Close Encounters of No Kind in Particular


Have you ever had a serendipitous encounter with a famous person?  I don’t cotton to celebrity worship, but a chance meeting can be fascinating.

Fifteen years ago I saw O.J. Simpson in the Minneapolis airport.  He was riding a conveyor sidewalk at rush hour.  Passengers clustered every three feet or so along most of the conveyor’s length, but O.J. and his very young and adoring female companion stood in a thirty-foot dead zone.  O.J. had been acquitted of double murder by a Los Angeles jury, but the court of passenger opinion on that day rendered a different verdict.

Years before, at an event in Washington, D.C., when I was 15 years old, I met Gloria Vanderbilt.  She was warm and very personable.  After signing an autograph for me, she complimented my dress.  (!)

My younger sister Diana, a scientist, has a truly uncanny talent for running into famous people.

She enjoyed an extended tête-à-tête with Robin Williams on the set of Patch Adams at Berkeley.

A few years later she met Russell Crowe as he was filming A Perfect Mind in Princeton.

She met Matt Damon at a communal Thanksgiving dinner in North Carolina.

She ran into Carl Sagan on the Berkeley campus and was thrilled to be able to tell him how his Cosmos TV series had changed her life.

Later, on a trip to London, Diana lucked into last-minute tickets to the closing night of a play starring the elegant Anthony Andrews.  Because she had recently seen Brideshead Revisited and fallen hard for Andrews’ character Sebastian Flyte, she was over the moon to be able to meet him at the stage door.


My parents saw Ralph Nader navigating the crowds in the Atlanta airport in the late 70s.  We ran into Gary Hart at Dulles airport in the late 80s.

My paternal grandparents, lifelong Democrats, bragged of having had tea at the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt.  Thirty years later, they attended the same Washington Baptist church and the same Sunday school class as Jimmy Carter when he was President.  They also saw Henry Fonda at National airport, although they might have been less pleased had they known that Fonda was a lifelong Republican.

My mother saw JFK in person during his Presidential campaign and says that he was “absolutely radiant.”

My favorite close encounter story stars my maternal grandparents.

It was the spring of 1959, and they were living on an Army post in West Germany.  On their first trip to Paris, they made their obligatory trip to the Louvre.  Upon arriving at the museum, my grandparents felt themselves strangely drawn to the Venus de Milo.  On this particular weekday morning, the museum was nearly deserted.  Standing alone before the statue was a tall, beautiful woman.  My grandparents walked up and stood silently nearby, gazing at the statue.  After some moments had passed, the beautiful woman turned to them, smiled, and said, “I always come here first when I visit the Louvre.  This is my favorite part of the museum.”  They struck up a friendly conversation.  She offered to give my grandparents a personal tour of the artworks that she loved best.

After a pleasant hour, my grandparents and the beautiful woman shook hands, wished each other well, and parted.  Never once during their magical time together had my grandparents let on that they had recognized their gracious tour guide, Ingrid Bergman.

Do you have stories about chance encounters with famous people?  I would love to hear.

Quote for Today

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)


4 thoughts on “Close Encounters of No Kind in Particular

  1. Hi Cynthia, your article is another ‘page turner’! Loved the poignancy… the drama… the excitement evoked by deliberately creating anticipation before revealing what must be the mother of all epic screen stars – the legendary Ingrid Bergman! Great idea to invite others to share their celebrity stories… I’ve met some, and my mother more (Rose Kennedy), but the scope and substance of your family’s encounters is truly something to behold. Perhaps you might consider expanding this into a publication (or another screenwriting piece.) After all, the ginormous influence of celebrities is one of the defining features of our culture!


  2. A very enjoyable post! I envy your sister, meeting Sagan and Robin Williams. And for Bergman to act as personal guide–what an experience.
    Some of my run-ins with the famous have been fun, others not so. At 18, I was dating a young man who got to caddy for Arnold Palmer at a charity event, and I was invited to accompany him. Being a shy, avid member of Arnie’s Army, I tagged along breathlessly, watching every movement through 18 splendid holes, fastening onto every word he uttered. A very kind and genial sort, Palmer offered me an autograph when I was too tongue-tied to ask. A true gentleman.
    In college, I met celebrities, artists, pols, and scientists. Two offered a telling contrast. At a post-lecture reception for poet and critic John Ciardi, I queued up to exchange a few words with the guest of honor. I’d been a been an adolescent admirer, poring over his works, and let my excitement overcome my backwardness. However, the Great Man proved to be a great boor–rude, dismissive, impatient. Before I got out five word he turned his back on me and demanded of his hosts another drink. He would not be speaking with students tonight!
    Edward Albee proved to be a very different literary luminary. He seemed nervous and shy, yet stayed long after his lecture to talk with students and encouraged dialogue. He was an earnest, even courtly, man who inspired affection and ideas in his young listeners. Not, perhaps, what one would expect from the author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    The two most magnetic men I ever met were Michael York and Bill Clinton. York was rather shy, while I suspect Clinton has never had a bashful moment, but both men grasped my hand with seeming pleasure and their full, absorbing attention. Ah, if only I’d had some deathlessly brilliant comment to transmit–but I had to fight the urge to kneel and moan, “I’m not worthy!” Luckily for everyone, they know how to gracefully disengage and move on.
    Thank you, Cynthia, for the opportunity to reminisce!

    Liked by 1 person

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