There are two kinds of people: those who enjoy spotting celebrities, and those who could care less. I happen to fall in the first category, and, lucky for me I have a true knack for it. It’s a gift, what can I say? I don’t know why it appeals to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small South Texas town where there was just one movie theatre and not much other entertainment besides Friday night football. My father was a huge movie buff all of his life, spending many weekend afternoons at the movies. On Saturday mornings, he’d drop my siblings and me at the “Coke show,” sponsored by the local Coca-Cola bottling company, where the price of admission was an empty coke bottle. My mother’s father was a movie critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Dispatch for many years. His autographed black and white photos of movie stars hung in the hallway of our home for as long as I can remember. I always loved the movies for taking me to places I’d never been and introducing me to characters I’d never dreamed of. So, imagine my great thrill when, on my first trip to New York City in the ’80’s, I had a close encounter with Darryl Hannah, star of “Splash,” when she was John-John’s girlfriend and a hot movie star. My husband and I spotted her walking around a flea market down in the Village and couldn’t believe it. Shortly afterwards, we walked past a pet shop and I could swear I saw Kevin Kline, then the star of “The Big Chill,” shopping with his daughter. Years later, when my eldest daughter turned 16, my father and I took her to New York City and splurged on a carriage ride through Central Park. She and my dad were busy looking at the skyline, the park and the monuments, but I kept a close eye on everyone on the trails. Good thing, or we would have missed seeing John Stossel jogging. This was a BIG deal; he was a co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20! A day or two later, while walking back to our mid-town hotel after an afternoon of sight seeing, we saw a big crowd in front of The Waldorf. We walked into the hotel and learned we had stumbled upon the arrival of celebrities for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. JACKPOT! We stood by and saw Tom Petty, Tom Wolfe in his signature all-white suit and hat, ZZ Top, and many, many others. My daughter excitedly chatted with the nice man standing next to her, who happened to be Chubby Checker, although she didn’t know that.
Ever since, I’ve been like a kid in a candy shop when I go to New York City. I simply keep my eyes and ears open. It’s amazing to look around and realize that no one else seems to be paying attention. Once I was with my husband for a medical meeting on the Upper East side. We stumbled into Eli Zabar’s deli, E.A.T., just north of 80th and squeezed into a table for two. After ordering, I glanced to my left and noticed a familiar face just a few small tables away. STEVEN SPIELBERG. Yes. It was him with his cute mother, Leah Adler, with her short, stylish silver bob. His movie “War of the Worlds” was premiering that weekend. (That would be the infamous day that Tom Cruise got into a tiff with Matt Lauer over prescription drugs and Brooke Shields, followed closely by his jumping on Oprah’s couch proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes.) Now that was a sighting! Even my husband was impressed.
Since then, I’ve made several trips to New York with a close friend who shares my enthusiasm for seeing celebrities in person (otherwise known as stalking). We’ve tried hard to sniff out celebrities where we think we’ll find them, but we usually have our best luck when we’re not trying. We have tripped over Eva Longoria who was talking on her cell phone and wouldn’t move past the rotating door at a department store near the High Line, and followed Angie Harmon around the home and gifts department at Barney’s. In November of 2015, we were strolling through Washington Square Park where a memorial had sprung up overnight for the victims of the Paris terror attacks. I bent down to read a sign left by a mourner and when I popped up, I was face to face with a beautiful woman in a stylish hat and boots. It was Rachel from “Friends,” Jennifer Aniston. And accompanying her was her movie star husband, Justin Theroux. We followed them, from a respectful distance, of course, all over Greenwich Village.
My friend and I just returned from another trip to our favorite city. As always, we started our celebrity hunt by stopping by the Today Show for an up-close glimpse of Matt Lauer and Al Roker and whoever happens to be the guest that day. We spoke to Willy Geist and Jenna Bush Hager, shook hands with Dr. Oz, and made meaningful eye contact with Matt. Later that day, we had reservations at the new Polo Bar by Ralph Lauren, excited with the prospect of seeing celebs, and bolstered by the menu which read, “Please keep your photographs limited to your table,” implying that we could not turn our cell phone cameras toward Beyonce and Jay Z even if they were dining under the same roof. Seeing no one that evening, we felt defeated. But, we had also made reservations at Bar Centrale later in the week, an unmarked locale near the theatre district where, we heard, the stars hang out after their shows. After seeing a great new musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” we raced a couple of blocks to the unmarked bar on 46th Street, climbed up the steps of what seemed to be a brownstone apartment, pushed open the door and found ourselves behind two couples trying to get in. Both were turned away for their failure to make reservations in advance. Due to our foresight, we were shown to a table around the corner from the front room near the bar. Shortly after ordering drinks I saw the hostess coming around the corner with a guest. It was one of the the lead actors of The Great Comet of 1812, a play we’d seen the day prior. We were encouraged. About fifteen minutes later, a small entourage came toward us. A smiling woman in a large overcoat approached our side of the room. It was Glenn Close, current star of “Sunset Boulevard.” We were trying to be cool, but couldn’t help giggling. Next, came a couple of men we didn’t recognize, followed closely by a beautiful, tall blonde. In my excitement I couldn’t think of her name, but my friend recognized her immediately as Cate Blanchett, who also is starring in a Broadway show, “The Present.” We ordered another cocktail and some potato skins, pleased with our ability to mingle with the stars. Just when we were preparing to ask for the check, in walked Mark Ruffalo with his wife. He is starring in “The Price,” an Arthur Miller show that was visited the following night by former President Obama. (I won’t even speculate about what I’d have done had I seen him. It would have surely embarrassed my friend.)
I can’t explain my silly fascination with these beautiful people. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But, I enjoy watching them on screen and it makes me happy to see them up close. Like tourists who pay lots of money to see exotic animals in Africa, I think it’s fascinating to spot exotic people who live in a totally different world from me, and to observe them from afar for a few minutes.
I’d been back to reality for a few days before receiving a text from my friend. “Did you watch the Oscars? They let a bus full of tourists into the Dolby Theatre!” I know, I replied. “Next year we’re going to L.A.”