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Silver Threads: Celebrity status

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

My grandson almost bumped into Tom Cruise the other day while taking photos in a suite at the Superdome. (A Saints’ game was on, and he was working as a part-timer for the man who has the contract for the suite stuff.)

Do you know who I am?” asked the miffed actor. My grandson replied that he was glad a collision had been averted and that he really didn’t care who Cruise was.

If celebrities like Cruise really — deep in their hearts — want to be recognized, then why do the male ones grow their hair long and go unshaven? That wouldn’t have worked back in the old days because they might have risked being arrested for vagrancy, and anyhow can you imagine John Wayne going about with a beard?

I’ve always heard — and believe it to be mostly true — that film stars can gad about New Orleans without being bothered much by fans. There are, of course, exceptions to anything that’s mostly true.

Seeing Carol Burnett one time in a bookstore in Metairie, I managed to preserve our town’s reputation even though I was a huge admirer. She’d just had well-publicized jaw surgery so I stared a bit, thereby attracting her attention, but refrained from comment. (“Good job, Carol.”)

Unlike the loud-mouth who spotted Charlton Heston here, it was the only time I’ve ever seen a celebrity outed in public -- when a man finding his seat about six rows in front of mine at the old Saenger Orleans discovered that Heston, in town to shoot a movie, was sitting about five rows in front of me.

“I can’t believe this!” the man, who must have been a tourist, squealed loudly. “Linda, look here! Look who this is. I can’t believe it!” The entire house was treated to the scene, and while Heston was silent and unperturbed, his admirer seemed to come close to an embarrassment of a very personal and damp nature.

I didn’t get up to get a closer look at Heston or track him at the concession stand during the movie’s intermission. In another incident, I gave a short, civil answer to a question from Van Johnson when we were both in the audience for a performance at the old Beverly Dinner Playhouse, but will have to admit that I walked past Rock Hudson’s table twice.

My eyes just went wide a bit when local actor Spud McConnell held the door open for me at a Metairie restaurant, and when he said, “Yep, it’s me,” I briefly told him how much I’d enjoyed his work in a recent play.

But — when a call for T-P entertainment writer David Cuthbert came into the office on a day when he was at home, not feeling well, I told our receptionist I’d take it. It was from David’s friend Lana Turner, and I couldn’t resist. She was an old lady then and I wasn’t, so she mostly wanted to know what was going on with me.

In more modern times, I began to see how tiresome celebrity can be. Spouse and I were in New York, sitting in a theater and waiting for the curtain to go up, when Linda Gray, then currently of “Dallas” fame, walked in. Somebody opened a door onto an alley and the paparazzi swarmed in, pushing over a long counter at the back of the room and bringing down the wrath of some very vocal bartenders. Ms. Gray and her companion left in a hurry.

Perhaps Tom Cruise thought my grandson was solo-paparazzi. If so, why did he offer to I.D. himself even though he’d retreated behind head and facial hair to confuse everybody?

Perhaps he just wanted his picture taken — in a city that care(ing) forgot.

 

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]