STAR STRUCK OR NOT?

Mel Brooks & Anne Bancroft in one of Brooks' movies

My daughter Heidi accuses me of being star-struck. I will admit to some part of that description, but I think I’ve just been fortunate and in the right place at the right time. Or, I have had occasion to interview a star or to meet a famous person serendipitously.

One of my favorite encounters happened during my position as editor/writer of the Beverly Hills Country Club Magazine, about 1995. I was in Santa Monica, right on the ocean, to interview Robert Pritikin, the owner/president of the Pritikin Longevity Center, a forward-looking proponent of health through proper diet and exercise.

The Pritikin Institute, no longer in Santa Monica, was quite a place—there were accommodations for seven day or longer visits for a choice of health regimens. The facility had exercise rooms, easy access to the beach, and a very large dining room that offered a buffet of healthy and delicious food.

After a tour of the place by the owner and an interview, he invited me to enjoy the dinner buffet. He was apologetic that he had commitments and couldn’t share the meal, but he encouraged me to partake since it was early evening by that time.

I gladly accepted, filled my plate with some tasty-looking items and found a table with a woman who was eating alone. The dining room area was quite spacious and the huge window at the western end faced the ocean. I ate as I talked to my tablemate, a very cordial woman. I don’t remember the food, eating made no impression when I noticed an interesting older couple walk by us with their trays to sit down at a nearby table.

“I think that’s Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft,” I said excitedly to my dinner companion. My announcement didn’t seem to make any impression on her.

Deciding not to disturb the famous couple right away, especially since they were eating, I finished my meal.

After anxiously waiting until an appropriate time, I finally decided to approach. I was a fan, I reasoned, and they both looked approachable. I had recently seen Mel Brooks’ comic film, “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” I had always liked his zany sense of humor, from silly and ridiculous to the sublime. And I had always admired Anne Bancroft, never forgetting her film roles as Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate,” and when she played Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s amazing teacher in “The Miracle Worker.”

As I walked over to their table I felt I could have been a sleuth: they were both very casually dressed. Mel had on a baseball cap, and they were both in jeans and sports shoes. I don’t think anyone else had noticed them. When I nervously introduced myself as the editor of the magazine doing a story on the Pritikin Institute, they immediately gave me a welcoming smile.

I felt a bit like a blubbering idiot telling Mel how much I loved his movies and had seen “Spaceballs,” his most recent Robin Hood movie and almost all the rest. I quickly added a small comment for Anne and wished I were more calm.

It’s ironic how I can interview almost anyone calmly but when I’m a fan, I get nervous and tongue-tied. We humans are full of contradictions!

Mel and Anne couldn’t have been nicer and began praising the healthy and tasty menu at the Pritikin Institute. They lived in the neighborhood and came for dinner often. They recommended me doing the same if I had the chance.

I didn’t overstay my welcome and thanked them both for their time. During my fairly long drive home along Pacific Coast Highway, I was grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t wait to share my story.

When I saw “The Producers” on stage and at the movies, I remembered my brief visit with Mel Brooks. Anne Bancroft died in 2005 and I feel even more privileged that I had had the opportunity to briefly chat with this happy couple who had been married 40 years.

Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks

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