01 July 2010

All star

I worked at Big Entertainment Company for several years, both in TV at the studio and in the division that designs theme parks. It was work I sort of fell into; I'm one of those willing to go off the career path rails to do something that looks interesting and will teach me something new. In fact, I think that has been my career path, despite a master's degree in other things and all that stuff.


TV tends not to interest me much, so there was some light irony in being involved in TV production. But I do love film, and the two overlap, so I learned a great deal about how stuff gets done. I like to know how things work whether it's how do you get that musical instrument to make that sound or how do you mount a live television broadcast for a fundraiser.

One of the more interesting (or less interesting, depending upon your point of view) aspects of my job was dealing with celebrities. Mostly, it was producers and directors, though occasionally I crossed paths with talent (or lack thereof). And although I've lived in the Los Angeles area for decades, it was this job that taught me that celebrity is in the eye of the beholder.

One morning, I was sitting in my office crunching numbers and a meeting let out from the conference room down the hall. After a few moments, a tall, older man appeared in my doorway, and asked where the nearest restroom was located. I gave him directions to the production offices wherein were located the nearest facilities, and he thanked me and went on his way. Not three seconds later, my department's secretary ran into my office.

"Don't you know who that was? That was Famous Director with Multiple Academy Awards who is also Father of Famous Actress and Director and Father-in-Law of Famous Actor and Director!!!"

"Yes," I told her gravely.

"But..." she replied. "You told him how to get to the restroom!"

"Did you expect me to find him an armed escort to travel 50 yards?" I inquired.

She went back to her desk, shaking her head, clearly of the opinion that I'd breached some form of celebrity etiquette, while to my mind, I'd just answered the poor man's simple query.

Similarly, I had to attend a meeting for a new TV show, and I arrived a bit early. Another woman and I were awaiting the other attendees, when she turned to me suddenly and demanded, "Do you know who I am?"

"No," I responded politely. "But I imagine you're here for the meeting on Show X?"

And I introduced myself and briefly explained the capacity in which I would be working on the show, which was peon number cruncher. She took this exchange in stride, but with an air of bewilderment. It turned out that she was the show's producer and had been nominated for an Emmy for work on another well-known show that I, of course, had never seen.

But my favorite encounter was with a gentleman who was seriously famous, who has a face that is still recognized by a multitude particularly if you were a kid in the 1970s, when he was both a TV star and a certifiable heart throb. Even yours truly, non-TV watcher extraordinaire, knew who he was when he pulled into the studio parking lot early one morning, got out of his car, and bid me good morning.

He was horribly cheerful at 7 am. And even though he's 20 years older than I am, it was impossible not to notice that he was still a very attractive man.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I ran into him in the parking lot most mornings. And he was effusive and happy, and he wondered aloud why I got to the studio so early (because I could actually get some work done, and I avoided rush hour traffic), commented on the weather, or the state of the world. And quite memorably, he arrived late one morning, and ran to catch up with me, complaining good-naturedly that I hadn't waited for him.

Initially, I was embarrassed by his friendly overtures. I was no one, just a young and gauche female working away at the most stressful job she'd ever held, and here was a man who'd been on TV and in films and on the cover of every entertainment magazine in the world, and he was talking to me. Eventually, though, I realized that he was just a nice guy, that the parking lot conversations were the same parking lot conversations I'd had at every other job with the people who worked for the same institution I did, and because I was young and gauche and so easily embarrassed, I never let on that I knew who he was or what he had done or what he was currently working on. So he just got to be a nice guy, and we were just two people working for the same company, exchanging twenty words on the weather and traffic, and then wishing one another a good day.

I never saw him again once he concluded his business at the studio, though occasionally, I would hear his name mentioned, and a few years ago, he was in a movie the kids were watching. I had to laugh then at the memory of "you didn't wait for me!"

Though I never watched the TV show that made him a household name, nor did I have a crush on him when I was a kid like so many of my friends did, that really sweet guy holds a special place in my heart.

He was a nice, normal person, no airs, no pretensions. Funny and happy. Capable of parking lot conversations. That's what makes him a star.

Go listen to some good music: "All Star" from the album Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth. And the really nice guy on whom I've had a crush for decades? Still leaves me tongue-tied. Probably for the best.

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