One of my favorite sections of SMITH that I’ve always felt is poised for greatness is Brushes With Fame, the section of the site where we ask readers to recount a story in which a celebrity enters their life like an alien, landing. Typically, these are playful affairs: selling an air-conditioner to Dick Cheney and his daughter, getting a public shout-out from Jason Alexander, playing Jewish geography with David Eigenberg (who turns out is Steve from Sex in the City).
The through-line is this: our reader celebrity encounters aren’t what you’ll find in Page 6 or Gawker Stalker, but stories of an actual, personal interaction with the known or the famous. In other words, a story. Although they’re typically on the lighter side of life, there’s often quite a bit of meaning in a brush with fame. How did Jan Allen end up with Mick Jagger’s urine in her freezer? The scenario’s a scream. But the story works because Mick’s piss truly means the world to her.
SMITH contributing editor and ACT-I-VATE comics collective cofounder Dean Haspiel recently sent around a link to a blog post by Scott Dunbier—a former
executive editor at Wildstorm/DC comics—about Scott’s odd brush with fame. It’s a true tale from New York City in the ’80s about a then-19-year-old Scott was working in a comics shop. It seems a kid—13 or 14, maybe—would come in flashing fifties and buying art. One day the phone rang:
A woman’s voice that seemed vaguely familiar came over the line and asked to speak with Scott. I told her I was Scott and she said, “Hi, Scott, this is Shelley Winters.” I recognized the voice as soon as she said her name. It was a surreal moment, I had never talked to an Academy Award winning actress before, let alone have one call me. I said hello Ms. Winters and asked what I could do for her. She asked me if her godson had been coming in to the store to buy art and paying with $50 bills. I said, “Why yes, he has been.” Sounding relieved, she said “Oh good. He’s been stealing that money from me but I was afraid he was buying drugs.” We talked for a few more minutes, about her godson. He was a good kid, she said, but he needed a friend. She asked me if I could take him to a baseball game sometime, do something with him. I politely declined; he seemed like a nice boy but I was 19 and had a girlfriend and didn’t want to hang out with a kid.
The story continues, taking a couple of surprising turns. After Shelley Winters died in January 2006, Dean Haspiel posted a note about her passing, which more than two decades later, connected Scott to Dean, who both now make their living in the comics world. It’s all quite a story, with a cast of characters connected by a love of comics, and the one and only Shelley Winters in a supporting role.
Shelly Winters, found among the few and the proud creative commons licensed photos of the late Blonde Bombshell, from Flickr user Max Sparber.