Monday, June 27, 2011

Celebrity Encounters

by Elizabeth

So my toes weren't just for fun; we went out of town. To Hawaii! What was extra great was that a follower of this blog who lives there gave me some terrific Big Island advice. Unluckily for me, she wasn't around the week I was there, so we couldn't meet up.

But someone else was around as my family slogged through our unplanned layover at LAX: Richard Simmons. My husband had stalked the concourse in fruitless search for an alternative to burgers (lucky for me I had some awesome peanut butter packs and crackers to chow and was thus spared the horror of fast food prior to a week in a bikini), and reported back that the famed exercise guru was just a couple hundred yards away, signing autographs. I grabbed my phone (forgot the camera, silly) and ran.

No mistaking this guy, even in an orange track suit instead of his trademark Dolfin shorts. He was tiny: petite and slim-but-muscular; and absolutely like his TV persona. I have to admit, I was most struck by his sincere kindness and generosity. He posed patiently with kids and adults, asked real questions and listened to the answers, and was utterly genuine. A huge personality--I guess he'd have to be to carve that career--and nice nice nice. When my turn came to say hello, I pulled out my phone and asked if he'd call my friend in Alabama, a woman I knew would find the call an absolute hoot. He did; she wasn't home; but he left her a lengthy message, and she told me later she laughed and laughed when she heard it.

Nearly everyone has a celebrity encounter or two under their belts. My most intimate one happened about a dozen years ago. While waiting to board a Southwest jet to LA (what is it with famous people, airports and me?), my toddler son and I chatted with fellow pre-boarder Jack Palance about African art. He was somewhat of an expert; we were not. So I mostly listened, though the kid offered a few garbled insights. Another time (also in LA though no planes were involved) I gave Mandy Patinkin a cookie. But that was at a concert, so it doesn't really count. Plus, I'm willing to bet the cookie landed in the trash and not his gullet. Too bad for him. Those were some rocking cookies.

In one of my novels, a character has a brother who stumbles into major fame. So far, that's as much as I've danced with celebrities in my own books (unless you count the Washington clan in my historical middle grade). But I love to read bits with famous people, whether named explicitly, such as Allison Pearson does in I Think I Love You, or more obliquely, like Rain Mitchell in Tales from the Yoga Studio. (You'll have to read that one yourself to see if you agree on the identity of "Becky Antrim.")

I like when authors write famous people into fiction. Done well, the work is suddenly that much more authentic. Yeah, yeah, celebrities really aren't a part of our actual lives. But tabloid culture is pervasive today's world, thank you Hollywood and Madison Avenue, so it often feels as though we nearly know these people. Any reader of women's fiction will tell you if you don't believe in the characters or the story, it's unsatisfying. A dab of fame sprinkled into a work can make the people and situations believable and relatable, and the read that much more enjoyable.

And this isn't a new-fangled literary device, either. Even Jane Austen referenced one of the most popular novelists of her own day, as Emma's pal Harriet Smith revels in the Gothic horror of Mrs. Radcliffe's famous books.

So what about you? Any celebrity encounters, either real life or in your fiction?

Pamela here, chiming in, since Elizabeth said we could.

I lived in LA for a year and had few chance encounters--Casey Kasem (+ tall, blond wife) and Howie Mandel (+ his hair) at the mall; same mall, different days. I also attended a few show tapings.
Al, Katie, Elizabeth, Pamela (red sweater! figures...), Anne, ?

Then I went on a girls' weekend to NY about 12 years ago with my friend Elizabeth (different Elizabeth than the one here) and we had a lot of celebrity encounters. Elizabeth's friend worked for the Today show and we got on set to watch a taping. (Oprah happened to be there. She walked by while we were in the green room and said hi as she passed.) Plus we got to meet the Today show staff. Anne Curry was as genuine as she seems on TV; Matt was on his honeymoon. Later we talked our way into a couple of show tapings: Regis and Kathy Lee, The View (ran into Barbara Walters in the hallway) and The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

I'm not too star struck, I don't think, and I have a tendency to shy away from using celebs in my manuscript as I feel it dates the book. (Just reading the above list of shows I saw in NY dates my trip.) If mentioning a celebrity (e.g. saying your main character had a childhood crush on Bobby Sherman) establishes your character's personality and intentionally dates her, then I think it works. But because people are people and tend to appear one minute to be something they aren't the next, then I think it's best to leave current icons alone.

Julie says ...

My family's celebrity encounters tend to happen in restrooms. I guess celebrities go, too. My daughter and I were at LAX a few summers ago waiting to return to DFW. In the restroom, a tiny dog ran under the partition and ended up in my daughter's stall (she was 11 at the time). My daughter giggled and told the dog how cute she was. Then we heard another voice calling the dog and saying, "I'm so sorry!" Everyone finished their business and the young lady came out to wash her hands. She looked very familiar to me, but I didn't place her at first. As she walked down the concourse ahead of us, her dog now safely in a little carrier, I realized it was LeeLee Sobieski. She stopped at the gate for a flight headed to Chicago, and later, I figured out she was on her way to the film her part in Public Enemies. She was even prettier in real life than onscreen and was sweet and gracious--even in a public restroom.

My brother used to be the assistant to the director of Buena Vista Television. He, too, encountered Richard Simmons--on a fairly regular basis! Simmons was often in the office and always gave him sweaty hugs. But one afternoon, my brother "stood up" next to Tom Selleck. I won't give you any more details other than the fact that there were no partitions.

In my current manuscript, celebrities don't get any screentime, but there is a quick reference to Wayne Brady and Whoopi Goldberg!

Kim says...

While I have no exciting celebrity encounters to report other than briefly meeting Emma Thompson at a book signing, I do include several in The Oak Lovers. My great-grandparents, Carl and Madonna Ahrens, had a vast social circle. Canada's Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, was a friend. Carl studied with William Merritt Chase and George Inness, and knew all the various members of the Group of Seven. He also knew Calamity Jane and Elbert Hubbard and was a close friend of the Mohawk recitalist Pauline Johnson. Many of these people are not well known today, but were considered among the Who's Who of the early 20th century.

Joan here:

My greatest celebrity encounters have been from live theater audiences, most memorable: Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Richard Chamberlain, Tim Curry and Laura Linney. Wow, wow, wow.

In 2004, I went backstage at the Kennedy Center to meet Goldie Hawn, who was as personable and vivacious as she is on TV. In Manhattan, I’ve passed Joe Namath and clumsily asked to shake hands with bizarre Robert Pastorelli (Eldin the painter from Murphy Brown), who was months away from death at that point. In L.A., I spied Adam Arkin picking a movie in a video store and Will Smith and Jack Nicholson from binoculars at a Laker's game. In Rome, we drank espresso across the piazza from Harvey Keitel, but refrained from interrupting his morning.

We've met our share of best-selling authors at book signings, but I was completely star struck when I ran into author Susan Vreeland at the B&N near North Park, casually signing her books on the table where I browsed. Oh, and Pamela, Kim and I met the personable Emma Thompson when she signed Nanny McPhee Returns at the Dallas Museum of Art.

I love reading historical fiction featuring painters, which is why I’m not only critiquer of Kim’s manuscript, but a big fan. I’ve met Vermeer in Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With the Pearl Earring and then again in Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Artemisia Gentileschi was featured in my favorite Vreeland book, The Passion of Artemisia. Marc Chagall appeared in Dara Horn’s A World to Come and I followed through France one of my favorite artists, Vincent van Gogh, recently in Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers and will meet him again when I begin A.J. Zerries The Lost van Gogh, currently on my nightstand.

In my WIP, I wrote a chance encounter between Gabriel, a nineteenth century architect, and Charles Dickens, but I took it out because it seemed forced.

But one of us, who will remain nameless, has had more celebrity introductions than all of us combined, but is too humble to say so!


  1. very nice. All the women sharing the post. I guess it all depend on your location. In my area I see celebrities non stop. About two weeks ago I was standing close to Lady Gaga who was nice signing autographs and taking pictures with the young teenaagers that surrounded her. Her hair was totally blue. Last night I saw a famous American author (especially for those who like historical books), David McCullough who talked about his recent book "The Great Journey - Americans in Paris." It is set during 1830-1900 with many great pictures and 460 pages. He talks very well with many stories to tell. About two months ago, I saw Shaina Twain talking about her book. The book store in my building was the most packed ever. And every September we have the Toronto Film Festival with many movie stars roaming in the streets. Early this week we had the Bollywood Film event, where all the big movie stars from India were here. I have seen numerous celebrities coming to my building's book store to promote their book like Bill Clinton, Depak Chopra, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones ect ..
    Now about celebrities in books: Mine is full with famous singers from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. They are very famous in China, but really unknown in North America, which is rather sad. If you want to know one only, then check the late Teresa Teng on YouTube. Best wishes.

  2. Cindy Keeling03 July, 2011

    I've had a couple celebrity sightings at Chicago O'Hare--Richard Simmons (!)
    and columnist Dave Barry.
    I recently attended a talk by author Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow, etc)
    promoting her (wonderful!) new book, "Doc." She's a total hoot!


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