George Steinbrenner's death on Tuesday caused me to stop reflect back on the lively conversation we had many years ago at a retraining session. That in turned caused me to reminisce about other encounters with some well known people I have met over the past 20 plus years. Meeting 'celebrities', talking to them was at time an art form for me. Below are a few of the crazy meetings I have enjoyed in the past
I have always had the gift of gab. The ability to talk to just about anyone on any subject. There are some exceptions but I won't get into those now. It doesn't matter what the occupation, the fame, the sex, the age, I have met and talked to authors, politicians, actors, singers, directors, heads of national law enforcement agencies, sports stars, business owners and tycoons. Some people I met through work, others by chance but the encounters that were the most fun, the ones I met through opportune times combined with crazy planning. My friends have laughed and marveled over some of my encounters, my 'success stories'. Most of my good fortune has come not from the initial meeting but rather being able to carry on a conversation. The trick is being able to draw them into a conversation.
I was once asked what was my secret to meeting people? My answer was simple, know who you are talking to, that and good genes. I am lucky I have been blessed with intelligence and a pretty smile. Another important factor if you wish to have a conversation with a 'celebrity, have the ability to separate the person from the job. Celebrities are simply people who have jobs that make them famous. That doesn't mean they are better or worse than the rest of us. They are the same as you and I. If your goal is to meet someone famous, it is important to remember you will be talking to the person not the occupation. In a way I have always felt sympathy for famous people. When they meet new people, try to make new friends, they have to wonder does this person want to know them, be their friend or do they want to hang out with someone famous. I have always imagined celebrities must live in a constant state of paranoia, wondering if their are being used. Not exactly how I would want to live my life. That aside, what I have found most fascinating about meeting 'famous' people is discovering the person behind the fame, discovering who they really are. Meeting celebrities can be difficult, the path can be filled with obstacles but every obstacle can be overcome. Success is in the approach, it all depends on your first sentence, your initial greeting.
George Steinbrenner was a guest speaker at a law enforcement retraining session. I had gone down to the delegates breakfast room to snag some danishes and coffee for myself. I had been attending the retraining sessions for years with my dad. I knew many of the officers attending, so no one ever said anything when I crashed the delegates room. A smile, good morning, how are you doing is all I needed to get into most rooms. I grew up loving baseball, George Steinbrenner the owner of the Yankees was easily recognizable to me. I saw him standing in the back of the room having coffee surrounded by several men. I walked over to the group. smiled, said hello. Being female has it's privileges. I smiled at Mr. Steinbrenner, told him I have always had one question I wanted to ask him. Curious he said go ahead. I wanted to know how a man from Ohio, where football reigns ended up buying a baseball team? I could tell he was surprised at my question, amused. He motioned me to come closer, I was in essence invited into his inner circle. I told him I read he was from Cleveland, my brother-in-law was from Massillon outside of Cleveland. As I relayed my surprise when I first discovered the collection of records my brother-in-law had of Massillon Tiger football games, who buys records of football games? That was when I discovered how HUGE football was in Ohio. So how did he end up in baseball? I knew we would have a great conversation when I noticed him shaking his head yes and smiling when I mentioned the records. We had 'connected'. We spent the next 30 minutes talking about Ohio, football, baseball, Maryland, and my daughter. At one point in our conversation some kids had snuck into the room, they approached Mr. Steinbrenner to ask for his autograph. I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable with the request. So I interrupted, told the kids Mr. Steinbrenner was tired, how about if I give them my autograph instead. One boy looked at me and asked, who I was. I just smiled, announced with a surprised voice, "Apparently I need a better publicist."
The older girl in the group not wanting to insult me chimed in, "Oh my gosh, that's you. Please can I have your autograph."
I could honestly answer yes, it was me. I watched Mr. Steinbrenner laugh as I autographed their papers, say thank you and leave happy. I looked at him and explained, when you can't give someone something they want, you offer an alternative, hope they will accept and leave happy. He loved my "business" sense. I was good looking, intelligent, witty and could think on my feet, to him I was a deadly combination. I was the woman who could talk anyone into anything if I really wanted. Before he left, he took out his business card, asked for a pen, wrote his assistants phone number on the back, handed me the card, told me if I ever wanted a job in New York, give him a call. He liked me.
Cal Ripken, Jr.
October 1983, the Orioles had just won the World Series.That fall, Peggy was my partner in crime in my sports photography class. We were the only two girls in a class of testosterone. Two tomboys holding our own. The two of us decided to hook class and take photographs of the World Series parade in downtown Baltimore. After the parade I went back developed and printed all my photographs. Two times a week I taught aerobics for Parks and Recreation. That night I took my photographs to share with everyone. As the ladies were looking at my photographs they remarked how many of my photographs were of Cal Ripken Jr. I smiled, responded, single, amazing blue eyes and great short stop who wouldn't take his photograph. One of the women announced she worked with his next door neighbor. Ding, ding, ding...my brain began to calculate the possibilities. A week later they announced Cal Ripken, Jr. was awarded MVP of the American league. Before my next aerobics class I made a batch of homemade cookies and bought a bottle of champagne. When I went to class, I asked the woman if she could have her co-worker give Cal the cookies and champagne, tell him congratulations. She made no promises but said she would try. The following Tuesday I thought it was strange when I arrived everyone was sitting down waiting for me. My mat had been pulled out and placed in front of the class, sitting on my mat a brown envelope. I heard a couple people say open it, open it. As I opened the envelope I began to smile when I pulled out an autographed photo of Cal with a message on it.
"Thanks for the Champagne, when can we drink it?"
I was so excited and at the same time I had a huge dilemma, I had a boyfriend. What was a girl to do? I was told Cal knew who I was, he was told I was cute, adorable and had a killer figure. (their words not mine) There was a catch, if I wanted to meet Cal I had to catch him, I had to find him. A challenge had been issued. Since I had a boyfriend, I put Cal's photograph away in my drawer.
I returned from Pensacola in January, newly single. Peggy and I once again had photography class together. She mentioned a good distraction from my heart ache might be to try to find Cal. She said if I didn't want him she would take him. The end of February I read in the Evening Capital, the Oriole's basketball team would be playing teachers at local high school for a fundraiser. Cal was listed as one of the players that would be playing. Peggy, Tony and I drove through freezing rain to attend the game. Cal was not there, he had sprained his ankle. This was another occasion where it paid to be cute...after the game I was able to talk my way into meeting Eddie Murray. It was well known in Baltimore that Cal and Eddie were best friends. As I was talking to Eddie, Rick Dempsey came over. I told them about the champagne, the photo, the challenge. Rick Dempsey asked Eddie, "Why don't any good looking women send me champagne?"
Eddie responded because he was old and married. The two of them told me unfortunately everyone was heading down to spring training. Eddie asked for my phone number he would deliver it. As a back up, they told me to be at the Pep Rally before opening game, they would take care of me there. As the two of them walked away I could hear them say "Damn how does he get so lucky?"
April's fools day 1984, Tony, Peggy and I drove to the Inner Harbor for the pep rally before the first season opener at Memorial Park. I made my way to the front, standing next to the rope and DJ booth/table. While I was waiting for the bus to arrive with all the players I started a conversation with the DJ, I told him about the cookies, champagne and the challenge issued. I also told him my friends with me didn’t think I would be able to meet Cal that day. I hated losing a bet, could he help me. The dj asked me to write my name and a short note on a piece of paper and he would do his best to give it to Cal. It all depended on if he could get to him on the stage without anyone noticing. I wrote a simple question on the paper, "Do you still have the champagne? Denise"
I watched the bus pull up, all the players unloaded from the bus and walked to the platform. I watched as Cal stood at the back of the stage next to Eddie Murray. I was excited as I saw the DJ walk up to Cal, tap him on the back, talk to him for a few minutes, then had him the paper. Cal read the note, handed it to Eddie and the two began to look around. Eddie Murray saw me, pointed me out to Cal, then pushed him off the stage in my direction. I was pretty surprised when I he started to head toward me, I didn't think Cal would leave the stage while the pep rally was going on. My first thought, I sure hope they don't call him up to the mike while we are talking. Cal walked right up to me, his first words, "I still have the champagne, I have been waiting to meet you.” He then put his hand out to shake mine, told me it was finally nice to meet the woman he had heard so much about.
It was pretty crazy, as Cal and I were talking across the rope people were handing him baseballs, cards, paper, anything and everything to sign. There were so many people coming toward him I was slowly being pushed into the rope. squished. Cal noticed and asked people to please back up give us room. After a short conversation Cal asked for my phone number. Eddie was still holding the piece of paper so Cal had to write my number on his hand. That night Cal called asked if I was attending opening game. I informed him I was a poor broke college student who did not have any tickets. He informed me he could solve that problem easily. He would leave 4 tickets for me at the Will Call box office. After the game come down to the hallway outside the locker room, he would meet me there. That was the beginning of my summer of baseball.
Summer of 1988 I was working at Macy’s. There was a new group of OJTs at our store. For some crazy reason our store manager put me in charge of the bunch. All the OJTs were fresh out of college, they were to spend three weeks training with us before being assigned to various Macy stores in the New Jersey Chain. While they were training they were staying at the Tremont Plaza in Baltimore. One day at lunch I learned that none of them had ever experienced Maryland Steamed crabs. I had to rectify the situation. After lunch Cheryl and I went to the our store manager, Bill and asked him if we could have a “meeting” the next night, purchase a few bushels of crabs on the company tab, give the OJTs a Maryland style welcome. To our surprise he said yes. I called the Tremont Plaza, asked if we could use one of their conference rooms for a meeting. At first I was told no, but when I explained to the gentleman we wanted to have a crab feast and he was welcome to attend, we were allowed to ‘unofficially’ use one of their rooms.
The next afternoon I dropped Kathryn off at the sitters, headed to Kaufmann’s picked up 3 bushels of crabs, corn on the cob and headed to Baltimore. I parked the car out front, grabbed one of the luggage carts and loaded the crabs on it.
Everyone in Baltimore was aware that Tom Selleck was in town filming the movie “Her Alibi”. From the OJTs I also knew some of the actors, stage hands etc were staying at the Tremont Plaza. As I loaded my cart on the elevator I heard a voice yell hold the elevator please. I turned around to see a man who looked a lot like Tom Selleck and another gentlemen board the elevator with me.
I hate elevators they are too quiet. You are forced to stand there stare at a door in complete silence while someone is standing next to you, in your ‘personal space’. Always the rule breaker, ignoring the proper etiquette, I talk to people in elevators a lot. As I looked at the man standing next to me I said, “By your looks I am guessing you are Tom Selleck’s double if not you are in the wrong profession.”
He laughed and said, yes he was and introduced himself. John Nordlum. He introduced the man standing next to him, Steve Hunter. He was Tom Selleck’s driver. We talked on the ride up in the elevator. I invited them both to our crab feast. John was heading upstairs to watch the dailies but would try to make it later. I bid them good bye, said I hope to see them later, as I got off on my floor. I dropped the crabs off in the conference room, then headed back downstairs to return the cart and move my car from the front of the hotel.
Returning to the hotel lobby, waiting for the elevator once again I met Whoopi Goldberg. She was dating a cameraman working on the film. She was so funny in the elevator. I can’t repeat what she said when I invited her to join us for crabs, it was a very adult comment, but extremely funny. She surprised me when she accepted the offer and said she would join us in a bit.
A smart person would have warned the Cheryl and the OJTs who all I had invited to the crab feast. Allow them to gather thier wits. I wasn’t really sure if anyone would actually come, besides I wanted to see the reactions on everyone’s face when and if they walked through the door. The first to arrive was Whoopi Goldberg. I still remember as she entered, one of the OJTs jumped up, screamed, “Oh my God it’s Whoopi Goldberg I have to go call my mom”
She ran out the room right by Whoopi. Not missing a beat, as she ran by Whoopi said, “Please tell me she does not work customer service? I don’t think she can handle stress or surprises”
Whoopi stayed for awhile, sat next to me and we had great laughs together. Just as I had seen with my summer of baseball, I once again saw how awkward it can be for someone of fame. As we sat and talked, it was very noticeable that everyone was staring at her, the room was too quiet. After a few crabs she asked if I minded if she pack some crabs up, take them back to her room to share. She gave me hug and thanked me for the invite. I would run into Whoopi numerous times over the next two weeks. At one point she even met my daughter Kathryn. Held her as she tried to teach her to say Whoopi, all Kathryn could manage was “oopi”.
About twenty minutes after Whoopi left there was a knock on the door. Standing there was John Nordlum, Steve Hunter and Tom Lupo. (he was doing stunts or directing stunts I can’t remember) The guys hung out for awhile, then asked if they could pack up some crabs and take them upstairs to the people still watching the dailies. I said of course, take what they would like.
After everyone had their fill of Maryland crabs, we cleaned up the conference room and I headed back home. As the elevator door opened on my floor I smiled when I saw Paulina Porizkova, Rick Ocasek and Tom Selleck. That night I realized how much I love elevators. They can at times be better, more fun than the prize doors on the ‘"Price is Right." As I entered the elevator I smiled, apologized for not being able to properly introduce myself but I had been shelling Maryland Crabs for the past several hours. As soon as I said Maryland crabs, they all smiled, said thank you, I must have been the one who sent the crabs upstairs. The conversation began from there!! Paulina Porizkova, is wow gorgeous and even more importantly, so extremely gracious and sweet. Rick, he was just as nice. Tom Selleck, could not have been kinder. As I talked to him the voice in my brain was screaming, “Tom Selleck, Magnum PI…so freaking cool!!” Later I would meet Tom’s wife, she was pregnant with their first child. She was just as sweet as everyone else I met that summer.
A few days later I would meet, William Daniels. He was the complete opposite of all the characters he has played. He was extremely witty, very sweet. He gave me a hard time for bringing crabs on a night he was not around. If I wanted to continue to be in his favor he better be included next time. Later he laughed when he found out my favorite role of his, John Adams in “1776”
My favorite memory of Tom Lupo, a week or two later, I brought more crabs to the hotel, this time for the guys working behind the scenes in the movie. Tom and Steve were taking some of the steamed crabs, propelling them by various means out the window trying to predict their distance and route of projection. So wrong yet at the same time it was actually pretty funny. As they were doing this Tom was telling me some of his crazy stuntman stories!
Over the next couple of weeks whenever I ran into any of my 'elevator acquaintances, they always stopped, talked, hung out for a few minutes. John Nordlum, Steve Hunter, Tom Lupo and I would hang out quite a bit. I even took John and Steve on sight seeing tour of Washington DC. I laughed as we posed John next to the cardboard stand up of Tom Selleck. Traffic slowed as people looked, debated whether that was Tom Selleck or not.
Funniest Tom Selleck memory, while they were filming “Her Alibi” the local radio stations were having Tom Selleck sighting call ins. I heard one morning driving to work they were going to have a Tom Selleck look alike contest at a local bar. I tried to convince him that he needed to enter the contest. It would be great no one would actually think it was him, the perfect hiding place, in plain sight. I laughed when he asked, “What if I lose?”
My answer, “Then you really don’t have to worry about people bothering you.”
The most amazing part of the summer, July 11, 1988, Tom Selleck, John, Steve and Tom bought me a drink for my twenty fifth birthday at the bar in the Tremont plaza.
One of the nicest and at the same times strangest person I have met is John Cusack. 1990 I was the assistant manager at the Lowe’s Annapolis hotel in charge of guest services and VIP guests. They were filming “True Colors” in Richmond but needed to film a few scenes in Annapolis. Some of the actors and crew were staying at our hotel.
One of my jobs was to great VIP guests as they checked in, find out if they needed any special accommodations etc and make what ever they needed happen. All of the actors (Mandy Patinkin, William Daniels, Imogene Stubbs), director (Herbert something) had checked in to the hotel. At 11:00 p.m. I was still waiting for John Cusack to arrive. A little before midnight our automatic doors open and in walks John Cusack with his girlfriend. She had a dog collar around her neck and he was holding the leash. I later learned she was one of Prince’s back up singers. He looked just like the character out of “Say Anything”. As soon as he realized I had been awaiting his arrival he apologized profusely. Then asked if the bar was still open, I said of course. He invited me to come have a drink with him, his way of apologizing. I told him I would be happy to join him for a drink, it would be my treat, one of the perks at working at the hotel. I was surprised when 15 minutes later he arrived at the bar without his girlfriend. John Cusack is by far the one of the easiest persons to talk to. He is so genuine and real. He asked so many questions, immediately I realized he wanted to know the person he was talking to. He was interested in me, not just small talk. It was very flattering.
Over the course of the next few days while they were filming whenever I saw him, John would give me a huge hug and apologize for having to run, not being able to talk. He would catch me later at the bar. His nightly ritual after filming was to have a nightcap before heading to bed. He was a true gentleman. One night when I was working late, the temperature had dropped quiet a bit and I was cold. He saw my goose bumps in the bar and took his sweater off, handed it to me, told me to put it on to stay warm. There was no way I was saying no to that offer!! When I was heading out the door, I went to give him back his sweater, he said keep it, I looked good in it. Now I know since I was the assistant manager I should have given the sweater back, that would have been proper, but it was John Cusack…so that baby went home with me. To those of you still wondering, the answer would be yes, that green/gray sweater is still hanging in the closet at my parent's house.
That was an extremely hectic but fun week for me. I stayed late to make sure everything was fine with John and arise early to make sure things were going perfectly for Mandy Patinkin and Imogene Stubbs.
What I remember most about Mandy Patinkin, he has the most beautiful singing voice. I made sure the concierge lounge was set up earlier than normal so the people working on the film could grab a quick breakfast before heading out to film. Every morning Mandy would walk into the lounge singing vocal exercises. One morning he actually serenaded me, he said beautiful women deserve to hear a beautiful song every morning. I melted.
Imogene Stubbs, loved her English accent. To me it was somewhat amusing that she had a coach to help her with her American accent. She was extremely beautiful, very talkative so we got along great.
What I remember most about the filming of “True Colors”, the afternoon after check out. All the stars, cast had left. My pager went off right I as I was getting ready to head home. It was housekeeping they needed me to come to John Cusack's suite. The days while John was filming he had requested no maid service. When I walked into the room I understood why. John Cusack is the nicest guy, but his room habits have a lot to be desired. On the floor were bottle caps from the drinks he opened while in the room. Fruit peelings everywhere, it was as if he ate and where ever trash fell, it fell. Apparently he and his girlfriend played hangman every night, on our sheets. I will admit I was a little disappointed in their word selection, not very difficult choices. On the walls they played tic tac toe. X won more games than O. He left his script in the bathroom next to the toilet. Next to the script, a banana peel. All of his belongings were still scattered across the room along with about 15 boxes of Godiva Chocolates. That is when I discovered apparently everyone and their brother at the hotel had been sending him chocolates, all with my card attached so they wouldn’t have to pay for it. On the back of each card, various hotel employee names and short notes. I collected all the cards so I could deal with them later.
I called the Richmond filming office asked them what they wanted us to do with all of John's belongings. The woman was pretty upset, she apologized, she had told John he would have to pack his own luggage. He apparently didn’t listen. She asked if someone at the hotel would pack up his belongings, she would send a driver from Richmond to get them. I told her not a problem I would take care of it and wait for the driver. I also informed her we were going to have to damage out a lot of items in the room, the wall paper might need to be replaced. It wasn’t a problem, she was use to it.
As I packed his belongings I couldn’t resist, he was a really nice guy. I stuck a short note on top of his suitcase. I wrote him it was a pleasure meeting him, thanks again for the sweater. He was really too sweet. Have fun in Richmond. A few days later I received a fax from the filming office in Richmond, a note from John. It was his pleasure, he hoped to get back to Annapolis one day to film again, it is a wonderful town. Please if I was ever in Chicago look him up. On the bottom was a phone number, I assumed it was his managers.
If only I had never seen John's room I might have taken him up on his Chicago offer.
There are so many other people I have met over the years, President George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, Ted Kennedy, John D Rockefeller IV (Jay), Jim Palmer, William Hurt. The most amazing men I have ever met, Dick Stratton, Jim Stockdale, John McCain etc. All POWs from the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam. I sat in awe, listened as they all sat around the dining room table and talked. I will save those stories for a later post.