…Whom I’ve Known, Met, or Seen in Person
By Jeff Salter
Well, I’m not normally a name-dropper, but I have had quite a few brushes – though some rather distant – with famous people. There’s insufficient space here for a complete list, but I’ll happily share a few names which might surprise you.
I saw Pres. John F. Kennedy in New Orleans (in 1962 probably) though he was a loonnngggg way away. I saw Janis Joplin, in concert, at the New Orleans Pops Festival in 1969 (a few months before she died).
In far closer quarters, though not actually ‘touching’ them, I saw Walt Disney and Fess Parker (in a movie premiere parade in Atlanta, mid-1950s) and Gene Autry – with his horse Champion – in that same general timeframe.
At library conferences, I’ve heard quite a few authors speak, including: James Michener and John Berendt (among many others).
At NFL ballgames, I’ve seen numerous big-name coaches and players — but the one I most brag about seeing was Tom Landry. I spoke to Mike Ditka in an elevator and shook hands with MLB player Steve Garvey in an airport.
I’ve met (and spoken to) authors Alex Haley, Larry McMurtry, and Robin Cook (among others).
I posed in a photo with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John D. Ryan (early 1973) when (at the Pentagon) I received an award from him.
In Dallas, late 70s I guess, I finally got to ‘meet’ my long-time hero Arnold Palmer, the golfing legend. I stood on the edge of the putting green where he practiced and watched him joke and chat (before the tournament began). Then I asked him a question — and he ANSWERED me! Star-struck.
I’ve had three encounters with Louisiana Governors: spoke to Edwin Edwards (and listened to him speak on several times), shook hands with Jimmie Davis … and saw Earl K. Long when he was on trial.
Acclaimed novelist Walker Percy was a family friend (in CovingtonLA) whom I encountered many times, including the time he took us on a short boat ride.
I had a long one-on-one interview with singer Glen Yarbrough, when he was still at the height of his career. I interviewed and photographed the 1969 Miss Louisiana, Sharon Branaman, when I worked for a daily newspaper. During that same time frame, I shot photos of a college game featuring Terry Bradshaw, who later won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the celebrity I really want to talk about is one my parents knew when he was just a college kid in Mississippi. I came to “know” Jerry Clower through his hilarious recordings and TV appearances. But I finally had a chance to meet him in the early 1990s at an airport in Texas.
I recognized him immediately, of course, as I spotted him alone in a fairly empty waiting area. A cluster of ladies approached him and gushed. Clearly, to please them, he put on his CHARACTER Jerry Clower — clowning, with exaggerated movements and expressions … and volume. And, of course, that down-country accent and charm.
When they departed, I approached and introduced myself. I named my parents and asked if he remembered them. Big smile – the genuine personal smile, not the character – and, yes, he certainly did remember them from his student days at MSU, when my dad was director of the Baptist Student Union. “How are Augie and Dottie doing?” he asked.
It saddened me to tell Jerry that my parents had divorced. And it clearly saddened him too. We talked a bit about what my folks were doing and he asked a bit about me. It was relaxing and enjoyable to speak to the real-life warm person behind that larger-than-life persona of his character. Just as personable as he could be, but without the exaggerated country accents and expressions. He spoke just like real people talk.
I watched for signals that he might want to break off … I certainly didn’t want to monopolize his time. But he gave no such signals. I believe he’d have been content to sit there and chat – man to man, person to person – until one of our flights were called.
But, sadly, another cluster of people recognized him and approached … already laughing at what they knew would be an amusing celebrity encounter. Because, of course, they were expecting his character.
I knew I’d lost the real Jerry as soon as those other people captured his attention, so I shook his hand again and bade him goodbye. We’d both enjoyed the low-key, honest conversation and both said as much. Then he turned to the others — and in an instant resumed the persona of celebrity Jerry Clower, as though he’d just stepped onto the stage at Grand Ole Opry.
Of all the celebrities I’ve actually met – only once – I most treasure my airport encounter with Jerry Clower … the REAL Jerry, not the character everyone else “knows”.
Who is the most famous person you’ve actually MET?
Was she/he different in person than as portrayed on-screen (or on-stage)?