We tend to view celebrities as larger than life, but in reality, they’re just ordinary people, even if some of them think otherwise. Over the years I’ve bumped into quite a few people who would be considered celebrities. My earliest recollection of seeing a celebrity is being in high school when a congressman named Edward Derwinsky gave a speech at my school. To this day, I look back at how rare this was… A congressman actually coming to a high school to speak to a bunch of kids who wouldn’t be able to vote for a couple of years. (Back then the voting age was 21.) I haven’t seen my current congressman, Bobby Rush, in years, but I don’t feel bad. His fellow representatives haven’t seen that much of him either.
Flash forward a few years, to my undergrad college days… Former Olympian and Flash Gordon actor, Buster Crabbe, came to the university to do a swimming presentation and then a commentary on one of his old movies. My buddy and I were in the practice of running a couple miles each afternoon and then going swimming at this huge co-ed pool. When we finished our run and went into the locker room, we were shocked to see Buster Crabbe standing there in a swimming suit. I was astonished at his level of physical conditioning. We talked for a while and he revealed that he’d quit the movie business years before, and was working as a stockbroker on Wall Street. (Again, this was a while back when Wall Street guys were still considered the good guys.) He was most proud of his Olympic medals, and how he was able to raise the American flag up the pole during the ceremonies.
As an MP in the Army I had the privilege of being at one of Bob Hope’s Last Christmas Shows. It included an Australian babe, Miss World, who was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever laid eyes on, as well as gorgeous and talented Lola Falana, and a bunch of other fabulous entertainers. Mr. Hope will always have a special place in my heart for making my first Christmas away from home so memorable. For a young GI far from home, it was a bright spot in a dark time. I also was part of a security detail guarding Miss America and the group of pageant finalists at a USO Show.
I’ve seen a couple of presidents, or men who later became president, ranging from Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barrack Obama. I was in charge of a security detail for then Senator Obama’s birthday party when I was a cop. I also worked security details for a couple Illinois governors (Jim Thompson and Rod Blagojevich, who later became the twelfth Illinois Governor to be indicted. He’s in prison as we speak.)
My law enforcement career also included security details for Oprah Winfrey, Raquel Welch, and Richard Simmons. I also met with my co-author, Richard Belzer, of TV’s Law & Order SVU. I was hoping he could get me a walk-on part on the show as a homeless guy, but we met in New York during the writer’s strike and everything was closed down. I’ve bumped into Lou Ferrigno, the Incredible Hulk, a few times. He’s both a nice and an impressive guy. And then there was the time I helped teach a firearms class to a group of very pretty and talented Hollywood stuntwomen. It wasn’t easy, but somebody had to do it. ;-)
As far as celebrity writers, the list is much longer. I’ve been fortunate to have met quite a few of them, and I count many of them as friends. (I’d list them, but I’m too scared I’d leave somebody out.) Which brings me to my one of my favorites. I was at Bouchercon a few years ago, and I was seated next to James Lee Burke. The line of people waiting to get their books signed by him was out the door. Also at the table was Mary Higgins Clark, who was seated next to the guy on my right. Her line was as long as Burke’s. The guy next to me and I had a smattering of people. I turned to introduce myself and found that I was seated next to Warren Murphy, the co-author of the old Destroyer series, and a bunch of other great paperback books. Warren and I spent the next forty-five minutes signing books for a handful of fans, and talking about writing. The man was a wealth of information, and a writer’s writer. He was one of those guys who kept the pulp spirit alive, even after there were no more pulps. And not only that, he was a real down to earth kind of guy. I look back on that signing, and that celebrity sighting, as one of my favorites.