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Star Traps

LETTER FROM L.A.: Star Traps

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


            The New York Times describes a young man standing in the Bel Air Hotel, enthralled by the stars he sees: Val Kilmer, Heath Ledger, “that guy from Saturday Night Live”. Two things are unusual about this scene: one is that the young man is Leonardo DiCaprio; the other is that he’s seeing stars. Yes, you see stars in Los Angeles. But it’s not terribly common. And New Yorkers in search of famous faces would do better to walk their own streets more.

            I’ll never forget seeing Woody Allen and Soon-Yi on Madison Avenue one day. The blasé New Yorkers approaching them looked straight ahead – then stopped, motionless, and stared after them. The result was a trail of frozen forms, as if a Medusa’s head hung from Allen’s back.

            The fact is, New Yorker or Los Angeleno, most of us perk up a touch when one of ‘them’ is within proximity. And so in deference to that shameful human weakness, let me share with you some of my own star-spottings.

            You may remember a film called “Star Maps” that came out some years back. The title of that film references a very real phenomenon out here. Hawkers stand along Sunset Boulevard and other strategic spots selling maps to stars’ homes. What do people see when they use such maps? The gardener, trimming hedges? The hedges themselves? Perhaps one day I’ll take a journalistic trek and find out. Until then, I can say that the most frequent – if random – star-spottings are in… coffeehouses.

That for instance was how I ended up talking to Mike Myers, who’d stepped in to greet some people near me. Though I made a polite effort to stay out of the conversation, the very genial Myers included me in what proved to be a rather interesting talk on his early days. Nothing too revealing, really, but I’ll leave it private. What I will share is that I happened to be reading an English translation of an Inspector Maigret novel and had just read a particular line when he sat down. In the scene, the good inspector is ordering a drink. As I got up to leave, I showed the line to Myers:


“Two ounces of shag, please.”


            One day I was stapling headshots in a Toluca Lake coffee bar and looked up to see Timothy Busfield come in with a blatant tourist, Bermuda shorts and all. I presume he was a Thirty Something fan, because his delight at collaring Busfield bordered on ecstasy. He stopped another person and had him take his picture with Busfield. After which Busfield cheerfully shook his hand and got on line.

            Not for long. The same man reappeared, this time with his mother.  And asked for another picture. Benignly, Busfield obliged. After which, the man finally left, presumably headed for Cloud Ten. And Busfield finally got his coffee.

            Art openings are another venue where just about anybody might pop up. I wasn’t surprised to see Martin Mull at one opening; it was of his paintings (he went to RISD and is actually a pretty serious painter.) Steve Martin collects art, which explains why I’ve seen him at openings here and in New York. As does Dennis Hopper, whose own openings (of his photographs) I somehow always miss, but whom I spotted at a Julian Schnabel opening one evening.

            This was the one time that I put aside my ‘hands off’ principle in the presence of celebrities. Allow me to explain. There was a time in my life when people said I looked like… Rick Nelson, James Taylor, Jackson Browne… Which you may find hard to believe from the picture up top. On the other hand, you might, like lots of other people (not me), think… “Hey, he looks like Dennis Hopper!”

            I only mention this to explain, if not justify, my willfully uncool behavior when I spotted DH himself. Because, basically, it was now or never. So I went up to Mr. Hopper and said, “Do you think I look like you?” Though he might reasonably have recoiled and fled, in fact he took the question seriously and stood for about 30 seconds examining my features (as I did his) (which, trust me, are nothing like mine.) Finally, he said, “I dunno, man….. Maybe it’s your attitude… Anyway, man, don’t let it get you down.”

            So? Uncool? Oh so very. But am I glad I asked?

            You bet.