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Bringing Out Their Best

Authors: Mark Keys wanted to hear about celebrities' finest hours and thought others might too. And that's how his new book was born.

May 29, 1997|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Have you ever stopped to think, "What was my best day?"

Mark Keys of Newport Beach posed that question to more than 1,200 well-known Americans. The answers from 120 of them are included in Keys' new book, "My Best Day: A Collection of Best Day Remembrances of Celebrities and Other Prominent Americans."

The slim volume, published by Seven Locks Press of Santa Ana, includes responses from people in sports, entertainment, politics and other fields.

Astronaut James Lovell writes of his near-disastrous Apollo 13 lunar mission: "My best day was when I saw the water from the Pacific Ocean splashing on the window of my spacecraft. Then I knew we finally made it."

Comedian Phyllis Diller took a different tack. "Any day I don't have a root canal is a good day."

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole says he has had "many 'best' days," but the day he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House ranks at the top. "No one could claim to be equal to this honor but I will cherish it as long as I live."

Keys' book is an outgrowth of an interest in celebrities that began in 1989 when his picture was taken with Magic Johnson at the Forum and he later asked Johnson to autograph it. He now has more than 3,000 celebrity autographs, including those of George Burns, Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood and Frank Sinatra. He got the signatures by either writing the stars or by meeting them at celebrity golf tournaments.

*

Keys, 39, began asking celebrities about their favorite days in 1994. The idea for the project came to him as he struggled to manage constant and debilitating pain from a work-related injury.

A Newport Beach native who rigged sailboats for a living, Keys has been on permanent disability since injuring his back in 1991 while lifting an outboard engine. He has has numerous back surgeries and undergoes physical therapy several times a week.

Keys once played basketball, golfed and bodysurfed. Now he can't lift his 21-month-old daughter, Page, whom he takes care of during the day while his wife, Laurie, works at a finance company.

The idea for the book took shape as Keys walked around Balboa Island. He'd walk a couple of blocks and have to sit on a bench. But, he recalls, the sun was out and the people who walked by were friendly. Despite his pain, it was a good day, and it started him thinking, "I wonder what they've done in their lives, if they had any good days.

"Everyone has."

The first celebrity he wrote to was comedian Joey Bishop "because he lives in Newport." Bishop surprised Keys by writing him back a couple of days later, saying his favorite day is "the day I married my wife--56 years ago, Jan. 14, 1941."

"I thought that was the neatest thing: 'Hey, he wrote me back!' " Keys says. "It just made my day."

The book is heavy on names from the past--Art Linkletter, Clayton Moore, Deborah Kerr and Alan Young, who wrote that his favorite day was "the day Mr. Ed spoke to me."

Keys says he'd often be inspired to write after seeing someone on an old movie or TV show. He finds it's been more difficult getting responses from major contemporary celebrities. He figures that they're either too busy to write back or that his letter goes through so many channels the celebrity may never see it.

When he does get a response from a current star, he says, "It's pure luck. Like Morgan Freeman, I didn't think I'd get him because he's so busy."

Freeman's favorite day: "The day my baby girl was born."

The "best day" responses, which ranged from a single line to three pages, typically revolve around work, weddings and the births of children.

But if there is a common thread, Keys says, "it's you should enjoy every day. [Actress] Bonnie Hunt said, 'Every day has the best-day potential.' "

Fitness expert Jack LaLanne would agree. He wrote that his best day "started when I woke up this morning, and tomorrow will be even better because I will make it better."

*

Asked what his own best day has been, Keys has no trouble coming up with an answer.

"When my little girl, Page, was born," he says, adding that he's had "a lot of best days," including the day he got married and the day his book was published.

"I've had a fun life and a lot of good friends, but it has to be Page. Having Page was everything. There's nothing better than when she's saying, 'Daddy.' "

* Keys will discuss "My Best Day" at the Round Table West literary luncheon meeting at the Balboa Bay Club at noon today. For reservations, call (213) 256-7977.

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