Serendipitous Celebrity Encounters
Have you had a chance positive encounter with a celebrity? I’ve had so many, I decided to make a list. And it’s long. This series will feature some of these often very odd or funny situations. And I’d like to tell your story here too.
Stepping back in time 43 years ago, I am 23 years old and a Sunday Lifestyles editor for a regional Pennsylvania daily with 100,000 Sunday circulation. Frank Zappa is appearing in nearby Pittsburgh at the then-Stanley Theatre on Thursday night, November 13, 1980, for two performances.
I frequently wrote features about musicians and bands and made contact with the Stanley Theatre, whose name changed to the Benedum Center after 1987. The theater manager put me in touch with Zappa’s road manager in Los Angeles, and he kindly offered me a 15-minute backstage slot to meet and question the big guy between the early and the late show. Two comp tickets awaited me at the theater box office.
My date Kate and I arrived, picked up our tickets and took seats on the main level. We were told to watch the early show, and then to approach the band’s security guy once that show ended at a side door on that main level and we would be guided to the backstage area.
Excellent show. We were blown away.
Now there was this side door along the right-hand outside wall about halfway up the main seating area where a very big guy was standing — apparently Zappa’s security guy. We approached smiling and eager to get backstage — but very quickly, looking at a clipboard, the guy said my name was not on this list. So — no entry.
I explained that I was a regional journalist who had set this up through Zappa’s LA-based road manager and there has to be some misunderstanding. Then after a few minutes of gently arguing with the guy something outrageous happened.
He opened the door into the hallway — and both Kate and I stepped in. Directly behind us were two metal doors with horizontal push bars about waist-high that one would push to open them. To our left was the hallway leading backstage.
The security guy approached me suddenly without warning, and with two hands, grabbed me and picked me up off of the floor — and then literally threw me through the double doors — and I landed in the alley outside. He then motioned for Kate to walk through the doorway. Once through, he pulled the doors shut again.
I picked myself up off the alley floor, looked at Kate, and said, “This isn’t over.”
We walked around to the Stanley Theatre box office entrance and asked the young woman there to summon the theater manager who had put this in motion to begin with.
A few minutes later, the guy was jaw-dropped speaking to us and apologizing. He asked us to follow him, and we stepped back inside the main seating area and again approached the door with the security guy standing by as before.
The manager told the security guy that I was indeed a journalist who had secured an interview with Zappa, and he waived the guy aside and the three of us walked to the backstage area.
There I found Zappa’s band members all resting quietly on the floor. The theater manager looked around, asked some questions, and then moved further down a short hallway with an open door, and stepped inside. Kate and I waited, studying the band members who seemed disinterested that strangers were standing around.
The manager soon returned with bad news — Zappa had injured himself during the early show and was mending — and would not be able to follow through with the interview.
Okay, I couldn’t help myself. I was still a bit sore after my flight through those metal doors, and I think I mentioned the possibility of assault charges. So I spoke up — loud enough that I’m sure Zappa heard me a mere 25 or 30 feet away in a room with an open door.
“That’s okay,” I said. “We’re not big media. I only have a 100,000 circulation. But I’m sure my readers might want to know how you greet journalists and toss them into alleyways. So I guess that’s the story instead.”
The theater manager looked like he might need medical attention. Kate and I walked out the door.
The next day I had a great story to tell in the newsroom — and most of my colleagues wondered why I hadn’t called the police after what happened. But I was fine with not making the story about me. In fact, I never wrote a story at all.
But later that afternoon driving home from work — news from Hollyweird spewed out of my car radio. Frank Zappa had fired his road manager.
Poor guy. He was very nice and accommodating. The guy who should have been fired was the security guy.
Your Celebrity Story
Looking for fun and positive chance encounters with celebrities. No shaming or bashing — just interesting, strange, wild, or outrageously weird encounters. Keep it short — no more than 300 words. I would be rewriting your story, and using your story to quote you. I would identify you by first name and city-state — so like Cheryl from Ottumwa, Iowa. I will pick the best ones and include them in my column here under one of my own stories. Please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.