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Naked Presidents Outdo Clothed Stars in Celebrity Sightings


Last weekend, I stumbled on a great truth: In the presence of big celebrities we tend to become idiots. And there seems to be a direct relationship between the bigness of the celebrity and the degree of dopiness we're able to achieve.

Here's an example. I was standing in line for breakfast at Joni's Coffee Roasters in Marina del Rey, when I realized Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin were in front of me. She was in baggy sweat pants and sunglasses. He was both slick and rumpled-looking. Yep. It was them all right.

As they moved down the cafeteria-style line, the normally raucous restaurant grew quieter and quieter. A few customers with their backs to the couple did the only thing Angelenos find acceptable in this situation. They yawned mightily, their arms straight out, and then casually twisted their heads around 180 degrees.

The movie stars seemed confused about how to navigate the restaurant, and I thought for a minute, "I should help them," but then came to my senses. This would violate L.A.'s unwritten code prohibiting anything but the blase behavior of Morris the cat around celebrities.

So instead of helping, I cut in front of them and grabbed a table. As they headed for their table the diners around them tensed and went silent. Then Basinger and Baldwin changed course and headed for a table right next to mine. Dear God.

At the last minute they settled at another table. Whew. Both pulled out reading material. "She's picking up her bagel," someone nearby reported in a Wimbledon-like whisper. "Yup, there she goes. Wait! I don't think she's eating it."

One customer strolled past the table to a nearby window and stood there for a moment, scanning the parking lot like a skipper searching the horizon.

He looked the movie stars up and down, sucked in his stomach, and walked back to his table.

One woman--seemingly slouched casually in her chair--delivered a bruising elbow to her companion's ribs, then shushed him as he howled in pain.

When the two celebrities got up to leave and made their way out (they seemed to have abandoned the idea of eating), there was a moment of silence, then a collective roar--as if the final curtain had just gone down on Pavarotti. Forks, formerly suspended in mid-air, were suddenly moving again.

I suspect that singly, Baldwin and Basinger could have arrived and left without the commotion, but the two of them together had some kind of potent synergistic effect.

One Basinger plus one Baldwin equals say, a Sean Connery.

Like Connery, a few celebrities can be classified as super celebrities. Recently I had to interview Gene Hackman on the set of a film for an entertainment article. Now, there are two or three other actors that could rattle me more than he does, but fortunately they're all dead.

When the appointed moment came for the interview, I dug my toe in the ground, looked to the sky and searched my bag of reportorial skills for just the right gambit for a serious interview.

As he sat down and leaned back in his chair, I dug deep. I mentally noted his deep blue eyes, his kindly demeanor. Then, horribly, I opened my mouth and before I could stop, I heard myself say, "Truthfully, I was hoping my first entertainment interview would be with someone more like Buddy Hackett."

For one interminable minute I thought he was going to fall over backward in his chair.

But in the realm of super-celebrity viewings, my mother has everyone beat. She has seen a living President naked.

Years ago, she was visiting friends at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., during a presidential campaign. Her friends happened to be staying in the suite directly across from--let's just call him Mr. Naked Former President.

Mom approached her friends' room just as a Secret Service agent handed a meal in to the President next door, who reached around the door to take the plate, presumably out of view. But behind him was a full-length mirror exposing all.

Afterward, I asked my mother for details. "Welllll," said my mother--who has never said an improper thing in her life--"I do feel better knowing that our country is being run by a . . . natural blond."

But back to Alec and Kim. After they left, I mulled over what had happened.

The truth is that seeing them in person had humanized them, made them seem more accessible somehow, kind of like the naked President.

I think if I ever have an opportunity to interview them, I'll behave appropriately. I'll sit down, look them in the eye, and say, "So . . . are you gonna eat that?"

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