After last week’s column, “My run-in with Redford,” I received more e-mails than ever as the subject seemed to strike a chord. So I thought I’d share some more of my random celebrity encounters with the promise that this will definitely be the last. That is unless I suddenly start working at TMZ.
Only months after the “run-in” with Robert Redford, I was at the same Century City high-rise in an elevator with someone I thought I recognized from a movie as the brother of Paul Newman and the son of Henry Fonda. (Two of my acting heroes.) Given the Redford fiasco, I hesitated saying anything.
Finally, I asked rather timidly, “Excuse me, but weren’t you in ‘Sometimes a Great Notion?’” (He not only was in it, it turned out he was nominated for an Oscar!) He stared for a few seconds, during which time I thought, “Oh, brother, I’ve done it again.” It was quite possible that within the span of 90 days two actors on different occasions were going to call security on me.
“Why, yes I am!” the actor said enthusiastically as he stuck out his hand. “Richard Jaeckel. So, did you like the movie?” Awkwardly, I shook Jaeckel’s hand as the elevator doors opened.
As we exited he continued the conversation. He pointed out that the film was based on a novel by Ken Kesey and we discussed “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest,” also by Kesey as the movie had been a smash hit the year before.
Actually Kirk Douglas had bought the film rights to “Cuckoo’s Nest” decades earlier but couldn’t get the movie made so he gave it to his son Michael for free. Later he joked had he any idea it would be such a success he’d at least have charged his son some gross points.
Whereas Redford had been a little cold, to say the least, Jaeckel was the complete opposite as he chatted all the way to my car. (I would later joke with friends I thought I might be the one calling security.) Jaeckel, who appeared in dozens of movies, passed away in 1997. His son, Barry, had attended Santa Monica College before going on to a career as a pro golfer on the PGA tour.
The company that I worked for owned The Shores and also luxury buildings in Hollywood, including one that Michael Douglas lived in. Weeks after “Cuckoo’s Nest” opened, I was working as a messenger picking up rents when I saw Douglas getting his mail.
When he nodded my way I casually asked how the movie was doing. “I never knew there was that much money in the world,” Douglas exclaimed. “I don’t know if I can ever just act again.” While I was a little stunned he had shared this with a building messenger he didn’t even know, I found the revelation fascinating. (The versatile Douglas is currently in an HBO movie playing the flamboyant pianist Liberace.)
Things didn’t quite go so smoothly a decade later as I was in line at Fireside Market on Montana Avenue. (Today it’s Whole Foods, or as Bill Maher jokes, “Whole Paycheck.”) The night before I had seen the movie “Hoosiers,” and who was I standing in line behind? None other than the co-star of the movie, Barbara Hershey, who was wearing a scarf and sunglasses inside the store.
As there were just the two of us, I couldn’t help myself. (In retrospect, I should have.) “I really enjoyed ‘Hoosiers,’” I said trying to be unobtrusive. Apparently it didn’t work because Hershey responded sarcastically, “Good for you.” Maybe she was doing her Garbo impression, “I want to be alone.” In any event, she definitely made her point. Ouch. (Hershey has been in movies for an amazing six decades.)
By far the “biggest” celebrity I ever encountered didn’t win an Oscar, although he was in some movies. And by big I mean 7 feet, 1 inches big! You see one summer afternoon at the Ocean View tennis courts, the late and legendary basketball star Wilt Chamberlain asked if I wanted to hit some balls.
At the end of the day I clearly remember shaking hands at the net and Wilt literally blocked out the sun. A total eclipse. He was like human sunscreen.
Wilt and I wound up playing tennis many times and he nicknamed me “Easy Money.” (Ironic since Wilt once made $400,000 for one day’s work on a Jockey shorts commercial.)
As are many world-class athletes like Jordan or Kobe, Wilt was competitive in everything including tennis, a game he loved. Sadly, he wasn’t very good. (Though occasionally he’d hit a serve like it was shot out of a cannon.)
Wilt never won more than two games in a set against me. He rationalized it by saying that the “match-up” of our styles put him at a disadvantage. I quipped, “Gee Wilt, I feel just like Bill Russell.” Wilt didn’t much care for the joke, but at least he didn’t say, “Good for you,” or “I want to be alone.”
When Jack isn’t unintentionally annoying celebrities, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.