About Fifteen Moments of Fame

It’s also known as the Kevin Bacon game. I attempted to play it with all the celebrities we had encountered.

“I met this guy once.”
“This old movie star here in the obituaries. John Phillip Law.
He died yesterday.”

In the early ‘70s, my wife Jane and her then boyfriend were living in Los Angeles and looking for a house to rent. One place they looked was that of a handsome young actor who had achieved some Hollywood celebrity having appeared in several successful movies, first, The Russians are Coming and more famously, the trippy Jane Fonda sci-fi, ‘Barbarella’. His name was John Phillip Law.
“We went to look at his house,” Jane said. “I didn’t know who he was.”
I was immediately impressed by the fact that she had met an authentic A-list Hollywood actor.
“Really! John Phillip Law! The angel in Barbarella! Where was this? Did you go in his house? Did he still sport those wings?” I was star-struck.
“I remember he answered the door,” she said, revisiting the moment. “He was very friendly. I don’t know. He was busy cleaning his pool.”

Cleaning his pool? This didn’t seem right. An A-list celebrity living in Hollywood would not be cleaning his or her own pool. I couldn’t imagine Steven Spielberg poolside in banana print shorts and flip-flops toting around a net and some Clorox. Steven Segal maybe but not Steven Spielberg. The Hollywood scene I envisioned would have had “people who do that sort of thing” for you clambering about the place. Maids and staff would be scurrying about doing all the things a star could not be bothered with: answering the door, dusting, taking calls, wiping down the mirrors, rinsing the bong. In my movie, a short Asian man in a Nero jacket would have answered the door. “May I take your poncho, sir?” he would say. “And if you would, please leave your sandals and attitude at the door.”
I began to think that maybe John Phillip was not the A-lister I imagined him to be and his star dimmed a little. There was still a nice golden glow to it because of the Jane Fonda connection but not quite the “Golden Globe” status I was hoping for. “Huh, that’s really cool,” I said. “Ever meet anyone else, perchance?”

There were more celebrities. California was crawling with them. We lived in California for many years and both of us had the chance occasion to meet or see the odd celebrity. Jane had the opportunity to meet with Francis Ford Coppola through an art project and painted four murals for his Napa winery. This was in the early 90’s when Coppola was still a hot property.
“He was very nice, very open, his wife Eleanor too,” she said, after meeting with them. “He said to me, ‘you’re the artist, be creative!’”

I began to ponder how many other celebrities have we seen or met. Between us, I imagined there were quite a few. I came up with criteria for our “brushes with fame”. At first, Jane wasn’t that interested in my game but once we got going, her names started dropping like flies. The criteria didn’t include rock concerts, sporting events or Broadway shows, as they were common events and not chance encounters. Privately, I was glad we nixed those because in truth my list included the Bee Gees, ELO, Gino Vannelli and the guy who did ‘Year of the Cat’ which paled considerably against Jane’s formidable lineup of George Harrison, Cream, The Animals and Billy Joe Royal.

“Back in the 70’s,” she said, “I worked at a department store on Hollywood and Vine. It was Christmas and I was selling pre-wrapped gifts and Brock Peters and his wife came up to the counter. I sold them some stuff. He had a really nice smile I remember. Another time I worked in a gadgets and things department and there was Bobby Sherman. He bought a Warm & Creamy. It warmed up shaving cream. Another customer approached and embarrassed herself by asking, “Are you David Cassidy?” Another time, we were driving downtown and couldn’t figure out directions so we pulled to the curb and I asked a man standing there for help. It was Donald Sutherland. He pointed us in the right direction.”
She paused. “What about you? Who have you met?”

I was quietly stunned by her snappy group of A-listers. This was pretty impressive. For starters, Brock Peters was in the classic, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, playing the falsely accused Tom Robinson to Gregory Peck’s Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch. Bobby Sherman was pretty popular too as in one of the many ‘pretty’ teen idol singers floating about at the time. I recall he had a toothy chipmunk smile. It’s not a wonder how that idiot star-struck woman got David Cassidy and him mixed up. I would have guessed Davy Jones. Then there was the curb talk with Donald Sutherland. Now here was an A-list movie star. ‘The Dirty Dozen’, ‘M.A.S.H.’, ‘Klute’, ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’; these were all great films. He was from Canada, which was where I was from so I attempted to piggyback off of that little tidbit. “I’m wondering; does the Governor General of Canada count? I met him when I was ten at our church on a military base up in Canada. I don’t fully recall the event but right now it seems quite important and quite distinguishable.”
“Who?” Jane said. “Oh sure, why not.”
Perhaps she thought I was just getting warmed up, saving my big guns for later. I didn’t disappoint.
“Let’s see, I saw John Forsythe in a bar in San Francisco. This was way back before I met you.”
“John Forsythe, the voice of Charlie’s Angels,” I said. “I was in a fern bar, Henry Africas, remember that place? I was just hanging out and I turned around and he was standing not ten feet away. There were some hangers-on draped all about but he acted as though he were just a regular guy.”
I tried to bolster my sighting by adding some longevity.
“He’s been around a long, long time. Great actor. A real classic.”
“Blake Carrington on Dynasty,” Jane remembered. “He was good.”

Empowered with my now recognized A-list contender, I came back with another one.
“I also saw Harry Anderson on a street in the Marina.”
She was starting to sound like an owl.
“Harry Anderson, the judge on that other TV show…what was it? He was a street magician too.”
“Night Court,” Jane said.
“Right! That’s it,” I said, pleased by the unsolicited confirmation of another known celebrity.
“Did you actually talk to these people?”
Suddenly my red carpet stroll down my walk of fame started to feel a little shaky.
“The Forsythe bar scene was a bit too crowded and awkward to say anything to him,” I lied. “The Harry sighting… I think I was riding on a bus.”

It occurred to me then that my encounters were pretty lame compared to the celebrities she had recounted. On top of it, she had actually spoken to hers. To shift the emphasis, I took a different approach.
“Remember when we both saw that guy from ‘Kojak’. What was his name?”
“Telly Savalas?”
“No, no, that other guy, a detective…what was his name…Crocker? no…Kevin Dobson!…that’s it!”
I was becoming quite prolific at somehow remembering obscure Hollywood B-list types.
“That’s right,” Jane said, “At the top of Montgomery Street and Green, they were filming his TV show…um…Shannon. He played a detective. Again.”

When Jane and I first lived together, we shared her studio apartment in San Francisco on Telegraph Hill. This romantic little hotbed was right on the corner of Montgomery Street and Green. San Francisco was also the hotbed for the movie industry. The success of ‘The Streets of San Francisco’, ‘Dirty Harry’ and chase films like ‘Bullitt’ with Steve McQueen made the city prime for filmmaking. You’d often see car commercials being shot on the steeply angled streets or an intersection blocked off because they were filming some sort of crash or chase scene that always had to include a cable car. The city’s landscape was teeming with great panoramic views, hilly streets and old Victorians perfect for any moviemaking genre. Several scenes from that Donald Sutherland sci-fi film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers were filmed just a few houses up from where we lived.
“How about the time those people rang up our apartment while scouting locations for that movie,” Jane said. “Remember they wanted to get on the roof. What was the movie called?”
“Monster in the Closet,” I said, proud that I had been so quick to remember the working title. “I think they actually made that movie. It might be a B-list classic.”
I jotted a note to look it up on the Internet to see if anyone of A-list stature had perhaps been in it.

Being steps away from a famous face in an ordinary setting is an awkward moment. The fantasy has suddenly become real. I actually find it embarrassing. It’s as if I’ve intruded on them by wandering rudely onto the set in the middle of a shoot. “Alright CUT!” a director would shout. “Can someone please remove the leering man with the bag of groceries?”
Back in the 90’s, I was in LAX working on a graphic project at a magazine newsstand. I was tinkering next to a counter and looked up to see Jane Curtain standing there. Though she was wearing a long coat and sunglasses, I recognized her nasally voice immediately when she spoke to the cashier. I don’t know why but I quickly looked away, pretending I didn’t see her. I slid off to another part of the store and stood behind a postcard rack where I peeked and eyeballed her. Casually saying hello and treating her like an ordinary person would, I suppose have been too easy. I just didn’t want to intrude or make her feel awkward.
“You’re Jean Curtain… right?” I would mumble as my mind scrambled to relate something clever about an SNL sketch she may have been in.
“Well, I’m Jane Curtain,” she’d say, staring at the swaying imbecile before her. “Who the hell are you and where’s Security!!”
I can see how the awkwardness of recognition might affect a celebrity. It’s crazy to imagine that perhaps every single person in the world might know who you are. Everyone recognizes Brad Pitt but I’m sure he’s just a regular guy, just another human being like the rest of us. I’d bet in Brad’s mind, he’s just little ‘ol Bradley Pitt from ‘wherever he’s from’ USA, lucky enough to have had some good breaks and some excellent genes.

“Who else have you met?”
“Well,” Jane said, “I grew up with some people from Fire Island who became somewhat famous. One is a director and made one of those Ninja Turtle movies, another guy does the travel reporting on a major network and another is an author who appeared on the Colbert Report. How about you?”
“I was on a golf course and Bill Russell was in the foursome behind me. I pointed out his wayward golf ball in the shrubs when he came up to the green. He even thanked me!”
“Who was this?”
“Never mind. Let’s see, I saw Jerry Spence coming out of a department store.”
“The famous lawyer with the frilly buckskin jackets.”
“And don’t forget that time when George Bush sped by on that campaign bus on the way to Panama City. Remember he was standing in the wheel well stairs at the front of the bus? I swear we made eye contact.”

“I had that picture taken in New York with Doug Flutie,” Jane said. “Alan Arkin’s son Adam used to hang around with us out on Fire Island. He was just a little kid. I also sat next to Diane Keaton who was out there when I was a teenager. This was way before Annie Hall and the Godfather films.”

Playwright John Guare, who wrote the play Six Degrees of Separation, lives on Long Island directly across the street from Jane’s best friend Wendy who knows him quite well. While visiting one summer, Wendy, Jane and our son Tim ran into him on the beach. “You look like Jude Law,” he told our young son.
I considered using the ‘look-a-like’ criteria as part of our exercise. We have a friend who might look like Daniel Day Lewis if you squinted and another who could pass for Jack Black if he were a bit smaller and had more hair.
I could hear the refrain. “Hmmm?”
I thought better of it.

The premise of Mr. Guare’s play is this: everyone is an average of six people away from knowing every person on the planet. Everyone is somehow connected. It’s also known as the Kevin Bacon game. I attempted to play it with all the celebrities we had encountered, connecting the dots between actors and movies. It stretched on past six people and didn’t include everybody (I have better things to do than to look all that up) and I didn’t do it the correct way anyway. But the idea of connections were there:

Brock Peters in To Kill a Mockingbird with Robert Duval
Robert Duval in The Seven Percent Solution with Alan Arkin
Alan Arkin in The Russians are Coming with John Phillip Law
John Phillip Law in Barbarella with Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda in Klute with Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland in the Dirty Dozen with Telly Savalas
Telly Savalas in Kojak with Kevin Dobson
Kevin Dobson in…

He had a minor role in that little romantic comedy on Montgomery Street and Green in San Francisco. Now if I could only run into Kevin Bacon.


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