Wissot: Feeling famous for a nanosecond
I was 11 in 1956 when my father yelled out to me, “Don Larsen’s on the corner, grab your ball and run down there to get his autograph.”
“There” was 161st Street and River Ave. in the Bronx, half a block from Yankee Stadium. The ball was the one covered with all of the autographs of the great Yankees ballplayers of the mid-1950s who I managed to corral as they passed by my father’s card and record shop on their walk from the Grand Concourse Hotel to the Stadium (the Yankees in those days stayed together at the same hotel even when they played at home). Larsen was the Yankees pitcher who a week before had thrown the first and still only World Series perfect game ever pitched in beating the Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed my ball Don “perfect game” Larsen.
That same year I introduced myself to another celebrity. We were in a Brooklyn diner when I awkwardly walked up to Floyd Patterson seated in an adjoining booth and asked him for his autograph. Patterson had only a few months before become, at age 21, the youngest man in boxing history to win the heavyweight championship of the world.
Those were my earliest and most memorable celebrity sightings, but not the last.
There was the night in 1995 on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant. My wife, Alyn, and I were seated at a table when in walked Bernie Schwartz, nee, Tony Curtis, and a voluptuous blonde companion. They were seated next to us and I tried hard to play it cool. I only copped a few indiscreet stares for the remainder of the evening.
I found that you sometimes find yourself next to celebrities when you least expect it. Like Lauren Bacall seated next to us in a Broadway theater or Nicole Kidman standing in front of Alyn in the bathroom line at another play.
We didn’t expect to find Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger waiting patiently in line to place their order in an Aspen gelato emporium (Aspenese for ice cream store) one summer’s afternoon, or Natalie Morales, former “Today” personality, staying directly across from our Vail Village condo a few winters ago. Ditto for Alex Rodriguez, who I spotted one night while seated at La Bottega’s bar. He was recuperating from hip surgery performed by the good doctors at The Steadman Clinic.
I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences, particularly in a celebrity-friendly place like ours.
My only brief brush with fame happened six years ago. Alyn and I were walking on 42nd Street and Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. Out of the shadows sprung a man with a camera. My experiences growing up in the city told me this guy was going to take our picture and then hit us up for money. But I was wrong.
The man with the camera was a photographer, not a street hustler. His name was Brandon Stanton and he had started a project in 2010 called Humans Of New York. He stopped people on the streets of the city who struck him as interesting, asked them a series of questions about their lives, took their pictures, and then posted the ones he liked on Facebook.
When I told him we were marathon runners and had run marathons on all seven continents, including Antarctica, he asked in astonishment, “You ran a marathon in Antarctica?” When I replied, “Ran it! My wife Alyn won the Antarctica Marathon in 2005 at the age of 54,” he smiled broadly.
We thought nothing of it until the next morning when a friend of ours texted us and said our story and pictures had been posted on Facebook and gotten 400,000 hits.
Later that afternoon, we were riding on the subway when two young women seated next to us said they saw our story on Facebook and loved it. I can’t say we weren’t happy to be noticed on a subway in a city of 8 million. But I was disappointed that they didn’t ask for our autographs.