The average person has limited personal exposure to famous people. We are inundated with them via the media, but really can’t say that we have direct communication with them. Sure, you can watch the stars of sitcoms yuk it up in interviews on TV, or learn of their supposed personal traumas on the covers of supermarket tabloids (I sometimes pick one of those rags up and leaf through it while waiting for the person in front of me to unload an enormous cartload of groceries onto the conveyor – the story inside never seems to be as interesting as the headline on the cover), but you can’t say that you really know them. One of my all-time favorite books on this subject is Famous People I Have Known by Ed McClanahan – a kindred soul if there ever was one.
At first I was willing to say that I have never had a conversation with a “famous” person, but after considering it for a while, I realized that I had. In my lifetime I have shaken hands and conversed with not one, but two famous people. And, get this, they were BOTH unemployed at the time!
The first unemployed famous person I ever met was former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. I was about twelve years old and my father had managed to arrange for our family to go to his office at his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It didn’t sink in at the time that I was standing in front of the former leader of the free world and one of the greatest military leaders of the twentieth century. He was just a real friendly older gentleman who kind of reminded you of somebody’s grandfather. He was, of course, unemployed – having left office in 1960 to spend his remaining years at the farm. My kind of guy. It’s too bad that I couldn’t know that we’d have something in common later in my life. Perhaps he could have given me some advice.
The other famous person I ever met was Linda Blair, the child star of The Exorcist, who peaked pretty early in life and received a not uncommon type of unemployment suffered by actors who become identified with a single, popular role. I was at a horse show in Tampa, Florida a number of years ago and some of the folks I knew were all gathered around an attractive, quiet girl in the stable area. One of the other girls told me to come over and meet the object of their animation. Unbeknownst to me, Linda Blair was an equestrienne of some accomplishment and was showing a horse at the week-long event. Obliging, I walked over and was introduced to the girl who gave head-twisting and vomiting a new dimension on the silver screen. I smiled and chatted with her, and, when asked what I thought about her role in the movie, I had to answer honestly that I hadn’t seen the picture (I still haven’t!). Ms. Blair seemed amused by the answer and by my failure to be impressed – hell, she was technically unemployed at the time.
Politicians are great subjects for sudden unemployment, as are actors, most Olympic athletes, club musicians (weekly), overweight jockeys, and Tim Conway as a television sitcom star.