It’s a staple of local conventional wisdom that one of the reasons famous people love our Island is that we encounter them with a nonchalance that puts one in mind of an English butler escorting a carpet-installer to the rear wing.
The majority of celebrities are actors and actresses. For those of us who know actors (or have been actors) let me ask this question: How many of them wish to not be recognized? Bloody few, am I right?
There’s a story told by Garson Kanin, the late Edgartown author and husband of the also late and astonishingly great actress Ruth Gordon, in his book Moviola, about palling around with and carrying the books of Marilyn Monroe. This was in Manhattan back in the 1950s.
One afternoon, after hours spent under the penetrating gaze of Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio, Mr. Kanin and Miss Monroe decided to sally out for lunch in the Village. She tucked her famous blonde hair beneath a scarf and donned sunglasses the size of two poached eggs to disguise her celebrated, beautiful face. They started across MacDougal Street toward Washington Square.
Like any two town-dwellers or pair of tourists, they had to dodge all the taxis and other assorted vehicles driven by normal people made temporarily sociopathic by something in the city air.
Halfway across the street, Miss Monroe abruptly whipped off her scarf and shades and began to maneuver her curvaceous hips in that way that floored audiences in Some Like It Hot. Now the fiendish drivers veered into each other. Truck drivers leaned out of open windows bellowing, “MAR-I-LYN!” like Kamikaze pilots over Iwo Jima.
At last, when Miss Monroe and Mr. Kanin reached the far side of the street, the most famous movie star of all time turned to her bewildered screenwriter friend and explained: “I just wanted to be Marilyn Monroe for a moment.”
So if Marilyn Monroe wished to be Marilyn Monroe, then presumably on our Island, even the reclusive Larry David or virtually nonexistent (in terms of sightings) David Letterman elect to be Larry and David occasionally.
Which brings me back to the disturbing but nonetheless honest and fair proposition that not all Vineyarders are, in every case, at all times, so solicitously and tactfully avoidant of celebrities.
There was the time when I brought a goofy old high school friend up to the Chilmark Store. As we sat side by side nibbling pizza on the porch, she recognized Jeff Goldblum rambling into the establishment. Only a goofy old high school friend would do something so extremely silly, but she slapped her wrist and muttered, “Darn fly!”
When Mr. Goldblum emerged, she repeated the self-smacking, this time on her forearm.
Oh, and once at the Agricultural Fair, my sister Cindy encountered the actor Randy Quaid. She stumbled upon that classic blunder: “Where do I know you from? Is it high school? Did you go to Oakwood? Do you work at any hospitals? Are you a psych patient?” [I made that last part up: even Cindy would exercise some discretion.]
Mr. Quaid responded to her friendly approach with sufficient hostility to hurt her feelings. She suddenly realized who he was, and she blurted, “You’re not a tenth as handsome as your brother!”
Most of our interactions with famous people fall into the category of not quite recognizing those well-known faces, so we sometimes do assume they’re old neighbors or colleagues or any of the assorted animal control, highway or probation officers we know. Some of the queries I’ve overheard:
“Are you — ?”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you’re not! But you sure look like him!”
“Who are you? C’mon, help me out here!”
“Are you on that show? What’s it called? What’s your name? Not that I’d necessarily know it — you’ve got a small role. Hope they’re freeing you up to look for other gigs?”
A couple of summers ago, the endearingly sweet Marguerite Cook was tending her counter at the chocolate-scented Good Ship Lollipop in Oak Bluffs. A customer approached, a tall, distinguished African American man of advanced middle age. They engaged in a scholarly talk about jelly beans. (For those who know and love their gourmet jelly beans, there is data to be analyzed about each and every sublime flavor.)
All the while, Ms. Cook kept thinking the man looked uncannily familiar, so amid the talk about blue boysenberries and pale green key limes, she asked the classic questions: Was it high school? Did you work at Filene’s Basement in Boston?
Finally, the woman standing beside the dashing devotee of jelly beans snapped at Ms. Cook, “Oh for godsakes! He’s Morgan Freeman!”
Say, have celebrities ever thought about wearing name tags? Obviously Brangelina don’t need them, but character actors who change their look with each new role could benefit by identifying themselves: At least they could dodge the dreaded high school question.
The only continuing threat would be women like my goofy high school friend slapping at imaginary flies as Jeff Goldblum strides past. But incidents like that are few and far between.
Of course Morgan Freeman doesn’t need a name tag. But maybe he really did attend high school with our candy vendor Marguerite?
Gazette contributor Holly Nadler lives in Oak Bluffs.