I was going to marry David Cassidy. Every day, he gazed into my love-struck eight-year-old soul, from his 24” x 36” picture on my wall. Finally, on March 5, 1972, I saw him in concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the Astrodome. I screamed louder than every other female. I know he heard me. But eventually, I realized he wasn’t going to call. I took down the poster and disposed of it. Okay, I still have it. On my bedroom ceiling. Flash doesn’t mind too much, until I ask him to serenade me with "I Think I Love You" at bedtime.
My fascination with famous people has included all kinds of performers – actors, musicians, public speakers, authors, and athletes. In several instances, my friend Lylas was my trusty stalking partner. After a Houston Astros game, she drove us to the players exit, hoping to catch a glimpse our favorite player at the time, second baseman Billy Doran. But the team must have seen us trolling; our efforts were fruitless.
As Lylas and I drove up to the movie theater for the premiere of Heaven Can Wait, we noticed the ticket line stretched to the end of the large brick building. As we sprinted to the line, it started raining. I’d never waited in the rain for any event, and I haven’t since. But it was worth every droplet soaking my hairspray-laden hair as we sat up close and personal to Warren Beatty, from the front row. That face could never be too close.
In spring of my senior year in high school, our beloved Barry Manilow was coming to Houston to see us. I asked my band director if I could talk to him privately. As he shut the door to his office, my heart jumped into my throat. I steeled myself for what would be the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
“Mr. C, I wanted to let you know I won’t be able to march at the game in three weeks.”
He eyes turned red, and his skin turned green as his muscles bulked up and tore the seams of his clothing. He was a rather short Hulk, but he was intimidating.
I gulped. I had hoped he’d thank me for letting him know ahead of time, and I’d be on my way.
“I won’t be able to march in the halftime because I have plans.”
Anyone who’s ever been in a high-school marching band knows there are never plans of any sort that take precedence over the musical call of duty in football season. To suggest other plans is blasphemy.
His face flushed. I saw my life flash before my eyes, and it didn’t include graduation, college, or becoming the next Barbara Walters.
He continued the tortuous conversation.
“You have plans? What kind of plans?”
Had I been a good liar, I would’ve said my grandmother would be dying the week of the game, or that I had a prophetic dream about breaking my leg. But no. I decided to go with the truth.
I took a deep breath and spoke as quickly as possible, “I am going to the Barry Manilow concert that night and I’ve been waiting to see him for years and I’ve been a dedicated band member who has never skipped a game and I already have the tickets and I wanted to let you know so you could plan ahead.”
Like most directors I’ve known, he stomped out. Had he been holding his baton, he would have thrown it across the room. Baton throwing must be a prerequisite for public school band directors. I heard him mutter, “Guess there’s nothing I can do about it, but this will affect your grade.”
As an academic perfectionist, I was willing to take the hit to see Barry.
Before Lylas and I went to that concert, I had a custom t-shirt made for her as a birthday gift. Unfortunately, my editing skills failed me. Instead of labeling her as a “Manilow Maniac” in bold letters across the front, the shirt read “Manilow Manaic.” I had a corrected fan shirt made for her, and I kept the other. Perhaps my shirt was more memorable for onlookers who were thinking, Oh how cute. Look at that illiterate girl’s fan shirt. We’ve been two more times to see Barry, including this past spring when my friend Rosebud joined us. We wore no misspellings.
In 1990, my friend Lurlene and I drove around looking for Sam Elliott. He was in Kemah to film Rush; we were on a mission from God. Our fervor was fueled when we read “Welcome Cast of Rush” on one of the buildings, and we searched diligently as we listened for Sam's voice calling to us. We might have found him if we’d exited the car and walked around, but we only had an hour lunch break and were already late returning to work.
Then, in 2012, I hit the mother lode of celebrity-viewing. My friend Bebe and I were having lunch when she casually mentioned that she was going to see Carol Burnett.
“What?! Carol Burnett is coming here? To Houston? When? Where?”
For decades, Carol had held the number-one spot on my list of celebrities to meet.
“Her This Time Together tour is coming to the Grand Opera House in Galveston. April 21 and 22.”
That was three months away.
Then she added, "But it's already sold out."
“No! Oh my gosh! Didn’t you remember that Carol Burnett is my number-one-want-to-meet performer?”
She did not. The fact that we had not been friends long absolved her from her sin.
My mind reeled as I tried to figure out a way to scale the opera house and drop in through the roof.
“What can I do to get in?”
“Call and try to get standing-room-only tickets. The closer it gets to the show date, seats may become available.”
I would stand on my head to see Carol, I thought. I phoned that same day and bought two such tickets.
Two days before the show, I got a phone call. The angel on the line told me that seats had opened up. Flash and I sat on the eighth row, aisle seats. Knowing I’d have to get Carol's attention, I wore a red feather boa and a light-up Happy Birthday tiara to the event. I had turned 49 six days prior, and knew Carol’s birthday would be in 5 days.
The show was the same format as the beginning of her variety-show episodes: The lights were turned up a little, and the audience was given the opportunity to ask her questions. I raised my hand, my pulse rapid and palms sweaty. When the usher handed me the microphone, Carol said, “Look at you!”
I told her she was the celebrity I most wanted to meet and how I love her comedy. “But most of all, thank you for writing One More Time. You inspired me to write my own memoirs.”
“Carol,” I continued, “I know your birthday is next week, and mine was this week, so I’m giving you my red boa and my tiara, so you can have a wild birthday.”
“Look at that,” she said as the usher handed them to her. What is your name?”
That’s right; Carol Burnett asked my name.
“Kim,” I answered her.
Yeah, I get that a lot. I finally had the chance to talk to Carol Burnett, and I didn’t annunciate.
“Kim,” I repeated.
“You are so sweet,” she replied as she put on the boa and the tiara, then struck a pose for us. The audience erupted in applause.
When it got quiet, I asked, “So, Carol, what was your most memorable birthday?”
Without missing a beat, she answered, “I’ll let you know next week when I turn 29.”
I also gave her a birthday card that played “The Stripper,” with a letter enclosed. In it, I invited her to have coffee next time she’s in town, and gave her my number. I carry my phone with me everywhere, just in case.
Almost every time Bebe goes to a show, in New York or otherwise, she meets a celebrity. It’s an art form she learned from her mother, Helen. In the 80s, Bebe snuck into a Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony. When I asked how she got in, she responded, “I dressed the part and acted like I belonged there.” Flash calls her a star magnet. So, after Carol’s show ended, we followed Bebe and Helen to the stage door so they could show me the ropes. Apparently, Carol snuck out before we could find her.
But when I went to a Johnny Mathis concert with Bebe, Helen, and Bebe's dad, George, the next year, we walked to the stage door again and met the crooner. I’m thinking of hiring them to go to every event I attend, for the rest of my life.
Recently, my friend Coco, Bebe, and I went to Barbra Streisand’s first concert in Houston. Each of us spent our younger years belting out her songs and daydreaming of seeing her in person. When she looked our direction, we waved our boas, hoping she’d wave back. But in a crowd like that, a few feathers go unnoticed. We knew it was pointless, and dangerous, to attempt to see her backstage after the concert, but we floated on clouds all the way home.
I’ll never outgrow my fascination with talented people, and I’ll always have a list of celebrities to meet. My idols don’t live in ivory towers; they are flawed people, just like I am, who have worked hard to make their dreams come true. In addition to sharing their talents publically, many of them make a difference in the lives of others in everyday life. They are visual reminders to work hard, share my talents, and never stop dreaming.
A portion of this post was published in At the Foot of the Cross copyright © 2011 by Sagemont Church.