Shelley Winters, Dean Haspiel, Scott Dunbier, and a Wild Brush With Fame

January 4th, 2008 by Larry Smith

shelleywinters.jpgOne 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.

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