Monday, October 09, 2006
More Brushes With Fame: Appearances Can Be Decieving
In 1980, when I was 19 years old, I was working as a cashier at a Walgreen's in the western suburbs of Chicago. I was in the midst of a year-long break from college, while I worked and saved money for school.
One day while I was working this guy who was a dead ringer for Robert Redford came through my line. I knew it couldn't be him-- why the hell would Robert Redford be in Western Springs, Illinois? And this guy was about 5 foot 5. He was tiny. I'd seen Robert Redford on-screen-- he was at least as tall as I am.
The other cashier made a big hulabaloo-- "Look at that guy", she said, how much he looked like Robert Redford! "Doesn't he look like Robert Redford!" The guy in my line just smiled quietly-- no, he was smirking. I should have known.
Well, a few years later, it dawned on me-- it was Robert Redford. He'd been in the Chicago area at the time filming "Ordinary People." He'd stopped in there for toothpaste or something. And in the meantime I'd heard that he was shorter than he looked on-screen. He was. A lot.
After I finished college, I was indulging in what has become a lifelong habit of working as a waiter, either full time or to support my teaching habit. In 1989, I was working at a restaurant near Depaul. The neighborhood was in the midst of a rapid gentrification, and the restaurant, called Minnie's, became "hot." I loved working there-- it was mostly nice people as customers, and it was like printing money.
There were many celebrities, mostly local ones, particularly media people, that came in there. There was a local newscaster, the late Phil Walters, who came in all the time mid-morning and was pissy with me because I didn't fawn all over him. I didn't even know who he was until someone from the lunch shift saw him and told me who he was-- I never watch tv news. And I wouldn't have anyway-- most of the media people loved the place because it was it was a place they could come in and have nobody made a big deal over them. Pam Zekman came in-- major pain in the ass. She was a big has-been (she had done the Mirage Tavern story years before), and so was trying to hang on to the last scraps of her semi-celebrity status. Bill Curtis, who was very pleasant, was also a regular.
One day, John Cusack was there. I was shocked to see how tall he was. He was much taller than me, and I'm six feet tall. He was the only celebrity I've asked for an autograph, and it was not even for me; it was for an old friend, who'd been a big fan of his from early in his career, and had suffered a huge tragedy (his home had burned down, killing his mother and sister). I thought he could use a little cheering up.
After meeting Cusack, I mused at how he looked short on-screen, but is tall, and Redford looks tall but is short. But, I discovered, it is not only looks that can be misleading on-screen.
There was a group of little punk wannabes that would come in to Minnie's for lunch once in a while. These girls would come in with their silly hair and clothes, trying to show who could be the cutest and the cleverest. I'm the last person to try to be "punker than thou," but I was into the scene-- I hung out at the Exit, Neo and Gaspar's. The guys in Naked Raygun were friends of mine. I'd never seen these girls out anywhere in the bars. They were obnoxious little suburban girls, playing "punk" while they were in college. And they were shitty tippers, to boot. I and everybody else there hated waiting on them.
Flash forward to the mid-nineties. I had become a huge fan of the X-Files, which creator Chris Carter openly declared was influenced by "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," one of my favorite cheesy seventies cult shows. I loved both main characters, Mulder and Scully. Scully was my dream girl-- gorgeous, intelligent, spiritual in her way. But something nagged at me. I knew I'd seen her before. I was reading an article about the X-Files that mentioned that Gillian Anderson, the actress who played Scully, had gone to Depaul. Then it hit me-- I realized where I knew her from; she had been the ringleader of the twerps who had come in to Minnie's. I hated her. She was snotty, vulgar and not nearly as clever as she thought she was. Her real persona couldn't be farther than what she played on television. I couldn't watch the show without thinking of this.
A couple of years ago, I got a huge lesson in how far a person's onscreen personna-- and life-- can be from their reality. There was a Best Buy commercial where a middle-aged, middle-class suburban-- and presumably straight--guy and his son are standing in a store watching a show on a big-screen television. The son asks why they don't simply buy the television. The dad replies that it was because the minute they bought it, no longer how long they waited, the price would drop the next day. I am blessed (and sometimes cursed) with the inability to forget a face. I knew that I knew the guy in the commercial. I suddenly realized that it was Jimmy Doyle, a guy I'd worked with as a waiter nearly twenty years before. Jimmy was an actor, and very, very gay. The last I'd heard of him, in fact, was a one-man show he'd done at the Mercury Theater, on Southport, in Chicago. I'd read the very favorable reviews, which said the show centered on his identity as a gay man. I found it very ironic that the next time I saw him, he was playing this butch suburban dad.
Spending the first years of my adult life in the eighties, I should know better. I should already know that the right actor can "play" anything-- even President.