Hulton Archive/General Photographic Agency
By Amy Phillips Penn

“If you survive long enough, you’re revered –
rather like an old building.”
 — Katharine Hepburn


My aunt once was seated at a table near Clark Gable. What to do, what to do? She took off her eyeglasses. She was a very pretty woman, with “myopia,” a generous euphemism for her vision.

In the days before contact lenses and laser, women took the adage men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses to heart and image. A conundrum if ever there was one.

Now Clark Gable could see my aunt, if he should so choose…but my aunt couldn’t see Clark Gable. “I hear that you saw Clark Gable, is he as handsome as they say?” “I don’t know, I took off my glasses,” does not great reportage make.

It’s one thing if teenagers get all teen-age-like when they get up close and personal with Justin Bieber or Britney Spears. Once upon-a-time, many of us girls got sentimental over shamelessly screaming for the Beatles, while my mother went into another dimension at the mere mention of Frank Sinatra.

What goes down in New York doesn’t often stay in New York. The sighting of any kind of celebrity, from Real Housewives of Who Knows or Cares Where to Mick Jagger or a politician on the ‘oh-so busted list,’ can transform almost any one into less than 6 degrees of separation from Page Six. Admit it, deny it, or simply call Richard Johnson.

The unspoken rule about being around celebrities is: don’t blow your cool, if you have any. Don’t feed, pet, or annoy the celebrities. If they choose to acknowledge your presence, respond as if it’s an every day event. Try, try, try as you might, cool is not always on the agenda.

True story:

I was having dinner at a casual Southampton (please cherish the oxymoron) restaurant some years back. I was with my then boyfriend, his ex-girlfriend, and one of my closest friends and her husband who had been married for multiple forevers.

“Monogamy is not a normal state,” my friend waxed wisely, as if she had just read, underlined, and reviewed every expert on the subject.

“I know,” I replied.

”Sometimes I have dreams about this actor,” I admitted. (“A” is his first initial, balls to the wall, go I.)

What happened next should have gone into the dream’s sequel, but life is stranger than just about anything we might dream up.

The table across from us was filled with men, men, and more men. As if the lights had dimmed, and the director had blessed the next scene, one of them turned his chair around, and stared at me. It was “A.” I ran into him several more times in Sag Harbor, but never approached him, even though he makes his entrances known. I was raised never to ask anyone for their autograph.

She who makes the rules, can break the rules:

My mother and I were having tea in a London hotel. A rugged, ‘I can roll my own cigarettes kind of guy’ was sitting across from us. We had no idea who he was. After several women all but drooled on his scones, my mother asked me to get his autograph…not because she coveted it, but because she wanted to know who he was. Since I wasn’t in awe of this unknown quantity of a celebrity, I dutifully complied. It was Charles Bronson.

The greatest celebrity in my eyes was Jackie O.

On a New York spring day that was well worth the winter, my mother and I were walking my little sister in her baby carriage. Jackie O walked by and smiled at us –it was more than we could ever have wished for.

You may glimpse royalty, fame in a flicker of a second. Savor the dazzle; respect the cool.


“Even though people may be well known, they hold in their hearts the emotions
of a simple person 
for the moments that are the most important
of those we know on earth: birth, marriage and death.”

— Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

One Response to Vintage Gossip: How Not to Treat a New York Celebrity

  1. Perley J. Thibodeau says:

    Then I’m forced to say that Jackie didn’t smile at me in Central Park but stared nostalgically at me in a cap and dark aviation glasses that made me feel that she still loved John Kennedy. She passed away two days later.

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