Don't let anybody con you into thinking that we who live in Manhattan are blase about spotting celebrities. I've lived here for over 50 years, and I still get as excited as a teen-age groupie when I have a "sighting," which, when you live here happens frequently indeed in the ordinary course of everyday life. Of course, there are the times when you attend a special event featuring a star or two -- a fund-raising gala or a movie premiere, for example -- and, also, during the course of my career as a singer I worked with many stars -- but I'm talking about the many times I've encountered famous people while I walk down the street or shop at the local grocery store.
I even have sightings in my own apartment building. I encounter JAMES EARL JONES in my elevator or in my lobby on a regular basis. He lives here when he's working in town. And, yes, his voice is as deep and resonant in the elevator as when he announces for CNN.
I see BERNADETTE PETERS on the street in front of my building. That's because she happens to live in the apartment house next to mine. Similarly, other celebrities I walk by who live in my neighborhood are KEIR DULLEA, BEVERLY D'ANGELO, ELIZABETH MCGOVERN, TONY KUSHNER, and HARRY BELAFONTE, just to name a few.
But the real mecca for big name sightings is my local market, Fairway. It's famous for its low prices and high quality and draws people from every corner of the City and neighboring states, too. I've seen ITZAK PERLMAN there on his electric scooter, former mayor ED KOCH(often), RENE AUBERJONOIS, and just about every actor who's ever been on Law & Order.
But, that's just my immediate neighborhood. I've eyed some doozies on other streets throughout my New York residency. How about PAUL NEWMAN? PETER O'TOOLE? MYRNA LOY? JANE FONDA? These were a long time ago when most of them were still young and gorgeous. Paul Newman was standing on the corner of 57th Street and 7th Avenue talking to BEN GAZZARA. They were both at the height of their careers, approximately 30 or 40 years ago. I spied Jane walking down Broadway, when she was about 19 years old, tall, slim and proud. I also saw her father -- in fact, I talked to him. That was at a party given by the famous photographer, Richard Avedon, at which my then-husband was playing in the small jazz combo hired to entertain the crowd. I found Henry a bit on the arrogant side, I have to say. I sidled up to him, and, summoning all my courage I asked him, thinking I was being so clever, "Don't I know you?" In a dismissive and rude tone, he replied, "Christopher Plummer!" and quickly walked away. That managed to deflate me to the point where I never approached a VIP again without an introduction.
I seem to have a lot of elevator spottings. I shared one with MARLENE DIETRICH once. Another time, I was alone on an elevator when MIA FARROW and WOODY AlLLEN got on, holding hands. This was shortly before the Soon-Yi scandal. They looked very cozy, and, my God, she was pretty. Another elevator incident when I lived in another building. I was alone with a handsome, gray-haired man I didn't recognize who got off on my floor. Realizing we were neighbors, I introduced myself, to which he graciously responded, "Hello. I'm TONY FRANCIOSA."
I could go on and on. I guess I've seen just about every famous person you can think of. The three I REALLY wanted to spot, whom friends of mine saw but I never did, were Jackie Onassis, Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo. It wasn't for lack of trying, certainly. I was often in the vicinity of their daily rounds.
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Some of you would probably like to know who the best-looking ones were. That's easy. PAUL NEWMAN (no surprise), and GERARD PHILIPE, the great French actor I spied once walking in Times Square. And, I hate to admit it, but, yes, HENRY FONDA was absolutely stunning, too.
So, if you are a celebrity hound, come to Manhattan. I guarantee you will see at least one, and probably many more. Oh, did I mention I've observed Hillary and Bill on occasion? Separately, of course.
JOAN WILE -- author of newly-published book,
GRANDMOTHERS AGAINST THE WAR: GETTING OFF OUR FANNIES AND STANDING UP FOR PEACE (Citadel Press, May 2008 -- available at amazon.com and in book stores), which is an account of her founding of (more...)