Being Famous Doesn’t Make You Good or Bad.

Wonderful Actor James Whitmore

As an avid film fan, I have my favorite movies and stars, and one of the character actors I admired was the venerable James Whitmore. I loved him in The Shawshank Redemption, as the gentle librarian, wished I’d seen him on stage as the comedian and political commentator, Will Rogers, and had enjoyed his Miracle Gro commercials for years. I was convinced the gentle and wise personality he projected on the big and small screen must be his true self.

I had first seen Whitmore in person in the early 1960s when I was attending the College of William and Mary in Virginia. I was with a friend on the Williamsburg tour bus when I spotted him on a nearby seat. I knew he was an actor but I couldn’t remember his name until much later. No one else indicated they knew who he was, perhaps because he was a small man and sat there quietly. I had never forgotten the sighting. Perhaps it was a harbinger of future encounters with famous people of one sort or another.

In 2004, my friend Sally and I were at a small French restaurant called Champagne in Westlake Village, California, having dessert after seeing a movie at the nearby theater. We were sitting outside and I spotted Whitmore with a lovely woman, who seemed younger than him. They chose a table a few feet away and right away I determined that I would go over at an appropriate time and talk to him.

About a half hour later I made my move and he was immediately gracious as I told him how I had seen and enjoyed so many of his movies. The woman, who, as I later discovered, was probably Noreen Nash, whom he’d married in 2001, was also welcoming. She obviously enjoyed seeing her man enjoy a fan’s recognition.

I told James Whitmore I had originally seen him way back in the 60s in Williamsburg. He gave me a big smile and charmingly remarked I must have been a little girl at that point.

I’m glad I met and talked to him; he was just as personable as I’d thought he’d be.  I miss seeing him on stage and in film; he died a few years later, in 2009.

***

Celebrities don’t always meet one’s expectations. Years ago, a girlfriend of mine worked on many movies as a unit production manager, primarily at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank. Max had been a special friend of Paul Monash, producer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and many other movies, and she had worked on the Barbra Streisand movie Nuts, which turned out to be an appropriate title for an unhappy set. Max had snuck me into the huge closed set of producer Steven Spielberg’s The Goonies, where I saw the 17th century pirate ship sitting in a fake lake.

I had mentioned to Max that I’d had a crush on William Shatner since his work as Captain Kirk on TV’s Star Trek. Max knew him very well and saw him from time to time. She said she’d arrange something since he was working on the TV show T.J. Hooker, then filming at Warner Brothers. I was thrilled.

Max was true to her word and I was invited to visit her at the studio. Around lunchtime we walked over to the TV show’s set where Shatner was taking a break in his trailer. We were invited in, Max sat down at the built-in booth facing Shatner, and I stood nearby. I was definitely an unnecessary “fifth wheel” and might as well have been invisible. I could see his interest in Max was more than friendship and he enjoyed acting the “star” role in front of her. I don’t recall that he said anything to me except a perfunctory “hello” and perhaps “goodbye.”

Despite my dashed illusions about Shatner’s heroic appeal, I’ve enjoyed his more recent TV roles. I especially liked his “over the top” role in Boston Legal, though I haven’t yet watched his brand new series. Apparently my fantasies are better than the reality. I live so close to Hollywood…it’s no wonder!

Actor William Shatner

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