The rumor around town last week was that Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was dining at Oliverio’s Ristorante in Bridgeport. As it turned out, it was far from a rumor as Montana and his son Nate – who recently transferred from Montana to West Virginia Wesleyan to play football – apparently were looking for some really good Italian food.
In today’s world of instant media, word of Montana’s presence was out quicker than an order of breadsticks at Oliverio’s. That, of course, was great news for guys like Mario Blount and Pete Iquinto, who would only believe the moon was made of green cheese if it were Notre Dame Green, and for anyone else that kicks a kick out of Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind.
In my line of work, it isn’t a frequent casualty, but it’s a casualty. Most of the time if I run into someone famous it’s usually sports related. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Charles Barkley, Xavier McDaniel, Mike Gminski, Kevin Greene, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff, Dr. Jack Ramsey and Lefty Driessell; meeting Myron Cope, Chuck Person, Wes Unseld, the Nature Boy Ric Flair and dozens of others from the sports world, including probably several hundred past West Virginia University standouts. I’ve also interviewed the head of Interpol, had numerous one-on-one encounters with politicians such as the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, former Congressman Alan Mollohan, Governor’s Bob Wise, Gaston Caperton and Cecil Underwood; and many others, while also standing five feet from President Bill Clinton thinking the whole time what would happen if I took my gum out of my mouth and flipped it at the Commander in Chief’s forehead.
For the most part, I kept my composure around all of those individuals with the lone exceptions of being a little nervous meeting Flair at an autograph signing and interviewing Barkley when I was in my early 20s. Barkley was still with 76ers and was taking part in an NBA exhibition game in Charleston. I, of course, was credentialed and planned on doing my first “major” professional interview with a nationally known individual. The interview happened, but it was far from professional as for one of the few times in my journalistic career I was completely overcome with excitement.
That joy of seeing someone famous and getting “stage fright” as I did with Barkley and probably many had in recent days with the Montana sighting wasn’t my only such situation. It was, however, the only time it’s happened during an interview.
On two other occasions I had to really gather myself in the presence of celebrities. And I should caution my idea of celebrity might lead to frowns from some of my dear readers as both that I’m about to refer to are retired professional wrestlers.
The first such encounter came at Cocoa Beach in Florida as my wife and I were lounging beachside. I was reading a book when the
wife tells me “Here you come in about 20 years.” Well, I look up and my jaw drops. I just stare at the individual in front of me. My wife, noticeably embarrassed that I’m gawking, tells me to quit staring. I can’t. The guy is 10 feet from me, looks at his watch and heads back down the beach. I tell my wife I have just seen George “The Animal” Steele. My wife doesn’t believe me.
Here’s the deal, if you know who George “The Animal” Steele is, you know for sure when you’ve seen him. And if you know my wife has said that she’s seen what I look like in the next 20 years, you can rest easily know that it wasn’t a compliment.
My next encounter came when I was asked to drive one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time – Bruno Sammartino – in a recent West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival parade, as he was the parade marshall. I was given the honor as I had not only been suggesting him to the director at the time for several years, but managed to get contact information for him when the director finally relented. For anyone that knows professional wrestling, Bruno was known as the “Living Legend.” He was a beloved figure back when cable television’s key staple was studio wrestling and everyone – and I mean everyone – thought it was real. Bruno was the ultimate good guy.
As it turned out, not only did I get to drive Bruno, but I was asked to entertain him until the parade started. I readily agreed and only when I saw this very dignified man in his 70s approach did I just completely feel myself come unglued. As it turned out, the guy was just as classy as he used to be on television. He was gracious, courteous and a more than willing to pose for pictures and sign autographs with everyone that approached.
Hopefully, in my new gig here at Connect-Bridgeport, there will be more of these encounters. In the meantime, let me know some of yours and send a picture along to me with details of your encounter at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I’ll include them in this blog and gallery.
Maybe I’ll find out something about someone out there that’s as cool as my friend and WBOY legendary camera man Mike Corley’s experience. Mr. Corley, you should know, also has experience in front of the camera. He was an extra in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” and is clearly visible in a scene at the end of the movie.
How many folks do you know can say they were in a movie with Jodie Foster? I only know of one. If you have something similar and some photographic proof, send it along. I want to know about your celebrity encounters.
Editor's Note: That's George "The Animal" Steele pictured. As you can tell, being compared to "The Animal" not exactly a compliment.