I've encountered a fair number of celebrities in my day, through working in the television and film industries, living in Los Angeles for a decade and a half--where celeb run-ins are part of daily life--and just through the luck of the draw and being in the right place at the right time. I've been fortunate to meet several of my heroes, including Conan O'Brien, Bill Maher, Jeff Bridges and Weird Al Yankovic, and to work in professional capacities on shows and films with folks like Greg Proops and Rachel Hunter. I've been an actor in plays with such luminaries as Malcolm McDowell, George Wendt and William Atherton. During my four-year tenure at Hustler, because the entertainment editor Keith Valcourt had the office next to mine, he invited me along to many a photo op with rockers and movie stars. I have dozens of pictures to back it up, but all of that is surface glitz and basking in refracted glory of the famous.
I like stories, and I like sharing good stories. I've got some good ones from my years in Tinseltown as both a working professional and simply just from hanging around long enough to rub elbows with the rich and the famous (and, in some cases, the infamous). I thought it was high time I started putting down some of these tales to share. Some are harrowing, some are horrifying, all are fascinating.
And so begins a new "blog miniseries," "Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s" chronicling some of my more memorable encounters with the stars of television, film, stage and the dial. Some were assholes, some were plain awesome, some are just like you and me but for their millions of dollars.
And to be clear, these stories are defined as "encounters" versus "sightings," which I've had innumerable and are defined as simply seeing someone famous out and about doing the normal things like eating dinner--an activity wherein I personally would find it profane to be pestered were I in their shoes. (Ask yourself this the next time you see a famous person: Are they doing something that, were you doing the same, you would want to be bothered by a fan?) To me, having dinner out at a restaurant with family should be off-limits, whereas someone in a coffee shop, walking the street or just doing normal people shit is fair game for saying hey.
And if you are in a fortunate enough capacity, as I have been, to chat with some of them for longer than two minutes, then you can wrack up the photo ops.
So without further ado, let us begin with the story "The Princess Kiss."
In spring 1999 I was in my third year at USC. My roommate Steve, whom I knew from growing up together in New Jersey, was a year ahead of me and in his final year of film school. As often happens, he and a bunch of his colleagues were invited to a film premiere. He brought me along to the Universal Amphitheater in Universal City for the premiere of USC film school alum Ron Howard's comedy "EDtv," a satirical take on the then-nascent 24-hour reality phenomenon, with Matthew McConaughey as the eponymous San Franicscan Ed. On the way into the theater, there was the entire red carpet affair, replete with paparazzi and stars in tuxedos, etc. Stars of the film Dennis Hopper, Rob Reiner and of course Opie himself were on hand (who of course was mobbed by some current students for a group photo op).
Steve and myself and some of his film school cronies were walking up the red carpet in our jackets and ties towards the entrance to the theater. We were certainly no one of importance, but it was just the way into the damn theater. Steve and I were chatting about something forgettable when, out of the corner of our eyes, we see a man and a woman, up on a small dais, locking lips. The woman quickly broke the kiss, came down from the platform, and briskly walked away.
"Hey, that was fucking Carrie Fisher, wasn't it?"
Sure enough, it was the second-generation Hollywood royalty, making off towards parts unknown and away from the paramour. But who was this mystery kisser????
Steve and I turned back to the dais, and there stood a youngish, good-looking fellow with too-blond hair and a million-dollar smile. He locked eyes with the two of us, beaming out the whitest of teeth.
"Did you guys see that?" he enthused to Steve and myself. "I just kissed Princess Leia!"
That man's name was Ryan Seacrest, then just 24.
Now remember, this was early 1999, a full three-plus years before he got the gig cohosting American Idol with Brian Dunkleman--which of course he would take solo reins of the following year, vaulting him to the Seacrest-mania that has continued unabated ever since. At that time he was a little-known former Atlanta radio host who cut his jib hosting forgettable fare in the late '90s after moving to L.A. One such gig was filling for Talk Soup host John Henson on occasion--a show Steve and I were frequent watchers of. During the 98-99 season, we'd seen Mr. Seacrest doing a decent-enough job with the comedy recap show of the week's talk show greatest hits and misses.
The next time we saw him, he was locking lips with Princess Leia.
It was as good an omen for the man's career as anything.