Celebrity Stalking 101
Doug types too much...
April 12, 2018
Some quick background needed for future reference.
Samuel Beckett’s avant-garde play Waiting for Godot premiered in 1953 to mixed reviews. Godot is considered a masterpiece in the “Theatre of the Absurd.” There are people who love it. In the 1980s, a theater director coaxed me into playing Estragon, the lead role in Mr. Beckett’s play.
For me, Waiting for Godot was a trial. As an actor, I worked like a bastard on it. My work was complicated by my co-star Gordon, a beautifully mannered Brit whose chief failing was not being able to remember his lines, often opting to skip entire sections of the play, only to unexpectedly double back to portions I’d already written off as lost in performance.
The good part about Godot is that it doesn’t really matter if all the parts are there or not.
I was told by a couple of artsy types it was one of the best stagings they’d seen of Godot. But there was also a school principal who sat in the front row one night scowling through the entire 3 hours. His loudly delivered review at the conclusion of the play was: “Whoever selected this play to be on the schedule this year should be shot.”
I was more in tune with the school principal than I was with the Beckett devotees. My comment to my wife after the run of the play was: “The only good thing about being in Waiting for Godot is that I didn’t have to be in the audience watching it.”
The fact that I voluntarily put myself through months of Godot rehearsals and performances should be proof enough that I love show biz. Consequently, I like to get in the room with people who are successful at doing what I like to do. I get off on meeting my heroes. Judy could care less.
I had an acting teacher once who’d worked with some very famous actors. Names you’d know. He cautioned me about meeting celebrities.
“It can be disappointing. One, they don’t always measure up to your expectations. And two, most of the time, they have absolutely no interest in meeting you.”
My very first encounter with a famous person was on a sunny summer Saturday morning in the state of Maine where I grew up. I was 15. 1971. It was Zero Mostel. If you’ve never heard of him, it’s okay. He’s been dead for a while now.
Zero Mostel was an interesting and often volatile character. He was a consummate artist who mastered comedy, acting, singing, and painting. He was a multiple Tony award winner for his work on Broadway that included his star power turns in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Producers, and most notably, he was the original Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He played that role for well over 3,000 performances.
My mother loved Broadway shows. Hence, we had a lot of original Broadway cast vinyl in the house. Fiddler on the Roof was one of those records and the cover boldly featured Zero’s picture and name.
In his later years, Zero loved spending time at his summer home in Maine on Monhegan Island.
The stars aligned for my first celebrity encounter. I met him outside a men’s clothing store on the main street of Rockland, Maine. I lived in Union, 15 miles away, so why was I in Rockland that day? And why was I in a clothing store when I had no money? I have no idea.
Zero Mostel stood at the counter wrapping up a conversation with the salesman. They laughed and parted as friends. I was star-struck. Could it really be him? Oh, it was definitely him. He swished past me out the door onto the street. I pulled myself together and went over to the guy at the register.
“Who was that?”
The salesman beamed. “Why that was Zero Mostel – famous actor and Broadway star.”
I beat feet outside and followed the big man up the street. He stopped and swiftly turned on me when I got close.
“What do you want?” he thundered.
I managed to stammer, “Are you Zero Mostel?”
I’ve seen some eye-rolls in my time. But on that day, I got the mother of all eye-rolls.
“Yes,” he admitted. The subtext written on his face dripped derision.
“Can – can – can I have an autograph?”
He glared down at my empty hands. No paper. Nothing to write with.
He becomes doubly pissed I stopped him.
He waved me off with a gruff “I don’t have a pen!”
And that was that. He left me in the dust. Things didn’t go as planned.
While meeting Zero Mostel was a cautionary celebrity experience, it wasn’t typical of the majority of high-visibility folks I’ve met since. Most celebs are quite kind.
My worst celebrity encounter was in fact not with Zero Mostel, although he would be a close second. No, my worst encounter happened roughly 10 years ago after I forced myself into a celebrity’s path, ignoring the advice of that acting teacher from years before.
Everyone is entitled to a bad day here and there, so I won’t tell you his name. He is a famous screenwriter and filmmaker. You’d know him because he’s worked on movies that have been nominated for Best Picture.
After seeing one of his early films in the 70s, I was inspired to become a screenwriter and filmmaker.
I was forewarned he was a curmudgeon. He had refused all interviews and party invitations.
But no. I didn’t care. I wanted to meet my hero up close. I wanted to thank him for being a major inspiration. I cornered the festival director who promised to at least ask to get me an opportunity to shake my mentor’s hand.
It happened immediately after my target’s Q&A. He had just screened one of his older films for us. The festival director walked the famous guest out to the lobby of the multi-plex and I got caught up in the crowd behind them.
Before reaching the lobby, I deviated off into a restroom. I had to pee bad. When I went to wash my hands, the hot water was out. Only cold water to rinse with. Then the theater was out of paper towels and the hand-dryer was out of order.
I came out of the restroom with cold wringing wet hands.
The fest director spied me and waved me over to meet my inspiration. It was now or never if I wanted the handshake. I knew this was the wrong moment. I should have run in the other direction. Still, I approached, trying unsuccessfully to dry my hands on my pants.
And there I was. Inches away. Face to face with the man. I wanted to say something witty which rapidly devolved to “You’re the one that made me want to make movies.”
He stared down not making eye contact. Clearly, he fell into the “has no interest in meeting me” category. But he still stuck out his hand. And I shook it.
His expression changed and not in a good way. He went from Zero Mostel curmudgeonly to quietly furious. He shook the wet off his hand. And I know he was really close to saying WTF out loud.
Hey. He’ll never see me again and at least my hands were clean.
So there are “set up” encounters that go down like the Hindenburg. Then there are happy accidents.
A couple of years ago when I was screening our movie Faux Paws on the west coast, I had a chance run-in with Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Robert Englund, who played Freddy, is not only wildly popular at film fests, he’s a seriously trained actor with a formidable background in theater. I read he’d been in the play Waiting for Godot. We’d both played the lead part of Estragon.
Stars were aligning.
Mr. Englund worked the crowd. He endured countless selfies with adoring fans from a wide demographic. He was followed by a mob wherever he roamed. I decided to leave him alone. Never mind the stars lining up.
And then my happy accident occurred.
I was exiting a screening and I turned a corner.
I found myself walking side by side with Fred Krueger. He had momentarily ditched his posse. It was just him and me.
I didn’t miss a beat.
“We both played Estragon in Waiting for Godot.” That got his attention. I had touched a button close to his heart that had nothing to do with nightmares on Elm street.
“Isn’t it a wonderful play?” he effused.
No. It isn’t. Okay, I didn’t say that part out loud. I went temporarily phony and nodded my head like Godot was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I had my video camera and asked if I could take a selfie. By this time, Robert E. was mine and was happy to do it.
Then I got a little flustered. Staring into the lens, I exclaimed, “We were both Estrogen!”
Which of course is not the lead character from Godot, but rather a female sex hormone.
I wonder if he thought I was punking him. Or just being ignorant. Or maybe he thought I was being intentionally (vs. unintentionally) funny. Or maybe he didn’t pick up on my faux pas at all and just wanted to get the hell away from me.
In actuality, I was just being Doug.
I was saved from further embarrassment by a mob that detected Freddy’s presence. He was off to the races. Millions of fans would love the seconds I got with him. That, in itself, is kinda cool.
I’ve experienced celebrity on a minor level. I’ve had people accost me after a screening of one of our movies and ask for a selfie. An autograph. And more often than not, a hug. From total strangers. I’ve even been propositioned a couple of times.
I’m flattered by the attention, but only because I don’t have to deal with it every 5 seconds. I can see how people who you don’t want to meet chasing you down the street could become a drag in a very short amount of time.
So here’s my advice on meeting celebs.
Approach with caution.
Approach with respect.
Approach with dry hands.
Zero Mostel was 62 when he died. The same age I am as I type these words. By all accounts, he went down swinging. Phasers set to kill.
I found out he played the lead role in Waiting for Godot, too. In 1961.
So I guess it’s true good things come in threes.
Zero, me, and Freddy.
We’re all Estrogen.