I’ve had very few brushes with celebrities. One of my closest encounters was with Tonight Show second-banana Ed McMahon, way back in 1991. I’d flown to Los Angeles for a convention and found time to do a few touristy things such as taking a tour of stars’ homes and visiting Disneyland. I also went to a taping of the aforementioned show starring Johnny Carson, who was always funniest when his monologue jokes bombed, as they did that night. His guests were comedian Martin Mull, jazz singer Ruth Brown and somebody not famous enough to remember.
Before the show, I did the NBC tour. When I left the taping, I walked by the staff parking lot and caught a glimpse of Ed getting into his limousine. I yelled at the Publisher’s Clearing House pitchman “Hey Ed! Where’s my check!”
“Ho ho ho!” he bellowed as he waved. “It’s in the mail!” Then he got in the car and was driven away.
Turns out, he lied. He could have at least shaken my hand, or maybe given me a coupon for a can of Alpo. These stars.
I met professional wrestler Mankind/Mick Foley in the parking garage of a hospital. Turned out both of us were there to greet our newborn sons. He was unloading a baby carrier from the back of a minivan. I walked up to him and asked if he was who I thought he was. He smiled at me, sans teeth, and gave me an autograph on a napkin. He was pretty nice, a far cry from his maniac persona. And more hospitable at the hospital, moreso than Ed had been in Burbank.
Perhaps my closest encounter with a celebrity was in the pre-celebrity days of country music star Travis Tritt. Travis and I were both raised in Marietta, Georgia and we attended summer camp together. I remember him as being scrawny, shorter and younger than I was. He wasn’t as athletic as me, which is to say there was really no need to write this sentence, other than to embellish my own ego. Still, he wasn’t that proficient at anything involving a ball, preferring to sit on the sidelines with his guitar.
In the cabin, he would play his guitar constantly along with another guitar-playing friend. At the tender age of 14, he was already heavily invested in his instrument, an investment that would eventually pay dividends, not long after his hair grew a good bit longer than it was during that hot summer week in central Georgia.
Each year at summer camp was a talent show, and seeing how Travis Tritt had not yet become Travis Tritt, if you will, I employed his services as my guitarist while I took to the stage and put on my Elvis imitation concert. Mind you, my act was ground-breaking, in that Mr. Presley was still with us, and there had not yet been an outbreak of faux-Elvi across the world.
Anyway, I leapt to the stage as three or four girls squealed dutifully, happy to cash in on the snack food credits they would be able to enjoy in return for the squeals. I sang “Hound Dog,” accompanied by the un-famous Tritt, who tore into his guitar as I snarled across the stage.
It was the end of my career, and the start of his, for there in an open stage tabernacle, I introduced a celebrity to the, uh, world.
Years later, I was listening to the radio. After the song ended, the deejay said “That was the new big hit Country Club by Travis Tritt!”
Well now, I figured I was due something. After all, I had been Travis Tritt’s Sam Phillips.
Alas, I never got a call from him or RCA. But we did get re-acquainted, sort of. By the time we met again (sort of), we were living in the same town, and he was grand marshall of the town’s Christmas parade. I stood on the sidewalk with dozens of other parade watchers, holding the aforementioned son while he clutched the napkin with Mick Foley’s autograph.
Travis passed by slowly, seated atop the back seat of a red convertible, waving at the crowd. For the briefest moment, our eyes locked and I bellowed, “Hey Travis! Remember me?!”
He just kept waving, but managed to smile and nod his head. The car rolled past and I yelled at the bumper. “Summer camp! 1975! You played guitar for me!”
Perhaps I was thinking he would order the driver to stop the car as he clambered out and ran backwards toward me. “Oh my Lord, how could I have forgotten! I owe my career to you!”
But that never happened. He made his way back to his stately Georgia mansion, while I dabbed at my eyes with the autographed napkin.
Well, you never know. I may yet meet somebody else who’s famous.