An early response was promising; then, nothing. When The Triplicate asked readers to tell us about their celebrity sightings in Del Norte County, we expected more. We may be remotely located, but we are a natural stopping point along the coast highway. Famous people have to be at least gassing up here; and the locals must see them from time to time.
Maybe they’re hiking the redwoods or strolling a beach. A well-known actress was chatted up by a local man at the Crescent City airport — his account will be told, but we’re still hoping for more.
Then again, the stars can be elusive. I spent three-plus years in America’s celebrity capital working for the Los Angeles Daily News, but had only one chance encounter with a celeb. He never knew about it, even though it could have killed him.
Driving a congested-as-usual San Fernando Valley freeway, I thought I had an opening to change lanes. Such veerings happen quickly or not all in fast-paced L.A. At the last second I looked over my shoulder to check my blind spot and noticed a low-slung, vintage race car coming up fast on my left. As it passed, I beheld the enormous trademark jaw of its driver.
Yep, I almost wiped out Jay Leno.
I did experience one night of fame while living in the Southland. My wife at the time happened to be teaching the offspring of the rich and famous at a private school in Sherman Oaks where students arrived in Rolls Royces and chauffeured limos. A surreptitious autograph-seeker, she passed around a sign-up sheet on parents’ night. Among the signatories: Tim Conway. Tito Jackson. Timothy Leary.
Leary, the famous (many would say infamous) 1960s LSD guru, was in his late 60s by then. He had married a younger woman and his stepson was a troubled student of my wife’s. She apparently helped the boy out enough to come to the attention of his famous stepdad, who invited us for a night on the town, starting with wine and chitchat at his Beverly Hills home.
Then we caravanned to a nearby restaurant so exclusive it had an unlisted reservations number. I don’t remember what the Learys were driving — something appropriately expensive. We followed in our humble Honda, which probably inspired snickers at the valet stand.
Once out of the car, however, my wife and I were simply two unrecognizable people who happened to be part of the Leary entourage. As such, we were ushered to a center table, from where we viewed luminaries such as Susan Anton and Joan Rivers dining at lesser tables.
It was all quite cosmopolitan. The Learys even pulled a seating switcheroo at mid-meal so that they each could have one-on-one conversations with my wife and I.
It would be nice if I could recall some conversational gem from that evening. I knew enough about Leary’s colorful past to work in allusions to it, but after all, he already knew that stuff. It was all quite pleasant, however, and his eyes sparkled as we talked.
Most memorable was the heady sensation of dining at a Beverly Hills power table. At one point we were joined by Leary’s pal, filmmaker Roger Vadim. This guy had been married to Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda. He’d fathered a child with Catherine Deneuve. Now he was raising his eyebrows in response to something I interjected that actually came across as witty.
Soon enough my wife and I were driving back to our anonymous abode in the Valley. My celebrity elbow-rubbing was over, although she finished the year teaching at her exclusive school, and even tutored one of Tito Jackson’s kids at their Encino home.
Like most encounters with the famous, that night was a mere curiosity, not a life-changer. An anecdote to dust off from time to time.