When you live in Los Angeles, even a trip to the corner mail box can be a star-studded event. Just recently I was walking home from mailing a letter on Wilshire Boulevard near Beverly Hills and saw Richard Dreyfuss, waiting for a red light to change, hand money to the homeless man who hangs out by that intersection.
A couple of months earlier I ran into actor Roscoe Born, until this month Quinn on the daytime soap "Santa Barbara," who was returning to his car from a doctor's appointment. At various other times near that corner I've spotted Todd Bridges crossing the street, Michael Damian of "The Young and the Restless" heading for an electronics shop, and the late Danny Thomas entering a C&R men's store.
As a free-lance entertainment journalist, I see famous folk regularly in the line of duty. But long before I was paid to mingle with celebrities, I've had a knack for encountering them in public, often in the least likely places or in unusual situations.
The first television celebrity I remember seeing publicly was David McCallum, at the height of his "Man from U.N.C.L.E." stardom in 1966, shopping with then-wife Jill Ireland and their children at the Rexall drugstore at Beverly and La Cienega boulevards. Bringing home his autograph made me the envy of all my friends for months, eclipsed finally by receipts signed by Monkee Davy Jones for purchases at the Hollywood Boulevard linen shop owned by a classmate's father.
Also around that time I spotted Zsa Zsa Gabor in the Beverly Hills J.J. Newberry's buying 79-cent makeup base, among other items. Years before her run-in with the Beverly Hills cop, Zsa Zsa's driver's license caused her problems, in this case because she did not have one with her as identification for the check she wrote. Star or not, the by-the-book saleswoman would not accept the check without ID until the store manager was called upon to vouch for his exasperated--but also polite--frequent customer.
McCallum was only one of several dozen celebrities I've seen at Rexall. One evening my family and I were having dinner at the store's coffee shop, during which we discussed the then-top-rated "All In the Family." A few minutes later, there was star Jean Stapleton, buying stationery in the drugstore. (My favorite Rexall story doesn't even involve me, but my friend, Sheila, and her son, Jason. "Look, Mommy," Jason said, spotting a classmate during their errand there. "Here come Max and his parents." Max's parents happened to be Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.)
Another regular celebrity haunt was the Food King market in Beverly Hills, now the site of Bice restaurant. My most vivid memories: a still-wed Sonny and Cher, yelling their shopping needs to each other across the aisles; Mel Torme, composer of "The Christmas Song," entering the store one December night as that Muzak melody played, and John Ritter, then on "Three's Company," reading the "National Enquirer" and confirming the truth of that week's story (that he was denied credit cards until his then-current TV success).
When celebs aren't shopping for food, they're apt to be eating it at restaurants, and not just Chasen's or Spago. My family and I, big fans of the 1967-68 CBS sitcom "He and She," more recently got to know stars Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss and their kids through regularly seeing them on Sundays at Hamburger Hamlet.
Then there was the time my mother and I had lunch at Bob's Big Boy on Wilshire Boulevard, where my attention was drawn to a striking woman who seemed far too elegant to be at that eatery. My mother took one look and said, "That's Myrna Loy!" And so it was; she had just finished filming what would prove to be Henry Fonda's last appearance, a PBS drama called "Summer Solstice." It was the only time I've ever seen my mother ask for an autograph.
A now-poignant fast-food encounter occurred about four years ago, when I stopped at the Wendy's at Sunset and La Brea in Hollywood. I'm a regular contributor to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, in part because I've always loved hospital founder Danny Thomas' television shows. On this particular day, I had a St. Jude's check in my purse, ready to mail--when who should walk into Wendy's and stand behind me in line but Thomas himself! I asked if I should just hand him the donation, but he advised me to mail it, to ensure that he did not accidentally lose or misplace it.