Celebrity Sightings by Deb Meredith

One thing I don’t understand is what makes famous people so darn fascinating. Why do we care how many kids Angelina Jolie has, or whether or not Lindsay Lohan is back in rehab for the upteenth time? I go for months without seeing magazines like US Weekly or People, and then I suddenly pick one up at the doctor’s office or the gym and scrutinize the pages. I wonder why I care enough to read them, and who most of the people mentioned are (usually stars of reality shows that I’ve never seen).

I really don’t know many famous people personally. There weren’t too many in rural Virginia where I grew. I did go to high school with the Stefan, the bassist for the Dave Mathews Band, and Boyd Tinsley (also from the band) came to Thanksgiving at my house (he was friends with my brother). And I was friends with Brian Eno’s daughter when I was ten (who was living with her mother at the time). But probably anyone in my hometown has a similar story.

Living in New York City, it’s impossible to avoid seeing famous people (unless you never go out). I have seen various actors around town—like Liv Tyler, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Hillary Swank. I have to say quite proudly that I don’t usually notice famous people. Occasionally a friend will dig me in the ribs to point one out to me (Lou Reed at the MOMA, for instance, or Jason Alexander at a production of Wit). My eyes are more drawn to the unusual, to the more striking people on the street. I can’t resist watching the woman who dyes her hair bright pink to match her shoes, or the person with the four inch lift in one shoe, or the man with tattoos on his face. I wonder who they are and what their story is.

One time in college, I recognized a man strolling past me with dark intense eyes and a weathered face. I had never seen him in person, but I had seen his photograph on the back of his book NIGHT. I knew instantly that he was Elie Wiesel. When I told a friend in my dorm who I had seen, she didn’t believe me. But I checked in the paper, and found out that he was speaking that weekend in town. So my first celeb sighting was a writer–an intriguing looking person with an interesting story to tell. Makes sense to me.

18 Replies to “Celebrity Sightings by Deb Meredith”

  1. OMG!!! Of all the people in the world – famous and non-famous – Elie Wiesel would have to be the ONE I’d most want to meet. And you know what? I bet you could have gone up to him and had a nice conversation. Did you kick yourself afterward for not?

  2. Was it startling the first time you saw a famous person in NYC? Or were you totally nonchalant? As I said in Monday’s post, seeing George Bush the elder in person nearly took my breath away, and I wasn’t even a particular fan. It was just…startling, somehow.

    I went to a literary event and got 10 seconds in line with Carl Hiaasen, who was brusque, but to be fair, I was at the head of a line with hundreds of people in it. At the same event I also met Percival Everett, who probably doesn’t qualify as famous but he was utterly charming and gracious and actually spent several minutes talking to me. Dave Barry was also there that weekend and he was generally mobbed with people when he wasn’t signing or speaking, so I didn’t join the throng.

    I talked to Khaled Hosseini in a booksigning line and at the time I had a novel on submission to publishing houses, and I told him so. He seemed so pleased for me and genuinely wished me luck.

  3. Writers celebrities are just different from your run of the mill actor/model/whatever celebrities. I once went to an event for the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and it was like my bookshelves had come to life in front of my eyes. I mean, Kurt Vonnegut was next to me in the drinks line. My brain snapped and I spent the whole party huddled in the corner, just gawping. Really cool, right?

  4. Eve–It didn’t occur to me to talk to Elie Wiesel! There was something so remote about him. And I’m not even sure what I would have said (I was a little 19-year-old at the time, after all).

    The first time I saw a celebrity in NYC, Kris, it was very weird. There was a moment where I thought–do I know that person? And then I realized it was Liv Tyler…

    Tiffany–we used to vacation in the Hampton’s at a friend’s place, and it was just a few doors down from Kurt Vonnegut’s house. Everytime we went by we looked for him hopefully (mostly just seeing his Mexican gardener). I think it is different to see writers then say someone like Britney Spears. It is like having your bookshelves come to life…

  5. I’m going to list non-writers in on-the-street encounters. NYC, especially Manhattan, is a celebrity-rich environment. I saw Bruce Willis one Saturday after New Year’s walking with another man in Central Park. They were so deep in conversation I wondered if they were talking about bowl games or upcoming productions. And one fine spring evening, Cameron Diaz caused a radiant sensation as she walked to a restaurant in the West Village. The girl is TALL.

    But the friendliest, kindest celebrity I ever had the pleasure to run into and meet is James Morrison, better known as “Bill Buchanan” on “24.” His wife, the artist/actress/producer/director yet lesser-known Riad Galayini is gracious and friendly, too.

  6. Oh, Evie, I’ll bet I know what or who you’re going to write about…and it won’t be our California cousins…(they are in show biz…).

  7. There’s something about celebrities — including actors — that makes their status feel strange to me. Consider who would they be without fan attention? Somehow…I’m rarely impressed.

  8. Oh I forgot, I once passed Laurance Olivia (spelling blank) on a street in upper Manhattan…upper Manhattan, where you can spot almost everybody if you try. Oh and when I was a daffy teenager, I held hands with Johnny Ray…my then idol…part of a fan club thing.

    Now there a a bunch of people I would like to be able to shake hands with…once did with Rudy Guilliani…then washed my hands. I wouldn’t mind shaking the hand of the guy that hurled the shoes…

  9. I heard a funny story about one of the Baldwin brothers. He said people come up to him all the time and insist that they went to high school with him! Apparently we become so familiar with the faces of celebrities, that even when we forget who they are, we know we’re supposed to know who they are…

    Laramie-I don’t get the whole celebrity adulation thing either. Except for writers, of course. And they’re not really big celebrities.

    Eve’s mom–I love Lawrence Olivier! But have no idea who Johnny Ray is. Am I showing my age?

  10. Oh I would love to meet Elie Wiesel – did you hear he’s on the list of people affected by Bernie Madoff??? A friend of mine was related to him. Boy, NIGHT changed me in high school. It should be required reading around the world.

    I’ve spent time with Jenny McCarthy at autism events. She’s down to earth, super friendly and really dedicated. Same for Deirdre and Don Imus.

    I have the dubious honor of being well known in autism circles and I can tell you it feels very weird to have people come up to you and act fan-like.

    I’m sure many of you who are well known authors can tell us much more!

    Happy Merries everyone!

  11. Kim–I’m sure the fawning is well-deserved! I’ve had people say they’ve heard of me at conferences and I always say “you have??!!” It does feel weird. I imagine it’s super weird for celebrities–they’re probably always expecting someone to charge them and demand their autograph.

  12. Meredith,

    Congrats! You are a true New Yorker. I’ve lived here all my life and rarely notice anyone. I’m probably a little self absorbed!! And yes you are too young to remember Johnny Ray. I’m almost too young to remember him, but, Eve’s Mom, I remember him singing this: “when your sweetheart sends a letter of goodbye . . . ”


  13. At least the actor celebrities, when you take away the adulation, are still artists (well, the GOOD actors. You know who I mean). The “celeb-utantes” and reality show “stars” who are famous for being famous…that’s what I can’t get into.

  14. Thank you Terrie, at least someone out there remembers. Hey…check this out, I actually went to the same high school as John Gotti…but he never showed up…think he was asked politly to leave. Hee hee.

  15. One afternoon my mother, sister and I were walking down 57 St. and who did my mom spot but Alan Alda, her favorite actor. We had to hold her so she wouldn’t run over to him; he looked scared to death. I guess it was the gleam in my mom’s eyes!


  16. I love Alan Alda, too! I was quite relieved to hear from a friend in TN that he’s quite a gentleman (she had to escort him around for his book tour). It would have been disillusioning to find out that he was quite unlike his MASH personality.

    Thanks everyone for sharing your stories!

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