The other night I had dinner with Christie Brinkley. That is, she and I were dining at the same restaurant. I spotted her immediately, sitting at the next table.
I admit it. I’m starstruck. Whenever I see someone famous, I go a little goofy.
I’ve been stricken with this rather silly psychosis since April 12, 1972. That’s the night Jack Nicholson smiled at me as I passed by him on my way out of a popular Mexican cantina in Los Angeles. I must report that Jack’s leer is just as lecherous in person as on the silver screen. Nothing else happened, but I was completely dazzled for days.
Southern California is a great place for rubbing elbows with the stars. Stars are everywhere. When you least expect them, there they are. This only adds to the excitement. Why, I’ve shopped with Bo Derek (she’s not my idea of a 10), strolled Melrose with Steve Martin (he is), enjoyed cocktails with Teri Garr, gassed up with Kirk Douglas, and skied with George Hamilton (come to think of it, that was in Aspen).
Eons ago, I collected luggage with George Burns (cigar in hand, young women on both arms) and flew cross-country with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden (they were still an item). I remember it as if it were last week. I once bumped into Zsa Zsa Gabor outside Spago, and I’ve dined alongside Levar Burton, Lara Spencer, and Cliff Robertson. Other sightings go unreported. For the moment.
Restaurants seem to be the most likely place for running into celebrities. Everyone’s got to eat.
During a birthday celebration one year at Ma Maison, at the time another popular establishment in La-La Land, I caught a glimpse of Orson Welles and Morgan Fairchild on the same day. Orson was sitting at his “usual” table.
A few years ago, a friend of mine did some chauffeuring in Hollywood. I was in seventh heaven. Suddenly, I was privy to some pretty good stuff. My pal’s stories read like Warhol’s diaries. I was all ears, but I’ll never tell.
A couple of times my friend let me tag along on his rounds. I never met Mick, but I shook hands with John Doe and Exene, members of the rock band X. One night I partied backstage with Don McLean. When I asked him why the music died, he said I must have been too spaced out to notice, then walked away.
Some musicians seem to be the friendliest of the famous. Although maybe they’re just used to having groupies around. I’ll never forget the night I sat directly behind Art Garfunkel at the Hollywood Bowl. He was getting tons of attention and reveling in the madness, but perhaps he hadn’t had much lately. I acted nonchalant, but do remember wondering why he hadn’t changed his hairstyle after all these years.
While I may be star-crazy, I’m not one of those obsessive types. I’d never stalk a star. And I never ask for autographs. Still, besides staring, I enjoy a personal connection now and then.
The night I ran into Walter Matthau at the neighborhood movie theater, I went over to say hi. “You were great in ‘The Odd Couple’!” I enthused. “Thank you,” he said.
On another occasion, I noticed Gabe Kaplan standing next to me in a Sunset Boulevard club with his arm in a cast. “What happened to your arm?” I asked. “I broke it,” he said. “You were great in ‘Welcome Back, Kotter,’ ” I gushed. “Thank you,” he said.
After that, I resolved to stop speaking to the stars. Sometimes fantasy is better than reality.
Don’t ask me what this all means. I haven’t analyzed why I get giddy at the sight of the rich and famous. But who needs accountability? Stargazing is fun.
Now that I live on the East Coast, I don’t have to limit my thrill seeking, because stars abound here, too. Especially in the Hamptons.
One summer day, I watched Tom Wolfe (in the inevitable white suit) cruise through a church bazaar. I was elbow to elbow with Bianca Jagger (wearing black) at the video store. I’ve browsed a bookstore with Billy Joel, shopped an antiques show with Martha Stewart, and discovered Candice Bergen outside Citarella in East Hampton.
I could swear I spied Susan Lucci at the movies one night. I heard Diane Sawyer before I saw her. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. Oh! And wasn’t that Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin (in happier times) walking down Main Street?
Perhaps the excitement of encountering famous people comes with the hope that a bit of the prestige will rub off. Then again, the fascination could be attributed to the fact that these larger-than-life somebodies pulling down millions are regular people after all. Jack eats! Jane flies economy! George’s skin is sun-damaged! Art has dated hair! Kim walks!
Recently, I mentioned my malady to my sister. She, in turn, spoke eagerly of witnessing Woody Allen when he was filming in Southampton, and of seeing Kelly Ripa — three times. So maybe this thing is genetic.
No matter. I’m starstruck. I only wish that on my next trip out for sushi I’d catch sight of Mick Jagger, instead of his first ex-wife.
Dianne Moritz’s first children’s book, “Hush, Little Beachcomber,” will be reissued in paperback in the coming months. She lives in North Sea.