lot of time in tall grass and the borders of the woods surrounding the fairways. He was a good tipper, though. And the way he was on his TV show was the way he was in real life, so you could say I spent 18 holes on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  2. I slammed jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery’s hand in an elevator in New York City. It was one of those self-operating ones. I was shutting the outer door when he stuck his hand in to stop me. I wasn’t paying any attention and was in a rush because my brother was double-parked on the street below — at rush hour (not a good thing in the Big Apple). Fortunately I didn’t break anything! Wes wasn’t too happy with me, though.
  3. I once got on an elevator in the Toronto Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s headquarters. The Prime Minister of Canada at the time, Jean Cretien followed me in along with his two Mountie bodyguards. Trouble was I had a very lethal pair of scissors in my pocket at the time. We went up several floors silently with me trying to melt into a corner so I wouldn’t be noticed while I kept my hands far away from the pocket where the scissors were.
  4. By far the most amazing event was meeting Eric Clapton and spending over an hour chatting with him. Trouble was, I didn’t know it was him until at least an hour had passed. I’d never seen him with a beard. His band at the time, Cream, was playing in New York the next day and needed some speakers repaired. He knew the repairman from a previous gig in town and decided to spend the afternoon with him (better than sitting in some hotel room). I rushed in needing a speaker repaired for a gig I had that night. Tony, the repairman, asked Eric if he could just take care of me, and then get back to work on Cream’s blown speakers. I assumed the bearded Englishman was one of Cream’s roadies, so while Tony worked, I chatted with him. I asked about touring with Cream and he answered that it was gruelling, complaining that he was tired of listening to Jack Bruce (bass) and Ginger Baker (drums) fighting all the time. Almost done with my speaker, Tony said he’d like a coffee. Eric offered to go to the luncheonette down the street and asked if I’d like a coffee too. I declined. As he left, Tony called out, “Thanks, Eric! I appreciate it.” Then the penny dropped. All I could think about were the things I was asking him as if he was just a nobody roadie and not really twigging on to the way he was talking about the band. Boy, did I feel like an idiot!

There were other brushes with fame, but these are the cream of the crop.

Oh! One more that's too good not to share: my darling wife once hit Richard Nixon in the head with a door…


Anna said...

Rick, are you really going to leave us with that throwaway line about Richard Nixon, your wife, and the door?

Same generation: I shook JFK's hand when he was campaigning in 1960 and sitting on the back of his convertible waiting to speak in a mall parking lot. I edged through the crowd toward him, calculated when he would turn in my direction, and caught his eye by sticking out my hand. If then had been now, I'd have been grappled to the ground many yards away.

But now I'm begging you: let us have the story about your wife and RMN! Please1

Sybil Johnson said...

What interesting encounters you've had. And, yes, I want to know about Nixon too!

Tanya said...

Thanks for the great stories, and yes, please spill more about the Nixon incident.

What is it about elevators? Nearly 40 years ago, I had a brief but very pleasant encounter with Ella Fitzgerald in an elevator at the Waldorf in NYC. I was staying there for a business conference, and she was performing at a roast there that evening (I can't even remember who the guest of honor was). She had on a sparkly evening gown, fancy earrings, the whole bit, but chatted with me as if we were in line at the grocery store. What a class act!

Another fun encounter was at a cable industry convention in the late '90s. I was in a small group talking with Tony Bennett and when he greeted me, he kissed me on the cheek. He was oozing charm that day!

Rick Blechta said...

Okay, you want to know about the Richard Nixon caper, so here goes…

I've actually known my wife, Vicki, since 8th Grade. Her family moved from northern NY State to the NYC area and she was in my homeroom. We didn't get to know each other, though, until much later. The reason for the move was that her dad got a job with a New York City law firm called Nixon Mudge.

This was the mid-60s and after losing the presidential election to JFK, Nixon was out of politics for a few years. So a partnership in a big NYC law firm was a smart move.

In 1966, her dad offered to take her out to lunch in The City, so she took the train all by herself and then a cab to get to her dad's workplace-- sort of a big deal for a 15-year-old young lady from the country, so she was naturally very excited.

Once in the office, the receptionist told her to go through a certain door and "three doors down on the left is your dad's office." As this was being said, Vicki was already pushing the glass door open, but looking back at the receptionist speaking to her.

At the same time, Tricky Dick was reaching for the door handle on the other side while also talking to someone with him.


The door hit him in the forehead pretty hard and he wasn't very gracious about it, telling her, "You should look where you're going!" as he pushed past.

Her dad also was probably not pleased that she'd clanged a door off the forehead of his boss. Consequently, she didn't talk about it for years.

Rick Blechta said...

And you met Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett, Tanya? Boy, am I envious!

Tanya said...

Yes, those brief encounters were definitely highlights. During the couple of years I worked in market research, I met other celebrities at cable industry conferences, but Ella and Tony stick in my mind as two of the most gracious.

Andi said...

Wow! Ricky, I don't remember you telling me of either of the those Guitar Player moments! I have to say that I would not trade them for the times that I spent with David. When I saw him on Youtube doing an interview it brought back all those times and he seemed absolutely the same! Mush of what he said then he said to me 40, 50 or more years ago. - Andy C.

Douglas Skelton said...

Great stuff, Rick!