Admiring the iconic Marilyn

As a young boy, when browsing through a San Francisco tourist shop that sold celebrity biography books, I asked my father to purchase the book on the rack with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. I’m not sure if my admiration for her started that day or through watching her movies.

Soon, as a teen, I bought the best seller book by Norman Mailer titled “Marilyn: A Biography.” In reading about her fascinating life and death, I learned that as a young woman, as Norma Jean Baker, she was crowned Castroville, California’s first ever Artichoke Queen. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we often drove to Monterey, California, each time on the way passing Castroville and the sign reading “Castroville: The Artichoke Center of the World.” It was a small reminder, but it made Marilyn a little bit more of a “real” person.

Watching her movies, it’s easy to see why she has millions of fans throughout the world and remains an iconic figure to this day.  As a young man, early on in my career while traveling on business, I had an opportunity to meet a woman who strikingly resembled Marilyn. Of course, there are and have been many celebrity impersonators of her, but this woman really looked the part. One of my most interesting tales about Marilyn happened when visiting my father’s mother in-law who lived in Westwood, California.

Already in town on business, I drove over one afternoon to say hello. While there, she said she needed to go shopping for groceries, so I volunteered to take her.  After, she asked if I admired Marilyn Monroe, having heard through the grapevine that I did. She said she had a surprise for me and told me to drive in this direction then that until we arrived at a small, very private and quiet cemetery. It was Westwood Village Memorial Park where Marilyn’s crypt was located. There was no one there that day. As we walked, we passed over the famed Natalie Wood’s gravesite then soon we were at Marilyn’s crypt. The roses that ex Joe DiMaggio used to send her were no longer there. There were plenty of red lipstick kisses though left by fans. Wow!  The whole iconic Marilyn image suddenly changed.

Ever since that visit, Marilyn has been more of a real person to me, not just an iconic image. Still, that iconic Marilyn image appears everywhere. On a trip to Hollywood, I was photographed with another look-alike. This time an “I Love Lucy” Lucille Ball impersonator was in the picture as well. On another Hollywood visit, despite not being a collector of all things Marilyn, I bought an original print from one of Marilyn’s last photo shoots. In the photo, taken on a beach in Santa Monica by photographer George Barris, she is wrapped in a white hoodie sweater.

Later, on vacation in San Diego, I visited the famed Hotel Del Coronado made famous as the site where Marilyn filmed one the all time great movies “Some Like It Hot”  The film ranks No. 1 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 best comedies. Inside on one of the walls, there is a photograph of Marilyn standing on Coronado Beach just outside the hotel. It’s an image of Marilyn smiling, seemingly happy. It’s the way I remember her, the real Marilyn Monroe.

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In the Car with Judith Miller

Back in the late 1980’s, as a young journalism graduate just starting my professional career, I was fortunate enough one afternoon to meet the Pulitzer Prize winning senior reporter and investigative journalist, Judith Miller. One of my colleagues had asked me to give a ride to an important person who had just finished speaking at a convention/meeting at the San Jose Convention Center. All I knew was that the person I was picking up was a female who worked for the esteemed newspaper, the New York Times.  Miller worked for the New York Times Washington bureau as news editor and deputy bureau chief.

I was excited to meet someone who worked for, what many believed at the time and some still do, the nation’s greatest newspaper/media outlet. I’m writing about this so many years later because Miller has since become well-known for her controversial reporting on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. In fact, shortly after one of her articles on Iraq was published, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld all appeared on television and pointed to Miller’s story as a contributory motive for going to war. Six or seven of the stories she wrote about Iraq turned out to be inaccurate or completely false. Miller, herself, admits she got the stories wrong and says she was just reporting government intelligence reports at the time.

Miller has also gained fame as a result of her involvement in disclosing Valerie Plame’s identity with the CIA. She spent 85 days in jail for claiming reporter’s privilege and refusing to reveal her sources in the CIA leak. The movie “Nothing But the Truth” is loosely based on the Valerie Plame/CIA leak case and stars Kate Beckinsale as the Judith Miller character. But back to that sunny afternoon in San Jose, California. We met in the lobby area of the Convention Center. Immediately, I thought she was an attractive woman. She also came across as demure and very professional. After introducing myself, we walked to the parking garage and my white four-door Honda Civic.

During the 45 minute drive up Interstate 101 on the San Francisco peninsula, I remember asking why she was headed to Belmont. She told me she was visiting an old friend, Philip Habib. I told her I had heard of him, knowing he had worked for President Reagan’s administration. Habib was a Lebanese-American career diplomat known for work in Vietnam, South Korea and the Middle East. Reagan had appointed him special envoy to Central America.  In 1992, Habib suffered a heart attack and died.

Since it was commute time in the Bay Area, traffic was heavy.  For most of the drive, Miller placed what appeared to be some type of allergy mask over her mouth. I asked about it, and she said it was to protect her from the exhaust coming from the many cars traveling up the busy highway. This despite the windows in the car being shut. Overall, my impression of her was that she was very personable, professional, and sweet.

Miller was familiar with the directions to Habib’s house and instructed me up the winding roads in the Belmont hills. The homes there must have a beautiful view, I thought. Habib’s house was near the top of the hill. She commented on what a great view the house had and thanked me for the ride.

I was at least a dozen or so years younger than her with no established career, so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to keep in touch. I thought about it though on the drive back. All these years later, after the Iraq and Valerie Plume controversies, it’s interesting to think back to that day in the car with Judith Miller. She retired from her job of 28 years at the New York Times in November, 2005. Today, you can see her on the Fox News Channel as an analyst. Miller is a bit older than when we met, but she’s still personable, professional, and sweet. Tune in sometime, and you’ll see what I mean.

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On The Stump with Hillary!

In early 2007 Hillary Clinton announced her intentions to become the first female president of the U.S. At that time, she was the favorite to win the Democrat’s nomination for President. About a year later, during a campaign stop on February 1, 2008 titled Solutions for America Rally: San Jose Welcomes Hillary Clinton, somehow my wife’s son and I managed to get an arm’s length away from the candidate. I had promised the 13 year old that if he came with me to the event I would arrange a photo of him with Hillary Clinton!

After driving into downtown San Jose, I soon realized a photo op was not going to be easy. In fact, the line outside the South Hall, a tent-like structure connected to the San Jose Convention Center, went on around the corner for blocks and blocks. I had thought by registering online I had a fast pass to the front, but it was not to be. Instead, the two of us, along with my sister-in-law, her sister, and nephew, waited in the long line as it slowly moved towards the entrance. There seemed to be little to no chance to make good on my promise, so I wasn’t feeling that great about things. Then, as the line passed the press entrance, I had an idea.

I walked up to the press entrance, showed my business card, and told the rally organizers that I wrote the newsletter for the organization I worked for – that this organization was politically connected to businesses and that I should be allowed in. After being screened by a few people, before you know it, I was inside the railed off area with the national press! – just a few feet away from the stage where Hilary would soon appear. Now, what about the young boy?  How was I going to get him up close into the press only area? I went back to the line and asked my sister-in-law to bring him around to the other side of the facility. It was there I told security that he was with me, and suddenly we were both inside!

Soon, a number of dignitaries came out including California State Senator Diane Feinstein.  When Hillary was introduced, there was overwhelming applause. We were maybe 10-12 feet from the stage as she spoke to the hundreds, if not a thousand supporters. I took a number of photos. In one, I managed to frame the picture so only my wife’s son and Hilary were in it! Although one was in the foreground and the other in the background, it clearly showed only the two of them together in the photo. I did it! Once the rally ended, we pushed towards the front where he soon was a fingertip away from touching/shaking hands with Hillary. However, being only 13 years old, he became crushed between a few of the tall secret service agents that were there to protect Mrs. Clinton. You could see him reaching out his hand just inches from Hillary’s grasp.

In the end, it was a tremendously exciting almost historic event, and I managed to save face by somewhat keeping my promise. Hillary Clinton went on to win the California Democratic Primary by 11 percentage points over Barack Obama. However, as we know, she ultimately lost to Obama who became President. Shortly after Obama won the U.S. presidential election, he nominated her to become Secretary of State in his 2009 cabinet. As I write this, Hilary is still serving as U.S. Secretary of State.

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Meeting Philadelphia Royalty, Sir Charles!

Although I’ve been to the historic city of Philadelphia only a few times, I’ve always enjoyed my visits. I still remember entering Independence Hall where the constitution was signed, touching the Liberty Bell (even though you’re not supposed to!), and doing the Constitutional Walking Tour. I also remember it for being the place I met the city’s former sports superstar, Sir Charles himself, Charles Barkley.

Barkley, who retired in 2000 as the fourth player in NBA history to achieve 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists was selected to the All-NBA First Team five times and All-NBA Second Team five times. He appeared 11 times in the NBA All-Star Game and was named the All-Star MVP in 1991. In 1993, he was voted the league’s MVP and during the NBA’s 50th anniversary, named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and won two gold medals as a member of the United States’ Dream Team. In 2006, Barkley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

We met early on in his career around 1990. My business colleague and friend Barbara and I decided to experience the famed Philadelphia night life and were told the place to go was South 6th Street. We took the advice, jumped in a taxi, and asked the driver to drop us off in that area. We had the name of maybe one place, but really no plan but to just check out the area. Once there, we began popping in and out of several establishments. At one, as soon as we entered, I immediately recognized Charles Barkley. Not only was Barkley at this restaurant and bar (which I can’t recall the name all these years later), but also there that night was another member of the Philadelphia 76ers Rick Mahorn. Just a year earlier, Mahorn had won a NBA championship playing for the Detroit Pistons.

Barkley was standing around not far from the entrance near the bar area, so Barbara and I immediately went up to him and introduced ourselves. I explained we were from the Bay Area and that Barbara worked for a company that did cruises on the San Francisco Bay. I also told Barkley that she would be happy to hook him up with tickets on the Alcatraz Island cruise when he came to town to play the Bay Area team, the Golden State Warriors. Barkley was personable, friendly, and easy to engage in conversation. After five minutes or so, we gave him Barbara’s business card and then moved on to another place.

A few months later, I got a call from Barbara saying Charles Barkley called! He was in town and left us tickets behind the 76ers bench for their game in Oakland versus the Golden State Warriors.  In fact, Barbara said Barkley even suggested the possibility of going out with us after the game. Wow! Being a sports fan like myself, this was really cool. During the game, we sat next to several of Barkley’s high-school buddies who he had also invited to the game. After, we walked to the area where the visiting team’s bus was parked. Once there, I couldn’t miss seeing the Warrior’s 7 foot, 7 inch center Manute Bol. I had never been in the presence, nor have I since, of anyone so tall. I remember seeing a very small girl crying when she saw him. His height could be startling. A few minutes later, I spotted Barkley and asked if he remembered Barbara and I. He said of course he did and told us he had a photographer from Sports Illustrated magazine following him around. We never did go out that night, but it was good to know he remembered us.

After, Barkley went on to play another 10 years before embarking on a successful television career. He’s done TV commercials, hosted Saturday Night Live, been on numerous talk shows, and is currently an analyst for the NBA on Turner Network Television (TNT). From meeting him twice, it’s enough to know he’s a genuine person. That attribute is what helps him connect with a television audience. His playing days are done, but as a television analyst and personality his career is far from over.

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At the Airport!

I have always had an eye for recognizing people. Since my job requires travel, I find myself at airports quite a bit. It’s at the airport where I’ve crossed paths with actresses, singers, sports stars and even one famous lawyer.

At Los Angeles International Airport(LAX), I noticed actress Goldie Hawn inside the terminal as she arrived on a flight and later outside as she left. Hawn is famous for her roles in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and in the movies Private BenjaminFoul Play, (one of my favorites), Death Becomes Her, and Cactus Flower, where she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  I spotted another actress, Sally Kellerman, sitting quietly waiting for her flight to depart. Kellerman is known for her role as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan in the film MASH for which she was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. No one recognized her, but I walked up, said hello, and introduced myself. She was personable and nice.

Recently at New York’s John F. Kennedy International (JFK) Airport, I immediately noticed the beautiful Beth Broderick who played Aunt Zelda in the ABC television sitcom Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1996-2003). The opportunity was there for me to say hello, but since I was with someone I regretfully passed.  I did, however, watch her accidentally trip entering an elevator up to American Airlines Admiral’s Club. I later messaged her on Facebook, and she replied back to me!  In the message, she had a good sense of humor and referred to herself as a “graceful klutz.”  

Standing in line at an airport restaurant next to country singer Larry Gatlin of Gatlin brothers fame, I said a friendly hello. Gatlin was either very hungry or not in the mood to talk and kind of brushed me off quickly like he didn’t want to be recognized. At the same airport, Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW), I saw the talented Canadian singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan grabbing a quick bite to eat in the food court. She seemed to be traveling with her band, carrying her guitar case in hand. 

While waiting for a flight at San Jose International Airport (SJC), I recognized the still strikingly attractive gold medal winner from the 1968 Winter Olympics figure skater Peggy Fleming. She was surprised I knew who she was, but was gracious and took a photo with me. On another occasion, once on the plane sitting in first class, I found myself sitting next to 1996 U.S. national figure skating champion Rudi Galindo. As a pairs skater, he competed with Kristi Yamaguchi. In fact, on the same flight, just a few rows in front of us was the gold medal winning Yamaguchi traveling with her mother. Once we landed and were waiting near baggage claim, Galindo introduced me to the petite figure skater and 1992 gold medal winner. Yamaguchi either was tired from the long flight or maybe a bit shy. She didn’t say much but hello.

Once famed San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott boarded the same Southwest Air flight as I. I also spoke to legendary Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram at an airport check-in counter. Stram, winner of Super Bowl IV, was friendly. At DFW, I stood in line for a flight next to Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox NFL Sunday analyst Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw was as personable as he is on television. Of all the famous and not so famous people I’ve seen at airports, sitting on a plane across the aisle from criminal appellate lawyer Alan Dershowitz might have been the most interesting. One of his most notable cases was as appellate adviser for the defense in the O.J. Simpson trial. In fact, during the entire flight, shortly after the O.J. not guilty verdict, he was writing page after page in long-hand. It might have been  the New York Times Bestseller Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case. Who famous have you seen at airports?

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Standing In Line With Bradshaw

Years ago on many occasions flying to the East Coast and back, I almost always ended up connecting at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). It’s a large, busy airport and you never know who you might run into there. One afternoon, as I was waiting to board an American Airlines flight back home, I noticed a familiar face. Standing in front of me in line was NFL legend and current Fox Sports broadcaster Terry Bradshaw.

Bradshaw is co-host of Fox NFL Sunday. As a teen growing up, I watched him lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979. In his Super Bowl appearances, he passed for 932 yards and 9 touchdowns, both Super Bowl records at the time of his retirement. During his 14 seasons with the Steelers, they won eightAFC championships. In 1989, in his first year of eligibility, Bradshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I had randomly run into celebrities before at DFW, but this was Terry Bradshaw, the same quarterback who completed those unbelievable passes to wide receiver Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X. That, and those intense rivalry games vs. the Oakland Raiders, made Bradshaw a sports icon in my mind. When I said hello as we were standing in line, he was friendly and didn’t seem at all put-off that I had recognized him. In contrast, once I noticed the country singer Larry Gatlin next to me in a restaurant food line at DFW, and he was neither friendly nor talkative. I asked Bradshaw what was bringing him out west to San Jose, California. He told me he was actually headed to the Monterey Peninsula to meet some friends to play golf. I’m not sure what other small talk we made, but I do remember he was personable and friendly.

Among U.S.consumers, Bradshaw is one of pro football’s most popular retired players. As of  September, 2007, Bradshaw was the top-ranked former pro football player in the Davie-Brown Index (DBI), which surveys consumers to determine a celebrity’s appeal and trust levels. He has written or co-written five books and recorded six albums (country/western and gospel music). Bradshaw also has appeared on numerous television shows and in movies. In fact, he has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first and only NFL player (as of 2008) to do so.

When you watch Bradshaw on Sundays during Fox NFL Sunday, you can see he’s a friendly down-to-earth guy. Despite all his success in the sports and entertainment world, he’s remained genuine. That is the mark of a true legend.

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Chat with Baseball’s All-Time Hit Leader, Pete Rose!

Earlier this December week, I was in Las Vegas attending a convention. After several days inside for meetings, I ventured out for a walk up and down Las Vegas Blvd. Since I was with a friend who hadn’t visited the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, we ventured in for a stroll. Less than two minutes after walking through the doors, we came within three or four feet of the former heavyweight boxing champion (and actor from the hit movie “The Hangover”), Mike Tyson! It wasn’t easy getting a view of the ferocious ex-champ as the owners of the Field of Dreams sports memorabilia shop hid him away behind a banner to be seen only by those who purchased a high priced ($250 & up) item for him to sign. Still, once inside the shop, we managed to get good views of him and that famous tattoo on the side of his head!

Wait a minute! This blog is not about Tyson. It’s about arguably the greatest hitter in the history of baseball, Pete Rose. Nicknamed “Charlie Hustle,” Rose is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256). He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, and the Rookie of the Year award. He made 17 All Star appearances at five different positions! (2B, LF, RF, 3B, & 1B). No one has ever done that. Rose played for 23 years from 1963-1986 and managed from 1984-1989.

Seconds after we had just seen Tyson, we walked near another shop called Antiquities International. Sitting at a table steps away from the entrance, you could clearly see the legendary Pete Rose. In contrast to the previous shop, the greeter was friendly and invited us in. I immediately asked the cost to get a photo with Pete. Surprisingly, he responded that I could take a photo for free as long as I remained behind the roped off area that was for those who had Rose memorabilia to sign. At this time, there was no line at all in front of the table. Rose is not a movie star like Tyson. He is, however, a baseball player whose been tainted by the fact that in 2004 he admitted to betting on baseball. As such, he was ruled permanently ineligible for entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The lack of paid autograph/photo seekers gave me an opportunity to chat with this great player, a player I had watched play many times as a very young teen. I asked Pete about the great rivalry between his then team the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland A’s, the team I grew up watching. These teams played a momentous seven game World Series in 1972 that the A’s won. Pete was quick to note that it was a series the Reds did not win, but gave credit to Oakland for a series well played. Next, I asked what he thought about the book/movie “MoneyBall” about A’s general manager Billy Beane. This is where you could tell the baseball purist Rose was and is. He immediately said you can’t have another “brand” of baseball – “Moneyball.” He also noted that the A’s have not won a World Series under Beane. I pointed out that the A’s did win 20 games in a row under Beane’s management in 2002. Rose wasn’t aware of it off the top of his head, but said winning games in a row was not what mattered – winning championships was.

It was really something for a sport’s fan like myself to engage Rose in conversation if even for a short time. I came away from it respecting him as the legend I imagined. Like many others, I believe without question he should be a Hall of Famer. He’s “Charlie Hustle.” He’s the great Pete Rose.

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