It's been a sad week out here on the left coast with the deaths of three truly iconic figures of pop culture. I was lucky to have run-ins with all of them.
My first job after I moved out here was working as a staff writer for the "Marie Osmond Show." The offices and the show were at the NBC studios in Burbank. My office was about a hundred yards from the Tonight Show set. Being ballsy or naïve, my ex-partner and I wandered over to the set one day to see if we could watch Johnny Carson deliver his monologue. We didn't realize that this was against the rules at the studio so we walked in, stood about ten feet from Ed McMahon and watched Johnny perform. Then we headed back to our office and work.
Well, nobody stopped us so we continued to show up a few minutes before each show to watch the monologue. We also got to watch Ed do his audience warm-up, listen to "The Tonight Show Band" whip the crowd into frenzy and watch Ed do his signature "And now, Heeeeer's Johnny!" You had to be there. It was like a Springsteen concert. I knew I was witnessing show business royalty. This was the big league. We got to know Johnny and Ed just on a passing basis. (Johnny once acknowledged us with a "Hi guys" in the hallway.) Even though he had no idea who we were, Ed would always acknowledge us. Once after we missed a day, he saw us and said "Where were you yesterday? I missed you" He was a very nice man who seemed happy in his work. Plus he didn't turn us in to the NBC cops.
Sometime in the mid eighties I slowed for a stop sign near my apartment. Suddenly I was bumped from behind. I checked the rear view mirror and saw a huge light green Rolls Royce. I got out of the car to check the damages as Farrah Fawcett jumped out of the passenger seat to apologize. At first I was stunned. Yes, she was as gorgeous as advertised. She asked if I was all right and we looked to see that the bumpers had just touched. I noticed that someone was slinking down behind the wheel of the Rolls. It was Ryan O'Neal. Obviously he didn't want to be seen by me. Why? I don't know, but Farrah was very gracious and apologetic even though she wasn't driving. Very unassuming. I was pretty damn excited to meet her. We didn't exchange insurance info, though.
If you flew during the mid-eighties you might remember that the first telephones on planes were large payphone type things mounted on the bulkheads. One day I was flying from New York to Los Angeles. Word got out that Michael Jackson was on board in first class. Well, I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass. I told the people around me I was going to figure out a way to see Michael Jackson. I waited for the movie to start and for someone to use the one phone in coach. I went up to the flight attendant and asked if there was another phone. She said there was in first class, parted the curtain and escorted me to the front bulkhead.
Sitting right by the phone was Michael Jackson. He was on the aisle seat, his bodyguard sound asleep at the window. They were returning from London where his Madam Tussaud's wax figure was unveiled. He was wearing a spangled Sgt. Pepper outfit and sunglasses even though the cabin was dark for the movie. I pretended to swipe my card on the phone and dropped it on the floor. I bent down to pick it up and stopped at face level with him. He was looking in the direction of the movie screen and didn't acknowledge me, so I stayed in position and examined the most famous man on earth up close. He wasn't as light as he was in later years, but he was wearing a lot of make-up, which seemed like talcum powder. I'm pretty sure he had light lipstick on. His nose was thin and upturned. I have to admit, it was a bizarre sight.
I stared for about thirty seconds. His gaze never left the movie screen. I went back to coach and told everyone how to get into first class to see him, but the attendants got wise and cut off access. When we landed in LA, there must have been about two dozen photographers at the gate ready to take his picture, but he exited on the tarmac to a waiting car and sped away.
So I guess I'm lucky to have had interaction with all of them. Sure there are still huge talents and large presences in the business today, but I get the feeling that being a star now is nothing like it was even a decade or two ago. There were only three networks. It wasn't rare for twenty million people to view an episode of "Charlie's Angels" on a given night and "The Tonight Show" was the only game in town, the original must see TV. Would I go out of my way to sneak into first class to meet Simon Cowell? I think not. There's no mystery anymore. Hell, Jon and Kate are the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of our times.
A few weeks ago I was having lunch when a hoard of paparazzi stormed past me, knocking people over to get a picture of someone who was about to exit a clothing store. Naturally I wandered over just as the blinding strobe lights began to flash. I had no idea who the object of all this commotion was. I asked a photographer and he said it was Lauren Conrad from MTV's "The Hills." Big deal I muttered as I went back to my tuna melt. They just don't make stars like they used to.
RE: A True Hollywood Story 2: One Degree Of Seperation
I once saw Mert Rich take a s*** just before a Ten Guys softball game. THAT image will never leave me.