As of today, August 13, it has been 51 years since I made the move from my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, to West Hollywood. Since then there have been many times while living in the glow of Tinseltown that I realized I wasn’t in Alabama anymore. Here are a few of them.
I insulted a legendary leading lady. While working at Schwab’s Drugstore, I became familiar with our regular cast of characters of has-beens and never-weres. One of the former was faded movie queen Miriam Hopkins, an irascible recluse that none of us had ever seen and definitely did not want to talk to. I got stuck with her late one night when she called looking for a product that didn’t exist, at least not in the size or color she wanted. At one point, she asked me, “Is there anyone there who knows more about it than you do?” Since I was alone except for the pharmacist, who was on his dinner break, I said, “No.” Ms. Hopkins departed for the great beyond soon after so I didn’t have to deal with her again.
Also at Schwab’s, I waited on a lovely, well-dressed middle-aged lady who paid with a check. I read the name and realized she was Christine Jorgenson, the first American to have sex-change surgery. Predictably, this was the first time I had seen or met a transsexual person, and am now horrified at how humans like this lady are being demonized all these decades later.
A Beatle walked into my office. In 1976 I was working for the music biz trade magazine Cash Box. Fridays were always dull since next week’s issue was at the printers so I agreed to handle the phones while the receptionist ran an errand. I was alone in the office when I noticed a visitor through the top of the double door. I walked over to see a skinny guy with long dark hair wearing jeans, a denim jacket, and a T-shirt who really looked like George Harrison. I asked if I could help him and he answered, “Just tell Mr. Albert (our publisher) that Mr. ‘arrison came by.” He left and I thought, “Everybody’s going to think I made this up.” As it turned out, when I returned from a late lunch, George was back and hanging out with Mr. Albert in his office. I’m pretty sure this couldn’t have happened if I had stayed in Alabama.
I petted a lion. Again in 1976, the label for a band that had a lion on the front of their debut album decided to get some publicity for them by renting a lion and dragging him around to local media. By the time Leo and company had gotten to Cash Box, he was getting cranky and had already jumped on top of a parked car in the parking garage for Billboard, so we were asked to meet him downstairs in front of the building. When we got our first look at the magnificent feline, we noticed he was big. Really big. We also noticed that while the girls wanted to pet him, the guys wanted to stay as far away from him as possible. Since this was a trained lion who had recently starred in a deodorant commercial without eating the model, we scratched under his fluffy ruff and stroked his silky neck while he purred like a kitty. A huge kitty. The palm of my hand fit between his eyes. When he opened his jaws and let out a big yawn, the guys backed up even further. We would have played with Leo all afternoon but he still had to make another stop at Record World.
I saw a stunt go horribly wrong. In 1980, I was writing for Rona Barrett’s Hollywood and went to the set of “The Dukes of Hazzard” to observe the filming of one of the show’s famous stunts for a story. It was a hot summer day out at Lake Sherwood and we all spent hours waiting for the crew to hack through the timbers of a ramshackle barn that looked like it was about to fall down all by itself. Finally, all systems were “go” and a stunt double for Bo Duke crashed one of several General Lee Dodge Chargers into the barn, which was supposed to fall apart into a big pile. But it didn’t. The car was stopped by a timber and flipped over, shocking the onlookers. Rescue workers ran to check on the stunt driver, who fortunately was OK but was taken to a hospital to be sure. When the scene finally appeared on the show the stunt was pieced together to look like it went flawlessly. Such is the magic of Hollywood.
So I’m still here and hoping for more adventures in the future!