My salad days as a celebrity spotter came during the four years that I lived in Washington, DC. Many of them, of course, were somehow connected to politics. I saw Jody Powell crossing K Street. I saw Senators John Chaffee and John Warner crossing the street from one of the Senate office buildings to the Capitol. (I remember Warner gesticulating wildly and saying, "It's an 800-pound gorilla!" Chaffee looked like the guest at a party who gets stuck talking to another guest who has taken up Amway or Scientology.)
I watched the Reagans disembark from the helicopter after a special tour of the White House. (The Oval Office is smaller than you think. So is the Cabinet Room. The bowling alley was closed for repairs, but we did get to see the florist's shop. "An American President" booted that one!) The President was obviously wearing a flak jacket and Nancy was taller than I had expected. I disagreed with practically every move that administration made, still do, but it is something to see a sitting President up close.
I worked for a while in the building where Duke Zeibert's was located, so I used to see Larry King from time-to-time. Never an entourage. Just Larry walking to Duke's for some brisket.
One time at that location, during the visit by Gorbachev, I had to do one of my drudgery-filled legal assistant chores. As I came out onto the corner of Connecticut and L, I noticed that the streets were blocked off for the Soviet motorcade that was going to the White House. I thought about waiting just to see, but, feeling the pressure of my onerous duty, continued on to K Street, where I could get a cab. That evening I discovered that, not five minutes after I had been standing there, Gorby had stopped the motorcade at that exact corner and gotten out to shake some hands. That is my great near miss.
And speaking of near misses, I almost got run over by Ted Koppel as he was leaving ABC one afternoon. He was driving a Mercedes convertible and was not stingy with the accelerator. I had just stepped off the curb and actually had to jump back to avoid becoming a second hood ornament. And you know what? Even at those speeds in a convertible, his hair still never moved.
I saw E.G. Marshall walking towards Pennsylvania Avenue on 21st St. I followed Ron Moody (who was appearing in a revival of "Oliver" at the Kennedy Center) on 23rd. I went to see Ian McKellan in "Acting Shakespeare" at the National Theatre--was even part of the crowd that he invited onstage at the end--and happened to see him leaving by the stage door later, alone, head down, pensive.
I ushered what was supposedly the last performance ever of "In Regard of Flight" and got to watch Bill Irwin rehearse a single slap with one of the other performers for about ten minutes before the show. He had a New Years Eve party to attend in New York after the show, and got pretty huffy and cut "The Clown Bagatelles" short when a prop malfunctioned. The rehearsing was impressive, but the rest of his actions made him look like a swine.
I saw Art Buchwald coming out of the building in which he had an office one day.
But I couldn't go see Willie Mays when he did a book signing there. Talk about your regrets.