In doing what I’ve been doing for 30 years, one of the most common questions I’m asked is "Have you ever met anyone famous?" The short answer is yes, many times, but often it was dumb luck and had nothing to do with my TV gig. Since people find these chance encounters amusing I thought I’d share a few, starting with an unexpected roller-skating partner.
Around the winter of 2000, I was on a day shift at the television station and went directly to the gym after work; except on Tuesdays. Guptill’s Arena ran a promotion called "Two for Tuesdays" where you could skate all night for only two bucks. It was a fabulous cardio workout and I was a regular.
One particular Tuesday, I saw a photographer from a competing TV station. I skated over to say hello and he introduced me to a new female reporter and asked a favor. The young lady wanted to skate around the rink while talking into the camera but couldn’t go two feet without falling so the photographer asked if I could hold her hand and kind of pull her along. We agreed—because I was the competition, we’d all get in trouble if either of our bosses knew I had helped or appeared in her story, so he framed the shot tight and the only thing you could see was her holding some mystery man’s hand. The red neon sign flashed "all skate" and we took a few laps around chatting about this and that. Nice girl. The next time I saw her she was on national TV cooking. Her name is Rachael Ray.
I’ve always loved Broadway shows and keep a keen eye out for big-name stars who like to flex the acting muscles on "The Great White Way." Back in the fall of 1999, actor Christopher Walken landed the lead in a James Joyce play, "The Dead." The subject matter was depressing but it was a chance to see Walken live on stage. Enough said.
Back then, my mom was still alive but had trouble walking so getting her to the theater was a bit of a chore. Still we went and got to our seats early for the show. Just before the curtain went up, the room started buzzing because actress Glenn Close had just walked in. She wasn’t in the play; she was there as an audience member.
After the show we stayed in our seats to let everyone else clear out of the theater; this way, my mom could take her time. By the time we got to the lobby, everyone was gone—and I mean everyone. My mom needed to sit and rest for a moment so we lingered even longer. Then the stage door opened and Glenn Close walked out alone.
My mom was a huge fan and loved her in "Fatal Attraction" (even though she cooked a rabbit). She was a bit star-struck and could only stare. But I figured what the heck and walked straight over to Ms. Close. I told her that was my mom sitting in the chair across the lobby and it would mean the world if she could go say hello. Glenn Close smiled, walked over and said hi to my mom. Great moment.
Another nice memory from Broadway involves a chance meeting with "Uncle Fester" from The Adams Family. Five years ago, they decided to turn that old TV show into a play. The two lead roles went to Nathan Lane (Gomez) and Bebe Neuwirth (Morticia) so my sister and I bought great seats for a Sunday matinee.
The day we went down, we got there a couple of hours early, grabbed sandwiches from a shop in Times Square and found a seat in the public area. A chubby bald guy at the next table stopped scarfing down his greasy pizza just long enough to chat us up. We automatically assumed he was either crazy, drunk or wanted money so we tried to ignore him but he was persistently friendly. He asked what show we were seeing. I reluctantly told him “The Adams Family.” He laughed and said, "I’m starring in that." Turns out he was actor Kevin Chamberlin and not only was he playing Uncle Fester in the play but this guy has been in films with Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, was nominated for a Tony Award, and currently has a hit show on Disney called "Jessie." A week after meeting Kevin I mailed a letter to the theater thanking him for being so nice and he immediately emailed me back. Class act.
I have had other chance encounters with Henry Winkler (at a newsstand), Chris Noth (outside Mario Cuomo’s funeral) and Faith Hill (don’t ask), but nothing more than a hello and goodbye.
My favorite of them all was Alice from “The Brady Bunch.” Ann B. Davis was not only sweet but dubbed me an "Honorary Brady" and said I was well within my rights to scream "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" whenever I wanted.
I’d like to see Meryl Streep do that!
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at [email protected]