Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Name droppings I

I was listening to National Public Radio last week and heard a commentator doing one of those typically odd and quirky NPR oral dissertations that a radio network can only get away with when they don’t actually have any advertisers to contend with. This fellow was reminiscing about some of the famous people he had bumped into over the course of his life. Now mind you, he hadn’t actually met any of these people, or even necessarily talked to them. He had merely spotted them on a public street or, in the case of Ingrid Bergman, stealthily followed her into a London department store.

My first reaction to this was to ask myself if I was writing a big enough check to NPR during some of their semi-monthly pledge drives. But my second reaction was to bemoan the fact that nothing so exciting ever happens to me, like standing in front of Tiffany’s in Manhattan and having a passing Orson Welles utter a bon mot in my ear.

But then, I started thinking more about it, and I realized that I too have had my brushes or near brushes with fame and celebrity. Like the time the Missus and I stopped at a swanky coastal resort hotel on Ireland’s Ring of Kerry to use the loo, and whom should we spot but the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister for you non-Celts) himself, Bertie Ahern, walking to his car with two extremely attractive young women, both young enough to be his daughters. (Actually, I think they were his daughters.) Or the time I was on a bus/boat journey across the Andes from Chile to Argentina in 1978, and we had to stop and wait while a member of Augusto Pinochet’s junta got off his fishing boat. Surprisingly, none of us passengers felt compelled to open a window and yell, “Hey, who the heck do you think you are? We don’t have all day to wait for you while you hog the dock!” (Maybe it had to do with his extremely well-armed escorts.)

But my near brushes with Hollywood celebrity began long before that. When I was a mere child in a dusty San Joaquin Valley farming town in California, my mother came home from the beauty parlor one day and mentioned that a woman she met there was the mother of a real, live Hollywood actor. With a little persuading, she managed to get me an autographed photograph. It was quite a thrill when she brought it home to me. The black and white glossy showed a muscular young man dressed as a very serious looking Native American, and he had signed it with his best regards to me personally. We learned that he would be featured in the new TV series Branded, and you can be sure that I was right in front of the TV on Sunday night to see my new idol. He played an injun in that show all right, and I waited ‘til the very end to hear him speak, which he never did. And, no, I never heard his name or saw him on the big or little screen again.

Most of my brushes with actors (ones that people have actually heard of) have come while attending the Seattle International Film Festival. Over the years, I have actually gotten up the courage in post-screening Q&A sessions to pose questions to such stars as The Netherlands’ Monique van de Ven and France’s Thierry Lhermitte. And a particularly memorable image is of an extremely relaxed, cigar-smoking Dennis Hopper walking up and down the street in front of the Egyptian Theater, warmly chatting up complete strangers in line to attend a 1987 tribute in his honor, following his post-Blue Velvet career resurgence.

But the best celebrity encounter by far was the previous year when my friend Don and I attended the premiere of Psycho III, directed by and starring the late Anthony Perkins. I knew that Perkins would be present to introduce the film, which followed the first sequel by a mere three years, a much more reasonable wait than the 23 years between Hitchcock’s original and Psycho II. But, what I wasn’t prepared for was what happened when, before the screening, I flailed and writhed my way through the milling crowd to the concession stand for sodas. As I squeezed past one body and then another, I looked up and there meeting my gaze (since we were both a good few inches above the height of everyone else) was Tony himself! It was strange because he was right there in the middle of everybody. He wasn’t being whisked from a limousine through a back door. He wasn’t surround by an entourage. He was right there trying to make his way across the lobby like everyone else. And nobody else seemed to notice that he was there. But he instantly saw the look of recognition in my eyes, and for a nanosecond I wasn’t sure if he would turn away or actually say something. He did neither. Instead, his face changed as if by magic from that of just an ordinary guy in a crowd into someone completely different. He quite deliberately gave me a classically evil and depraved Norman Bates look that reverberated to the very back of my wretched soul. And then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone.

Thank heavens for that moment because it made the whole evening worthwhile. That brief encounter of a few seconds turned out to be more stirring, more unsettling and more memorable than anything in the pointless movie I had come to see.

You’re a good boy, Norman. Sleep well.

-S.L., 3 August 2000

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