In the previous century, I lived in Los Angeles for several years (1975 – 1980). While I was there, I met a lot of what are now called celebrities. I was one myself, along with my colleagues in Manhattan Transfer. But, just as there is a difference between acquaintance and friend, there is a difference between celebrity and star, at least in my personal lexicon.
We did meet stars, real stars. We were guests on a talk show on the same day that Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were there to promote one of the That's Entertainment films. I still have their autographs on pages torn from the journal I was carrying that day. Loretta Young came to one of our performances at The Roxy. Tony Curtis goosed me at an event at the Palladium. These encounters all happened where one might expect – TV studios, parties, performances. I also had second-hand "encounters", as our manager rented homes belonging to various actors who were away on location. I saw Ann-Margret's sunny living room, and admired the artwork Elizabeth Taylor had on her walls, some of which was done by her children.
But one encounter was so unexpected, and yet so ordinary, that I have never forgotten it, and the memory has a special clarity. A beloved hairdresser moving away to San Francisco recommended someone in old Hollywood, and I was able to get a booking. I had asked for the last slot of the afternoon; it having already been claimed, I took the second-to-last, and showed up at the appointed hour. I had to wait a little, so we started late. While my hair was trimmed and fussed with, I noticed the atmosphere of the shop shifting from the usual hair salon buzz to a muted but intense anticipation. Something was up.
As I was paying, I heard the shop door open. A woman with short dark hair walked into the shop, and when she got to the register, she smiled warmly at me.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Elizabeth."
She held her hand out. I took it, and as we shook hands, I noticed two things.
She felt like a mom, with a real smile that lit her eyes.
And her eyes were truly violet.