A Collection of Mini Memoir Memories
You may have seen this going around on Facebook or Twitter: People listing names of celebrities they have met in their life times, but including one name that is a lie. Then people try to guess who is the celebrity this person hadn’t met.
I decided to play too:
OK, I’ll play too. 12 celebrities I met. One I did not. Can you guess who?
(We’ll call it a Josephine Baker’s dozen):
Philip Seymour Hoffman
As people started guessing who the wrong imposter celebrity might be, and getting it wrong, I would share little anecdotes regarding the circumstances of my actual interactions with those individuals. These turned out to be worthy of a collection of mini memoir memories, which I will post below. I’ll start with the celebrities my Facebook friends guessed wrong before the right name was pinned down, then add the rest of the anecdotes before leaving the name of the celebrity I hadn’t met until the end.
So you could play along by approaching each anecdote as a helpful narrowing of the field, starting with who my friends thought were the likeliest suspects. Guess (and reconsider your guess) scrolling along:
(was immediately guessed by several people at once)
She attended with a group of Upper East Side movers and shakers a performance of an after school theater program I was conducting for the Met Opera Guild in the 90’s. An attempt to shake $$ from that well-healed group. She was very nice and eager to learn more about our efforts. I felt conflicted because it was one of the Met’s most poorly implemented programs, one where teaching artists are left to flail doing the best they can under unworkable conditions. And then we and the underserved, underprivileged kids had to “put on a show” for the rich folk. I felt embarrassed. My teaching colleague was braver than me and chatted her up. I was too shy to speak to her although the opportunity was there when she was sitting alone looking lonely at one point. I still regret not thinking of some way to initiate a little conversation with her, but my embarrassment at this particular project and how we all were being exploited by my boss prevented me.
She is one of my more tangential connections of the people on this list. Ed and I watched “Friends” from its first episode on. Early during the first season of Jennifer Anniston was doing some sort of promotion in a NYC store. I saw her through the store window and gave her the thumbs up, and she nodded back at me.
While still in college I was the German tutor to Leonard Bernstein’s music assistant. Which allowed me the opportunity to meet the maestro and shake his hand and give him my music to listen to (although I don’t think he did). I was even invited to a party in his apartment in the landmark Upper West Side building The Dakota. The part of the party I remember most keenly is some guy chatting with me and when I tell him I am a composer he asks me who I am studying with and I answer no one at the moment; and then he makes a sniffing sound and turns and walks away.
When Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released I went to a special marathon screening of LOTR: Fellowship and LOTR: Two Towers followed by an advance screening of ROTK. Elijah Wood and most of the other Hobbit actors made a special surprise appearance in the theater before ROTK screened and also mingled with the crowd a while. I got to chat with Elijah for several minutes.
My mother knew her through California opera connections. When Ms. Nixon performed in the Broadway musical of James Joyce’s “The Dead”, my parents and I attended the matinee and went out for lunch with her after. I later talked to her again at her home when I dropped off my score of my two woman musical Witches – my mother was hoping to interest her to perform it together. But the piece wasn’t Ms. Nixon’s cup of tea. (I write about the many voices of Marni Nixon here.)
He was the lead in “The Dead”. So when my mom and I went backstage to meet up with Marni Nixon (see above) we also met Christopher Walken. I imagine people expect to hear some tale of him being strange, but no, he was perfectly ordinarily pleasant.
He was performing on Broadway in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo”. Jessica Hecht was his co-lead, and I knew her from NYU Drama where we had been in a production of Woyzeck together. I went backstage to congratulate and chat with her, and there he was too.
By this point someone guessed correctly, and the questions stopped, but I’ll continue with the anecdotes for the purposes of this post:
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Speaking of NYU Drama, he was a senior my first year at NYU. At the time he was dating an actress with whom I was performing in the NYU Improv comedy troupe Stitches Nine, but we didn’t speak while at school. Years later I saw him perform in a magical realist off-Broadway play about the Challenger Disaster, and talked to him (and his cast mate Lecy Goranson, Becky on Roseanne / The Conners) afterwards and shared memories of NYU and the Challenger.
Before Hoffman’s co-star in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” became a movie star, he made his Broadway debut in a nude bathtub scene opposite Kathleen Turner in “Indiscretions” AKA “Le Parents Terrible” by Jean Cocteau. He and his Broadway director Sean Mathias participated a play table reading that I was helping stage manage for a friend at the time. Can’t remember the play anymore, but I remember Jude Law being very good humored and laughing a lot, and affectionately rubbing Sean Mathias’ back.
From Hollywood legend Kathleen Turner to Hollywood legend Celeste Holm? I’ll make my segues as I can. Do people remember Celeste Holm? The Oscar winning co-star of “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “All About Eve”? The original Ado Annie? I have fond childhood memories watching her charmingly warble “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with Frank Sinatra in “High Society” (comically trilling like a demented woodpecker on one “I-i-i-i-i Don’t”). I met her when I was in college. An awards show for advertisers hired me and other NYU Drama school freshmen to be the minders for the celebrity awards presenters. Basically that meant we carried their coats and ensured someone stayed with them while they were waiting in their dressing area and being taken backstage before presenting.
Ms. Holm started off the evening in a terrible mood. Something had gone wrong with her pick-up or otherwise miscommunicated before she’d arrived, and she was spitting fire at me. She soon realized I had had nothing to do with whatever had gone wrong, and once softened was sweet and charming the rest of the evening. Her mood was also much brightened by her co-presenter, Jack Gilford (Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, and also in “Cocoon”). They clearly loved each other’s company, told stories like old school chums and walked arm in arm when we went backstage and later left the theater. The two of them being dear old friends together is one of my favorite Old Hollywood memories.
I met Al Gore around the same time I met Celeste Holm and Jack Gilford, maybe even a year earlier. I had joined my father in Washington DC, where he was participating in a conference of Political Psychology, a then new field that connected political scientists and psychologists together to exchange ideas and data where their fields of studies overlapped or informed each other. Al Gore, then a Senator from Tennessee (this was the mid to late 1980s) spoke to the assembled two dozen participants in a modest meeting room. Climate Change was the topic of that speech. Remember it was a major issue for him already way back in the 1980s. (Imagine what the world would have been like if he hadn’t been robbed of his legitimate win of the presidency in 2000…) Anyway, that talk was a much more intimate affair than the political rally in downtown Manhattan I would attend years later when I saw him campaign as the vice presidential candidate for Bill Clinton.
Finally before I reveal the lie on the list, I met Andy Serkis at the same event I met Elijah Wood (see above). I happened to have the book he wrote about being Gollum and mountain climbing in New Zealand on me, so I asked him to sign it. He was really pleased when I produced it.
Which brings me to the lie – Viggo Mortensen – whom I chose because I surmised his association with the other Lord of the Rings actors on the list would direct suspicion away from him. After all, he might have been present at the same event that introduced me to Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis. But no, he wasn’t, I never met the man, and mid-way through people guessing on my original Facebook post, someone picked his name.