For a variety of reasons, I have met more than your average number of celebrities in my life. It started back in high school. I spent the bulk of my high school years in Kentucky, but for reasons that are too long to go into, I did spend my sophomore year at a prep school in the San Fernando Valley.
The school happened to enroll a number of child actors and athletes, as well as children of actors and athletes. One celebrispawn teen in my Computer Science class even went on to a reality show in which she and another celebrispawn briefly lived on a farm in Arkansas.
For some reason, I never got terribly starstruck around some of these big name celebrities coming to pick their kid up. When I advanced to college at USC, the story stayed the same. I would meet some notable people in my class, but I was rarely left tongue tied to interact with them.
This cool exterior helped me out in my days as a Hollywood assistant, where I had to keep calm around our notable clientele. In poker, it helped me cover up the enthusiasm I had seeing some of my favorite pros for the first time.
This is not to say I never got starstruck. However, I wouldn’t nervous around the likes of Jeff Golblum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Billy Bob Thornton, George Lucas, or any of the other very talented people I was fortunate enough to meet. My nerves were reserved for celebrities with a more…acquired taste.
We were lucky enough to have Sidney Poitier speak to our class. My roommate needed me to clarify who he was, which I did between hyperventilating breaths. In 2001, I ran into Jon Favreau in a campus Starbucks. This was back when Mr. Favreau was not much of a director and was best known for being Rudy’s friend in “Rudy”, and, of course, “Swingers”. I stammered like an idiot and kept my cool long enough to return to my dorm room and run up and down the halls yelling, “I met Jon Favreau” followed by yelling the answer to the question, “Who is Jon Favreau?”
My most embarrassing moment with a celebrity came during my year in that California prep school though. I was one of three performers in our theater department’s production of “Greater Tuna”. If you’re unfamiliar with the play, it is typically performed with two actors each playing a dozen characters. We added in a third and divvied the roles up.
My teacher and director, Mr. Boles, was a fantastic man who thought I was doing some of the best performing he’d ever seen from me. He was also familiar with my obsession with old movies. So, he decided to do something very nice for me. He invited his friend to a performance. His friend was Richard Beymer.
Who is Richard Beymer, you ask? If you know him at all, you either know him from “Twin Peaks” or, more likely, for his role as Tony in the film “West Side Story”. The Robert Wise-directed musical has been a favorite of mine for almost two decades. At the age of 15, I knew every word of every song and even committed a substantial amount of the choreography to memory.
When I learned Mr. Beymer was coming to see out show specifically to see me, I pretty much had a coronary. I spent the time leading up to the performance glancing out the stage door to see if he was walking into the theater. During the show, I spotted him in the front row. He was filming some of the scenes with a camcorder, which in my mind was a clear indication I was to be his new protege. I thought he certainly would notice when, in a scene in which one of my characters, a Southern grandma, dances with joy, that I incorporated some of his Tony choreography into my moves.
The show ended and I saw him standing and applauding as I took my curtain call. Life was amazing.
After the show, Mr. Boles told me I should come meet the man, the myth the legend. I came in from the back of the theater, prepared to descend the stairs with the grace and flair of Rita Moreno to meet one of my heroes.
I made it one step.
Then my foot slipped on the edge of the step and I proceeded to tumble down more than a dozen stairs, landing at Mr. Beymer’s feet, a crumpled heap. As he tried to help me up, concerned about my well-being, all I could say was this:
“You’re Richard Beymer.”
The stunned silence didn’t last long. He gave a bashful thank you, then proceeded to compliment me on the performance. Then I unleashed the word vomit including my adoration for “West Side Story” and “The Diary of Anne Frank”. I even mentioned my incorporation of the choreography. He admitted he had no recollection of the choreography of “West Side Story”. So I did the sensible thing. I performed it again, as if it would jog his memory.
Needless to say, that was the last I heard from Mr. Beymer. Mr. Boles assured me he was impressed with me and even told me that his health wasn’t great and it was a feat that he even left the house for this at all. I can only hope this wasn’t poppycock to cheer up a sullen, vintage-obsessed teenager. Because with this story and several dozen more viewings of my worn VHS of “West Side Story”, I was able to recover from one of the more pathetic moments of my life.