Rick’s Journal — MY FILM CAREER
CELEBRITIES I HAVE KNOWN
I’ve seen celebrities in the theater (as playgoers, not thespians). I’ve seen them at the movies. And I’ve seen them shopping. (See Rick’s Flicks for 9/16/16.) But it was in Westwood Village, hard by UCLA, that I saw them as man and woman on the street (Cornel Wilde in Beverly Hills, more on that later).
The Hollywood star I glimpsed most often was Jack Lemmon. The first occasion came when my mother was out to California for a visit, and we passed him on the sidewalk. She liked him especially, and at that time had seen every movie he had made. Lemmon was the first celebrity she saw on that first visit to California, and she was, literally, thrilled. “That’s Lemmon!” He was the only celebrity she always called by only his surname — except Garbo. (My mother was from Charleston; and on the rare occasions when she used the latter’s first name, she called her Greeta Gahbo.)
Together we saw Lemmon again at Disneyland. He was with a small boy who, I supposed, was getting his first lesson in rights and race: “He has just as much right to be there as you, son.”
I next saw Jack Lemmon at the Village Theatre. From across the street I watched him on the sidewalk outside the theater being deferential to a producer-type. The scene was a preview showing of Boys Night Out.
It was also in Westwood Village that I unobtrusively watched Peter Falk park his red car. And I saw Rock Hudson standing at the open hatch of a large beige station wagon outside the sporting goods store. That was one big man.
In that earlier post that I wrote about the happy sight of Esther Williams Christmas shopping in Westwood’s largest bookstore. I once saw Katy Jurado shopping, too. She was choosing Christmas tree ornaments in the closest thing to a dime store that existed there at the time. There was a small all-eyes child at her side. I cannot remember: girl or boy? I was absorbed in the lady’s own luminous and vulnerable eyes and those unique lips.
I was fortunate to run into stars in movie theaters, too. I spotted lovely — as in lovely person — Betty Grable at the candy concession in the Bruin Theatre, buying candy for her two boys to take with them into Cowboy with Jack Lemmon (that name again) and Glenn Ford. It would have been grand to tell her how much her musicals meant to me as a boy about the age of her youngest. But I do not annoy celebrities.
I did see her once more, years later, as Dolly on the New York stage. I had a ticket for the third row and was so enthusiastic in response and applause during the show that I detected — great professional though she was — that she noticed me, though that was never my intention.
I saw Dennis Hopper at the movies, too. He and a date, with a double date, sat behind me at the Los Feliz Theatre for Pather Panchali. The four of them were worriesomely convivial until Ray’s film began, then silent as cat feet in fog.
I glimpsed more stars in theaters in Los Angeles and Hollywood than I saw in theaters during all the years I lived in New York. I can boast only two New York sightings. At a first night I was surprised by the incomparable dental structure and ferocious smile of Gale Sondergaard. Who knew that ol’ Gale would carry that smile down the years all the way to the face of Eagle Woman in The Return of a Man Called Horse?* On another occasion I saw, at intermission, in deep theatrical evaluation with a companion, the Queen of First Nights, Anita Louise.
Staying with theater sightings — finding celebrities in the audience at stage plays — I recall a stunning Joan Fontaine in a red dress at a Theatre Group performance on the UCLA campus. She was aware that I saw her. How often must this happen to all of them?
And in downtown Los Angeles when I went to see Vivien Leigh on stage in Duel of Angels, I sat across the aisle from Lucille Ball and a a young escort. She was chewing gum. As I was leaving at the end, she and her companion were headed down the theater alley toward the stage door. She was still chewing.
In Beverly Hills, in addition to my unforgettable vision of Rita Hayworth (Rick’s Flicks 3/11/16), I saw Cornel Wilde, a long ago favorite, coming out of the drugstore and lighting a cigarette from the pack he had just purchased.
*Gale Sondergaard delivered one of my all-time favorite lines. It contributed to her winning the first supporting actress Academy Award (Anthony Adverse, 1936). She and husband (Claude Raines) are in a snow-covered, icy mountain pass. There is trouble with the coach. They are sitting on a cold rock while the coachman does his best. But coach and coachman end up sliding off the precipice. Raines, almost in tears, says the man was the best servant he ever had. Ol’ Gale: “The coach was rather handy, too.”
NEXT FRIDAY POST November 11
See you at the movies,