More Name-Dropping

I have had the opportunity to hobnob and “rub elbows” with quite a few celebrities during my travels and performing engagements, even to have conversations with them. I have related many of my encounters in the course of recounting my career and travel activities in my other blogs. So what follows now are those chance meetings that I have yet to tell you about.

I did a gig with the Gregg Smith Singers one Sunday evening in 1988 at the Schubert Theater in NYC. The program was new choral works and scenes from modern plays, so there were some prominent actors involved along with the singers. Eric Roberts (whom I like) was scheduled to appear, but when I arrived at the theater, my friend Jon informed me that Eric was sick and would not be there tonight. “But I think you will approve of his replacement,” he assured me. Ooh, was he right! It turned out to be Matthew Broderick, whom I happen to love even more than Eric. He was there to do a scene with Christopher Walken from David Rabe’s The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel. The two had just recently worked together in Biloxi Blues (1988). As we were all gathered in the “Green Room” downstairs before the show, I had a chance to talk with them both. Before that time I once sat directly behind Matthew at a showing of Fright Night (1985) at the Waverly Theater in the Village.

Waiting backstage later, I struck up conversations with both Martin Sheen, whom I also love, and the late Ron Silver, who wasn’t so bad either! I got autographs from both Martin and Matthew. Martin was quite friendly and nice to me. John Savage was there, too, but I didn’t get to speak to him. At the after-show reception at the famous Sardi’s Restaurant across the street, I got to meet Danny Aiello and Jill Clayburgh, both now deceased. I was really in my element that night, starfucker that I am.

I have a passing acquaintance with actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein. We have spent some time together on four occasions. The first time was March 1991 when he came to see The Flirtations perform at Eighty-Eights, a Village cabaret. The second time was October 1992 at Town Hall when we shared a dressing room for a benefit show that Harvey and the Flirts were doing. That same night I also met the late Joan Rivers, who was hosting the event. The third time I ran into Harvey was at Yankee Stadium during the Closing Ceremonies for Gay Games IV in June 1994. We were both performing that day as well. Harvey took me to his holding area to meet author Armistead Maupin. That day I also met Olympic skaters Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and singers Cyndi Lauper and Lillias White. Also in attendance that day were Patti Labelle, Greg Louganis and “Sirina” McKellan.

The most recent time that I spoke with Harvey in person was the summer of 2002 outside the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd St., where he was appearing in the new (at the time) musical, Hairspray. My French friend, Gilles, and I were passing by one night after the show and people were there waiting for Harvey to come out of the stage door exit. Gilles seemed not to be convinced that I actually knew Harvey or that he would remember me, so we ourselves waited for him to emerge. When Harvey eventually came out and saw me standing there, with outstretched arms he walked over to me and greeted me with a big hug. We even chatted a bit. Now Gilles is impressed! I even have Harvey’s home phone number, although I have never used it to call him, as I try to respect people’s privacy. I use Facebook instead, whenever I have something to tell him, like congratulating him on his Tony win for Kinky Boots and receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame.

I first met late author/lecturer Quentin Crisp in 1988, through a mutual friend, at one of his neighborhood eateries in the East Village, where he lived. We next met up on the set of Philadelphia, in which he appeared as an extra, then again at the photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar. While I was in high school, my music teacher, Mr. Chapman, took his Harmony class to a lecture forum given by composer Henry Cowell. We got to meet him and talk with him about his music and his composition techniques.

I want to tell you about the time that I attended an informal tea party in Paul Simon’s Manhattan apartment. At that time, Paul was purportedly romantically-involved with actor Shelley Duvall, and she was living with him as well. Shelley phoned Paul’s regular handyman, Fintan Connolly (an Irish carpenter and my good friend), one evening and asked him if he would come to the house to hang some planters for her. He then called me to ask if I wanted to go along to the job with him. He had previously told me about Paul’s apartment and thought that I might like to see it. So of course I agreed to join him.

I met Fintan at Paul’s building on Central Park West and 69th Street, and we went on up to the apartment. Shelley answered the door and let us in, however she seemed a little apprehensive about this strange, black man at her threshold. But I quickly put her and her visiting female friend at ease. I have a way with folks, don’t you know. It must be my winning charm and humor. I soon had them talking and laughing with me as we drank tea while Fintan went about his task.

This was 1977, before I was very familiar with any of Shelley’s movie work, although I had seen most of the films that she had cited for me that she had appeared in. Brewster McCloud (Yeah, I saw that), Thieves Like Us (Yeah, I saw that), Nashville, Annie Hall (Yeah, I saw them, too), but I didn’t remember her in any of them, I’m sorry. She, being a little, skinny, vapid white child, just didn’t leave much of an impression on me, I guess. Her current film, at the time, was 3 Women, which I had not yet seen, but I did eventually. I became more familiar with her work later on in Popeye and The Shining (both 1980). Fortunately, though, she did not hold my lack of recognition against me.

The apartment was as spectacular as Fintan had told me it was. I didn’t get to meet Paul that night, however. He was working—I think he was taping a TV special at the time—but I hope that I get to meet him in person someday, so that I can tell him that I was once in his home and that I did a choral arrangement of one of his songs, “Song for the Asking.” I had lost track of Shelley for some years now, but she showed up on Dr. Phil’s show recently, and she is a real mess! She’s old and fat now, very haggard and suffering from dementia and paranoia. She hadn’t even accepted the fact that Robin Williams is dead.

I met and spoke with actors Pat Carroll, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (I even have a hand-written letter from them), Colleen Dewhurst, Michael Greer, Estelle Parsons and Tom Villard, and singers Ferron, Janis Ian (with whom I have corresponded by mail after we met during the Winnipeg Folk Festival and even exchanged CDs), Cleo Laine, Odetta (who gave me her phone number, although I never used it) and Kay Stevens.

I have spoken with actor/dancer Chita Rivera on two occasions. I once rode the elevator with her at a rehearsal studio where we both were working—she in the original Chicago, I on The Wiz. Then I approached her again years later at Lena Horne’s 80th birthday tribute at Lincoln Center. That night I also met Nicholas Ashford, Cicely Tyson and Ms. Horne herself. I met the lovely Phylicia Rashad when she emceed a Flirtations gig at St. Thomas Church in New York. I asked Phylicia that night, while I was getting her autograph, ‘Where is that fine husband of yours?’ Ahmad was at home babysitting. (They have since divorced, and their daughter, Condola, is all grown up and is a working actor herself.) Phylicia even remembered me the second time we met, almost two years later!

I met and spoke with Dionne Warwick (my idol) on two occasions: when she autographed a poster of herself the first time I saw her in concert, Bloomington 1966, and when I actually got to sing with her in NYC 1993. (She participated in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations with us that year.) When I saw Nancy Wilson in concert back in 1966 in Bloomington (the then-unknown Joan Rivers was her opening act!), I went backstage to meet Ms. Wilson afterwards and get her autograph, and she let me kiss her on the cheek!

While attending the Philadelphia Music Conference in October 1995 (I was there to promote my CD, Out Here On My Own), I had the opportunity to meet and chat with singer Mary Wilson, formerly of The Supremes. I met and chatted with actor Kathy Najimy in Washington, DC in 1992. The Flirtations were there during a gay pride rally held on the Mall, and we were hanging out in the holding tent. While there, I also saw Cybill Shepherd, who was there to make a speech, and I got my first glimpse of RuPaul, standing nearby, decked out in a red, white and blue, stars and stripes outfit. I was struck at how tall he is.

I met actor Robert Klein at a NY cast party. I met and chatted with actor Paxton Whitehead at the State Theater at Lincoln Center, when he was doing the NY revival of Camelot with Richard Burton (who actually walked by us while we were conversing). I had seen Paxton in a play in Ottawa, Ontario, when I was there with Harry Belafonte in 1978.

While ushering for the 2000 revival of Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice at the 2econd Stage Theater, I got to chat with actor Michael Emerson (of “Lost,“ “Person of Interest,“ “Evil”), who was attending the play. I met composer Ned Rorem at a choral concert I was singing in. I have chatted on occasion with opera greats Placido Domingo, Marilyn Horne and Leontyne Price.

Actor F. Murray Abraham once spoke to me when we passed each other in the hallway at a rehearsal space in NYC, and Danny Glover and I spoke to each other as he passed me on the street one night. I spoke to Robin Williams one day, while he was out jogging near Central Park, and I once recognized one of your lesser-known character actors waiting for a bus at Columbus Circle with his young daughter. I went up to him and said, ‘Why, you’re Stefan Gierasch, aren’t you?’ He replied, “Uh…yes, I am!” He seemed surprised that I even knew who he was. He was one of the heavies in Silver Streak (1976).

The day after I saw him in the Broadway musical Urinetown, I saw actor/singer John Cullum crossing the street where I was riding by on my bike. I stopped to speak to him, to tell him that I enjoyed his show and his performance in particular. He seemed very appreciative. I tried to speak with actor/poet Maya Angelou one night after a dance concert I was singing in, who was not so gracious, as if she didn’t want to be bothered. Maybe she didn’t. I met singer Julie Budd at a callback audition for Boynton Beach Club. She didn’t get the gig either, by the way.

One day when Lloyd and I were having lunch at one of our favorite eateries near Lincoln Center (Ollie’s), at the next table was actor Jeffrey Wright. As he was leaving, I introduced myself and told him that I really liked his work. I had a lot more I could have discussed with him. I would have asked him how it was to work with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino (on Angels in America).

Another time, at the Westway Diner, near where I live, Tyne Daly sat at the next table for lunch. We learned that she was in rehearsal for a new play at one of my neighborhood theaters. She had lost a lot a weight since I saw her last. I told her how I so much enjoyed “Judging Amy” and that Maxine Gray was one of my favorite TV characters. She also seemed appreciative.

While on tour with Gregg Smith in Los Angeles, I was having dinner with two friends of mine, and we spied singer Sheena Easton at a nearby table. Later when I imparted this bit of news to the other group members, they asked me if I had asked Ms. Easton for her autograph. I told them, ‘Of course not. She didn’t ask me for mine.’

Those whom I know (or knew) from having a working relationship with them are Lucine Amara, Dave Brubeck, John Bucchino, Ray Charles (the sighted conductor), Kate Clinton, Lea DeLaria, Sally Fingerett, Flor de Caña, David Friedman, Tret Fure, Ronnie Gilbert, Philip Glass, Marga Gomez, Jerome Hines, Geoffrey Holder (who directed me in Amahl and the Night Visitors), Pat Humphries, Leonard Jackson, David Massengill, Melba Moore, Richard Muenz, Holly Near, Anders Paulsson, Peter, Paul & Mary, Falumi Prince, Rhiannon, Romanovsky & Phillips, Anna Russell, Peter Schickele, Pete Seeger, Fred Small, Suede, Linda Tillery, Lucie Blue Tremblay, William Warfield, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Danny Williams, Karen Williams, Cris Williamson and Paul Winter. I know singer/songwriter Thomas Wilson Weinberg, and I knew Glenn Hughes (the Leatherman), formerly of Village People.

My first regular Sunday church job in NYC was at the Broadway United Church of Christ (Unitarian), where Metropolitan Opera star Samuel Ramey and I made up the choir’s bass section. Also in that same choir was tenor Earl Rogers, who was one of Mitch Miller’s original “Gang” members, and in the alto section was Nan Lyons, the author of the mystery novel Somebody Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, from which the 1978 film Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? is based.

Other name celebrities with whom I have shared the stage and/or worked alongside (other than operatic situations) but with whom I did not have any personal dealings, include Karen Akers, June Anderson, Julie Andrews, Patti Austin, Amanda Bearse, Ed Bradley, LaLa Brooks, Betty Buckley, Andy Bumatai, Pat Buttram, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Carol Channing, Cyd Charisse, Rosemary Clooney, Cy Coleman, Barbara Cook, John Dankworth, Taye Diggs, Gloria Foster, Pete Fountain, Jack Gilford, Dizzy Gillespie, Allen Ginsberg, Savion Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Eydie Gormé, Randy Graff, Joel Grey, Lionel Hampton, Al Hirt, Hal Holbrook, Celeste Holm, John Houseman, Phyllis Hyman, Iman, Dana Ivey, Judith Ivey, Al Jarreau, Judy Kaye, Alan King, Nathan Lane, Patty Larkin, Steve Lawrence, Hubert Laws, The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, Wynton Marsalis, Marsha Mason, Letta Mbulu, Andrea McArdle, Robert McFerrin (Bobby’s dad), Howard McGillin, Liza Minnelli, Melba Moore, Russell Oberlin, John Pagano, Freda Payne, Rosie Perez, Lou Diamond Phillips, John Pizzarelli, Jane Powell, Tito Puentes, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lou Reed, Tony Roberts, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, John Rubinstein, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Short, Valerie Simpson, Anna Deavere Smith, Billy Stritch, Billy Taylor, Tommy Tune, Leslie Uggams, Suzanne Vega, Crystal Waters, Lynn Whitfield, Wilhelmina Wiggins-Fernandez, Joe Williams, and a host of male and female opera divas and “divos.”

I have sung under conductors Dino Anagnost[ic], Leonard Bernstein, Elio Boncompagni, Richard Bonynge, Leon Botstein, Sergiu Commissiona, Anton Coppola, Robert Craft, Lucas Foss, Margaret Hillis, Manfred Honeck, Abraham Kaplan, Christopher Keene, Dennis Keene, Vincent La Selva, James Levine, Henry Lewis, Zubin Mehta, Jorge Mester, Ennio Morricone, John Nelson, Imre Pallo, Eve Queler, Gerard Schwarz, Maxim Shostakovitch, Alessandro Siciliani, Alfredo Silipigni, Johannes Somary, Jean-Christophe Spinosi and Richard Westenberg, among others.

Some big names who were performing in the same area and at the same time that The Flirtations were appearing, but for whatever reasons people chose to see us over them, are The Allman Brothers Band, Mariah Carey, Jim Carrey, Chicago, Crosby Stills and Nash, Janet Jackson, Elton John, Tom Jones, Richard Lewis, Barry Manilow (who was playing right across the street from where we were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Liza Minnelli, The Oak Ridge Boys, RuPaul, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ravi Shankar, Nina Simone, Sting, Loudon Wainwright, Wynonna and Weird Al Yankovic.

As an usher at the Playhouse Theater in NYC, I once seated former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and actor Rod Steiger. I even sang for Jackie O. once (I was with Steamboat Gothic) at the Metropolitan Museum. Also in the audience were Betty “Condom” and Adolph Green. I once sat back to back in adjoining booths with John Kennedy Jr. at a Manhattan restaurant and I sang at the funeral of John Jr.’s uncle Stephen Smith, at which Ted Kennedy gave the eulogy. I sang at a funeral where actor Cyril Ritchard gave a eulogy, the funeral of former NYC mayor John Lindsay’s brother David, and at the funerals for choreographer George Balanchine and musician Morton Gould.

Actor Estelle Getty heard The Flirtations perform at the Rose Garden nightclub in West Hollywood. I once sang for actor Paul Sorvino at his home church in Tenafly, New Jersey and years later passed him on the street. Actor Sam Waterston attended a couple of Holy Apostles Church services while I was singing there.

Steamboat Gothic used to take advantage of the theater crowd by singing on the streets in the Broadway district. One evening actor Barnard Hughes came by on his way to work (he was starring in Da at the time) and dropped some money into our basket. We also used to do street singing in the Village, and a couple of times Hair producers Tom O’Horgan and Gerome Ragni were in our audience.

Others whom I have spied in the audience or backstage where I was performing or was told that they were there, include Marian Anderson, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leon Bibb, Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack, Evander Holyfield, Janet Jackson, Derek Jeter, James Earl Jones, John Kander, Evgeny Kissin, Spike Lee, Jan Miner (aka Madge the Manicurist), Mary Tyler Moore, Ken Page, Luciano Pavarotti, Thomas Quasthoff, Luise Rainer, Tim Reid, Nipsey Russell, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Clarise Taylor, Ivana Trump and Oprah Winfrey. Some state and province governors have attended my performances, among them, those from New Jersey, Oregon, Texas (Anne Richards) and Prince Edward Island, and assorted mayors. While he was Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau attended one of Belafonte’s shows when we played Ottawa.

One of my first gigs with The Flirtations was a benefit for labor leader/civil rights activist Cesar Chavez’ grape boycott protest rally, “The Wrath of Grapes” in Boston, October 1989. I don’t know if they still do or not, but Columbia University used to bestow an annual honorary degree on a popular celebrity, and I was in the attending chorus on two occasions when the honorees were Duke Ellington and Alfred Hitchcock, only months before they died.

I don’t have many regrets in life. I accept the bad with the good. The many mistakes I have made I have used as learning experiences, but I do regret some of my missed opportunities. I had always wanted to be drawn by Al Hirschfeld before he died in 2003. I had the chance once some years before when the celebrity caricaturist was at the annual Lincoln Center Library Bazaar, but I regretfully passed up the opportunity, as I had hoped that he would someday do me on someone else’s commission. What an idiot I was! I don’t remember what he was charging that day, but it wasn’t much. I could have afforded it, if I hadn’t been so grand about it. Well, it’s too late now. I missed my one chance.

I went to see a production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene at Manhattan School of Music once, and before the show, Weill’s widow, singer/actor Lotte Lenya, who was in the audience, was asked to stand. I was looking all around the theater for her and discovered that she was sitting in the seat right next to me! Lloyd and I sat behind composer Marvin Hamlisch at a Dionne Warwick concert in Radio City Music Hall, and I sat directly behind composer Stephen Sondheim at the dress rehearsal of Sweeney Todd, when the NY City Opera did it the first time there.

Once, while driving on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood with Michael Callen, I noticed that the car directly in front of us had a license plate which read, “JACKEE” (Harry). I was at an audition for something one day, and I went to the restroom to pee. I recognized the man at the urinal next to me to be Art Carney. I saw opera diva Eleanor Steber fall flat on her face getting off an elevator at Juilliard Music School one day. Actor Mary Alice was right behind me in line at the UPS office one day as was TV talk show veteran Joe Franklin at my local Duane Reade drugstore.

I once stalked actor Robert DeNiro for several blocks in the Village. I love him. While I was a patient in the hospital the first time, singer/actor Ethel Merman was also a patient on my floor. I saw her pass by my room one day. But when I asked my nurse about her, she tried to play the “nut role,” like it was some big secret that Ms. Merman was a patient there. She didn’t have to lie to me. I wasn’t going to bother the woman or blow her cover. Since she died soon after anyway, what difference would it have made?

I went to see my idol Burt Bacharach when he played at B.B. King’s supper nightclub a few years ago, and at my singles table sat an elderly gentleman who turned out to be another prestigious songwriter by the name of Jerry Ragovoy. Upon chatting with him, I found out that he is the one who wrote Garnet Mims’ “Cry Baby,” Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and The Rolling Stones’ “Time Is On My Side,” among other ‘60s R&B hits.

Living in Manhattan, I see celebrities all the time on the street, out shopping, eating in restaurants or just doing their thing, like regular folks, which they are. I have seen in person, here and in other locales, when they were not working, René Auberjonois, Emanuel Ax, Dylan Baker, Alan Bates, Joseph Bologna with his wife Renee Taylor, Kathleen Chalfant with David Rasche, Cher with her then daughter Chastity, Dennis Christopher, Van Cliburn, John Davidson, Tate Donovan, Robert Duvall, Wesley Eure, Morgan Fairchild, Joan Fontaine, Tony Franciosa, Leonard Frey, Penn Gillette, Gilbert Gottfried, Martha Graham, Rex Harrison, Helen Hayes, Maurice Hines, Vladimir Horowitz, Lauren Hutton, Vincent Irrizary, Mick Jagger, Leslie Jordan, Robert Joy, Jack Klugman, Jason Kravits, Spike Lee, James Lipton, Shirley MacLaine with Bella Abzug, Jackie Mason, Kevin McCarthy, Paul McCrane, Demi Moore, Rita Moreno, Cynthia Nixon, Patrick O’Neal, Keith Prentice, Hal Prince, Lynn Redgrave, Rex Reed, Robert Reed, George Reinholt, Geraldo Rivera, Leon Russom, Jay O. Sanders, Grant Shaud, Wallace Shawn, Richard B. Shull, Carly Simon, Daniel Stern, Eric Stoltz, Yma Sumac, Regina Taylor, Brenda Vaccaro, Nancy Walker, Felicia Weathers, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Paul Winfield.

Residing on a somewhat busy street, with shops and theaters, I often see celebrities on my very block. I have left my building at times or returned to find directly in front or next door the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, comic Mario Cantone, actors Zach Braff, Randy Harrison, John Scurti, Martin Short and Yanic Truesdale. I encountered Donald Sutherland with a cast on his leg, standing right outside my apartment building one day as I was leaving. I don’t know why he was there—I could have asked him, I guess—but we did speak a greeting as I passed. I found Lucy Liu as well on my front steps as I was leaving the house one day. This time I actually said to her, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do! What are you doing here?“ She was there with a friend, whom I didn’t know, just hanging out.

I have lived in the same apartment for 45 years! The only other tenant that had been here longer than I have was Mrs. Beatrice Rosado, a sweet, Puerto-Rican lady, whose husband was the building superintendent when I first moved in here in October 1978. When he died, his wife took over the duties, but she gave it up eventually. Mrs. Rosado (now deceased as well at the age of 100) was always telling me building gossip. She once imparted this story to me, that I have not yet been able to verify, is that famous gangster Al Capone used to own and reside in this very building! He lived in the basement apartment which is directly below me! However, the dates and timelines she gave me don’t add up.

Capone was in Alcatraz during most of the thirties and was released in 1939. Then he moved to Florida and died there in 1947 of advanced, untreated syphilis. So when did he live in New York? Unless he maintained two homes, there and here, which I suppose could be possible. Mrs. Rosado claims that she was living here herself when Capone was living here, but she also said that she didn’t come here until 1956. So how could she have known Capone when he had already been dead for nine years? I think she is confused. But isn’t that a great story, if it is true, that my building’s former landlord was Al Capone?!

I also learned, and this has been verified, that late actor Richard Castellano (The Godfather, Lovers and Other Strangers) once lived in one of the front apartments on my floor. It has been confirmed that Castellano did have mob connections and probably was here at the same time that Capone purportedly was. I learned that he was a great help and consultant to Francis Ford Coppola during the making of The Godfather (1972). I got the greatest surprise when I finally saw the film again after so many years. During one scene when Castellano appears on the TV screen, I was thinking to myself that this guy used to live right down the hall from where I am now, when at that moment in the film, his character, Clemenza, is leaving his house. Remember that much of the film is set in NYC. Castellano says goodbye to his wife and gets into a car with two other men and says, “I have a couple of stops to make this morning. First, we need to swing over to 309 West 43rd Street…” (!) I gasped and clutched my pearls. I was flabbergasted to hear my actual home address mentioned in a major motion picture, and a Best Picture, at that! If I ever meet the director Coppola, I intend to ask them if that line was in the script or was it an ad lib by Castellano, commemorating his former residence.

When I first moved into this building (but I did not know who she was at the time), actor Sally Kirkland was my floor neighbor. When she moved out, the next tenant was a hat designer who worked out of his apartment making and selling his own creations. Diana Ross was one of his regular customers and she was seen on several occasions by other tenants either going to or leaving Frederick’s apartment. I never saw her here, however.

So far, since I’ve been here, the premises has been used several times as a movie set. In fact, it was Sally Kirkland who suggested our building one time for shooting some scenes for a film she was working on. The movie crew set up right in my hallway and the front stoop was used as Sally’s residence in the movie. The movie might have been High Stakes (1989), but I have not yet seen it to confirm it. Before it was filled in with a new building a few years ago, there used to be a thruway alley next to my apartment building. I liked having that alley there, as it served as a shortcut through the block when going from 43rd to 44th Street or the other way.

On September 29, 1995, the production staff of the long-running TV series “Law and Order” used our then alley for a scene in one of their episodes, which required them to set up one of their special strobe lights in my bathroom! I watched them shoot the scene right outside my window. They also filmed another scene right in front of my building. The episode first aired on November 22. Talk about your sinecure! They paid me $100 for the use of my apartment for a few hours, and I didn’t have to do a damned thing. I have since learned that I may have gotten gypped. I have some friends whose residences have been used for TV episodic filming, and they were paid at least a thousand dollars a day! Maybe the fee has gone up since 20 years ago, or they just got over on me. The alley has been used for filming on two more occasions (when I was at home), but those other times I did not get any special compensation.

Those whom I have encountered at on-location movie sets or as guest speakers somewhere when I wasn’t performing myself include, Lauren Bacall (The Fan), Benjamin Bratt with Jerry Orbach (“Law and Order”), Judith Light (Gay Games), Jack Nicholson with Randy Quaid (The Last Detail), Faith Prince, Ally Sheedy and Michael York.

Those whom I have seen live in concert, that I was not involved in myself, include Burt Bacharach (twice), Blood Sweat & Tears with David Clayton-Thomas, The Bobs (three times), Chanticleer, Ray Charles, Chicago (3 or 4 times), The King’s Singers (twice), Gladys Knight, Ramsey Lewis, Johnny Mathis, The Persuasions, Lou Rawls, Joan Rivers, Rockapella, Sweet Honey in the Rock (twice), The Swingle Singers, Take Six, Tiny Tim, Tuck and Patti, Dionne Warwick (5 times) and Nancy Wilson. When I was still a child, my mother took me to a Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue once, but besides Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jackie Wilson, I don’t remember who all performed that night. That was so long ago, and I didn’t retain the playbill.

There are other celebrities who have touched my life in one way or another, directly and indirectly. Let me tell you a few noteworthy alumni who attended Central High School and/or hail from South Bend. Hollywood film director Sydney Pollack was from the Class of 1952, and actor Lloyd Haynes (he starred in “Room 222” on TV) was my godmother Odeva Haynes’ nephew. Actor Michael Warren (“City of Angels,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Murder One,” “Lincoln Heights“) sat right next to me in Spanish class one year. My dad and stepmother were friends with his parents, and Mike and I still write to each other on occasion. The late rhythm ‘n’ blues saxophonist Junior Walker grew up in South Bend and attended Central before he moved to Battle Creek, Michigan to form the All-Stars for Motown. Actors Chad Everett and Vivica A. Fox were born in South Bend, but grew up somewhere else.

The homestead of Schuyler Colfax (who served as Vice-President to Ulysses Grant), which subsequently became a civic center, is situated only one block from my high school on Colfax Avenue, and I once played in a piano recital in the very building. Other Indiana University alumni, besides those already mentioned in another post, include actor Kevin Kline, who was enrolled in the I.U. Music School at the same time I was there. We used to speak to each other in the halls. Olympic gold medalist swimmer Mark Spitz was there at the same time I was, but I never met him. Remember the ’60s Memphis group called Booker T. and the MGs? Well, Booker T. Jones was at I.U., too, while I was there, playing trombone in the Symphonic Wind Ensemble while I was playing my oboe. Country-western singer Janie Fricke sang in the Singing Hoosiers with me at I.U., as did Brian Farrell, who became a TV actor.

Other opera alumni, besides Pamela Hebert, include David Arnold, Kathryn Boleyn (I knew her as Holly Day), Rodney Godshall, Elizabeth Hynes (formerly Mary Jane Fink) and Richard Stillwell. I also knew cabaret artist Joel Silberman while there. Religious commentator Zola Levitt, who had his own Sunday morning show on the Family Channel, once wrote a review of our production of The Blacks for the campus newspaper. Our former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, lived on my floor in Wright Quad during my years at I.U. and served as Lowe House’s graduate counselor, sort of like a “house mother.”

I met actor Tim Robbins at his sister Adele’s wedding in NYC, at which I sang. I know Tim’s whole family, having worked with both his father Gil and and his mother Mary (both now deceased), and I toured with Adele as a DeCormier singer, the tour on which she met her husband Brian Powell. I ran into Tim again years later on the street right around the corner from where I live. He remembered me, and I asked him about his family.

I also once toured with the singer husband of actor Inga Swenson (110 in the Shade, “Benson“), and I knew Carly Simon’s current husband, Jim Hart, before she did. I used to ride with him to an amateur choir gig out on Long Island, and he would tell me how he had such a thing for Ms. Simon. The next thing I heard about him was that he had married her! How’s that for going after what you want?

When The Flirtations played Oberlin College in April 1993, we had an after-show meal with some of the students at one of their campus eateries. At our table was a charming young woman named Francesca, who was a friend of the woman who was promoting us. As we were leaving the restaurant, I noticed that the walls were covered with various opera posters, one of which was for Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini. I pointed it out to Francesca, and she casually mentioned that her mother once appeared in that opera. Interested, I inquired, ‘Oh, your mother is an opera singer?’ “Yes, she is.” ‘So, who is your mother?’ “Shirley Verrett.” ‘Get outta here! I love huh!’ She‘s dead now as well.

I used to sing with veteran actor Harry Bellaver’s daughter, Lee, while we were members of the NYCO Chorus. The son of character actor Mario Siletti (he played Mario Lanza’s father in The Great Caruso {1951} and was the “knife-thrower” on a classic “I Love Lucy” episode, the one in which Lucy had to tell the truth for a whole day), also named Mario and a former actor himself, was a good friend of mine. Mario Jr. starred in the original production of Little Mary Sunshine with Eileen Brennan.

Another friend, Laurence Taylor, now deceased, who was a musician, composer and lecturer, was a direct descendant of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor. I also used to know a guy in South Bend named Jim, who was a cousin of actor Bonnie Bedelia. Singer Holly Near, with whom I worked on several occasions, is Kevin Bacon’s cousin, and Kelsey Grammer’s cousin, John Grammer, is a member of the church where I worked for many years. I used to see him almost every Sunday. Another of our regular parishioners is a retired Episcopal priest named Stephen Chinlund, whose son is actor Nick Chinlund.

Habitués was first produced at the 13th Street Theater, which at the time was run by Edith O’Hara, who is the mother of actor sisters Jenny and Jill O’Hara. Although I haven’t met him yet, I did meet the parents of composer Frank Wildhorn (of Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel). Sy and Sandy Wildhorn were on the 2004 World Cruise on which the New York Vagabonds performed, when we became acquainted. We even performed one of Frank’s songs, “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde, in one of our shows on the ship.

James Earl Jones’ actor father, the late Claude Earl Jones, lived in my neighborhood and I saw him on the street a few times. I used to own (I don’t know what happened to it) a flat, black felt hat that once belonged to late actor Godfrey Cambridge. It was given to me by a friend of mine who once worked as Cambridge’s houseboy.

This is my diary entry for October 3, 1979, the day that Pope John Paul II first visited NYC. “If a soothsayer had told me even a month ago that on this day I would be up at 8:30 AM, then go way downtown to Wall Street and for one hour stand out in the wind and the pouring rain, without a coat, for the purpose of merely getting a quick, passing glimpse at an old Catholic Polock, I would have laughed in their face!” The next time he was in town (October 1995), I didn’t bother to go anywhere to see him.

I got to see President Eisenhower when his motorcade passed through South Bend in 1960, but I have not met any U.S. Presidents in person myself. But interestingly so, my brother Earl was once close friends with one! During the seventies, Earl worked as the sports director for the local YMCA in Midland, Texas, and he used to shoot hoops with George W. Bush Jr., when he was living there as well. Earl and Dubya are the same age and were running hoes (pals) for several years. They played basketball together at the Y almost every day, and Earl even visited Bush’s house often and ate meals with him and his family. Earl told me that he was present when George Sr. first announced at dinner that he was thinking of running for President! Being not at all interested in political matters, Earl was totally unimpressed. He thinks now, however, that maybe if he had played his cards right and stayed in good with the Bushes, he might have ended up with Colin Powell’s or Condoleeza Rice’s former job!

My father, Earl Sr., was sort of a bigwig in city politics, although he never served public office himself. He knew all of our mayors and civic personnel. I don’t know how he qualified for such an honor, but in April 1980 my dad received a telegram from President Carter, inviting him to the White House to meet with his senior advisors to discuss foreign and domestic affairs. Somebody must have thought that he had something to contribute, although I can’t imagine what. But just before he was planning to go, Dad got sick and could not make the trip. That must have been a great disappointment for him. A habitual gambler, my dad once told me that while in Las Vegas, he once got to play cards with actor/comedian Redd Foxx. My dad’s older brother, my Uncle Lester, when he was 108-years-old, got to meet President Barack Obama. See my article dedicated to him for the details.

[Related articles: On the Road with Cliff; You Better Work!]

5,450 thoughts on “More Name-Dropping”

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