“The Princess to Montauk”

A Memoir by Michelle Braverman

Anyone working in New York City has had celebrity sightings so often we jokingly called them “brushes with greatness.” From strap-hanging with a makeup-free Gwneyth Paltrow to sharing an elevator with J.F.K. Jr., I’ve had mine too.

My Carrie Fisher story is a favorite because it touched all of us, most important our “Star Wars”-obsessed son. It must have been 1983 or 1984, as Carrie was only married to Paul Simon for a year. We were visiting Montauk, then just a fishing town with access to scuba diving (our reason for being there). There was one really good restaurant that had become a celebrity spot for vacationers.

It was Saturday night — the place was crowded; we were a big group. Fortunately our 7-year-old was thoroughly “restaurant trained” and able to join us for dinner. Looking around the room, who did we spot but a table with Carrie Fisher, Paul Simon, and a few others. 

Our son was (and still is) a huge “Star Wars” fan. I blame that on his seeing “Star Wars: A New Hope” in utero. We excitedly pointed out “Princess Leia” sitting across the room and suggested he ask for her autograph. Now, as jaded New Yorkers, we ourselves would never do this. But who could resist a star-struck (well-behaved) child with such a request? I know what you’re thinking, but sometimes parents are just big kids themselves.

Equipped with pen and paper we gently scooted him toward her table. He was a little hesitant because he didn’t quite see the connection to the lady we had pointed out and the Princess he knew. On his way he passed a table where Cheryl Tiegs, still a top model, was sitting with her companion. As he hesitated, Cheryl made a move to reach out to him. She may have thought he was headed her way for that autograph. As he passed her by, oblivious, there was a very surprised look on her face, and she watched as he moved across the room.  

We kept our eye on our son, of course, as he approached Carrie Fisher. We watched as she bent towards him sweetly and said a few words. We couldn’t hear what she said, and our son, by this time believing she was indeed Princess Leia, couldn’t remember. She signed her name: Princess Leia

Where is that autograph now? Maybe it will turn up in one of those many boxes of memorabilia in the attic. Our son swears he barely remembers the incident; we as parents have never forgotten. In the years that followed, Carrie Fisher came across as self-deprecating and very funny. Her talents as a writer and raconteur grew while she faced demons that she shared with honesty and humor.

Carrie often railed against her identity as Princess Leia and claimed it ruined her life. Remembering her sweetness that evening on a Saturday night in Montauk, I never really believed her.

Michelle Braverman now lives in Houston and writes a blog, AllWays in Fashion. The starstruck young man who sought Princess Leia’s autograph recently made her a grandmother. Ms. Fisher died on Dec. 27.