Thursday, March 6, 2014

Close Encounters

I had a handful of opportunities to meet celebrities while working in the hotel business. For several years, the Hilton in Skokie, Illinois hosted entertainers performing at the nearby Mill Run Theatre. After that time, the occasional business trip to Hilton's headquarters in Beverly Hills put me in places where I would have sightings of famous people. Here are a few stories about my favorite close encounters (with photos of how they looked at the time).

In the late 70's Burt Bacharach was leading orchestras that played concerts of his remarkable popular hits. Rehearsals took place in our rooftop lounge. Burt gave me tickets to the show, and invited me backstage. He also asked me to play tennis and to go out for a burger, but I was working and couldn't take him up on his flirtations. At one point when we were chatting, I asked how he felt when he heard one of his songs as "elevator music". His response? "That's not my music."

The Osmonds booked an entire floor in our hotel. They were all polite, charming, funny, and fun to be around. We had hoards of Donny and Marie fans hanging out in the lobby at all hours. Between rehearsals, the guys got bored. My front office staff met them out on the lawn behind the hotel to play touch football. Somewhere I have a photo from the game that appeared in a local newspaper.

I checked Chita Rivera into the hotel and told her I had been a fan since seeing her in the original run of "Chicago" on Broadway. Later, I walked through the hotel coffee shop. She was at a table alone (incognito in a scarf and a lack of makeup) and asked me to join her, because she didn't like to eat alone. What a lovely lady.

Lou Rawls had an amazing voice - whether speaking or singing. When he stayed in our hotel, I would gather his messages and scurry to meet him in the lobby to deliver them. He would say, "Well, thank you, dear" in that VOICE. I was so sad when I heard of his passing in 2006. A kind and talented man.
Remember when Mac Davis had his own TV variety show in the 70's? While he and his band stayed at the Hilton, they were friendly and charming. His guys challenged us to a softball game, while Mac was off doing an interview. Our hotel team won, and on Mac's returned he demanded a rematch. His team won the second game. Mac gave me front row tickets to his show and winked at me during one of his songs. Lifelong fan.

For several years, the Chicago Bears stayed at our Hilton on nights before home football games. I met many great football players, but Walter Payton has always been my favorite. He was polite and soft-spoken. The team had a curfew, after which we could not accept phone calls to the players. Walter asked me to put through calls from his girlfriend, regardless of the time. I had to say no. I felt terrible about it. Rest in peace, Sweetness. Your signed photo has a place of honor in our office.

Oh my, Harrison Ford! To make a long story short, I met Harrison Ford on his front porch in Beverly Hills. (A friend knew the address.) I have shame, but I did get to look into those blue eyes from just a few feet away. Although a bit disconcerted about my appearance, "How did you get here?", he was gracious about chatting with me for a minute, and provided an autograph. My partner in crime, my sister Althea, drove the getaway car.

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