My Encounters With Famous People and Someone Else

I’ve been watching with minus-40 degree Celsius interest as Harry, the British royal formerly known as Prince, and his brash bride fail at podcasting while desperately seeking fame by dodging it.


It got me thinking about my brushes with that fleeting condition that can be so lucrative and so intriguing to others who aren’t famous.

Over these many years, I’ve had some occasional brief encounters with fame: Mila Kunis, Jon Voight, Raquel Welch, Brit Hume, Theo Fleury, Hal Holbrook, Peter Jennings, Michael Bolton, Joseph Heller, and others. And I worked a couple fascinating years for George W. Bush.

In general, these famous people were all amazingly kind and nice.

U Thant

Long ago, when I was a brand-new reporter, unaware of what I couldn’t do, I told my boss I wanted to interview the Secretary General of the United Nations. At that time, he was a quiet, unassuming Burmese diplomat named U Thant.

My boss said, “He doesn’t do interviews. You’re wasting your time.”

I asked anyway, stressing I had no interest in Thant’s public events and diplomacy, just the private life of the man about to become the UN’s longest-serving leader.

His reply: “Sure.”

As he requested, I arrived at his Bronx home about 4 a.m. We meditated on a balcony overlooking the Hudson River. A valuable insight and lesson.

We shared a brief breakfast of fruit and rode in his car to the massive UN building on New York’s East River, where we parted for the day.


That’s when I discovered to my rookie horror that the tape recorder had preserved nothing. Absolutely blank. That was the start of my lifelong persecution by technology.

At 5 p.m., I met Thant in his office. We rode to his home to spend a delightful short evening with his wife, sipping Coca-Colas and watching their two grandsons play nearby with toy cars.

When the car play devolved into crashing and rough pushing, the world’s most famous diplomat mediated the family dispute and restored peace to the living room floor.

At the leader’s official anniversary news conference, a miffed UN press corps asked why the leader of the world body had played favorites, giving the new kid exclusive access.

U Thant leaned into the microphone: “He was the first to ask.”

Michael Bolton

Pre-Internet, I wrote a twice-weekly feature newspaper column. I heard of Joyce Logan, a woman who ran fan clubs, including one for Michael Bolton, long a very popular singer (“When a Man Loves a Woman,” “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?”) both nationally and, as it happens with my wife.

I interviewed the woman in her home. She was quite enthusiastic about her work for Bolton, Mariah Carey, and others. Reporters need to be careful, you know. So, to verify her claim, I asked her to have Bolton call me to chat.


Sure enough, that evening, my home phone rang.



It was the familiar voice of Bolton, but he was out of breath. He’d just finished some tennis at Kenny G’s house.

He was extremely pleasant and helpful. Near the end of our conversation, I said my wife loved his music. Would he be willing to say hello?

“Of course. Put her on.”

My wife absolutely hates it when I hand her the phone for surprise calls, which makes it rather enjoyable. “No! ” she said. “Absolutely not!”

“You’ll regret it if you don’t take this call.”

She grabbed the phone, angrily, “Hello!”

Suddenly, her voice sweetened. An understanding Bolton thanked her for being a fan. And they had a 10-minute conversation about their mutual love of music.

Joseph Heller

One book that fascinated me as a young man was “Catch-22,” Joseph Heller’s classic chronicle about the absurdities of war.

There was the officer who would only see soldiers when he was not in his office. The colonel who kept raising the number of missions before home rotation.

So, when I heard that Heller was going to appear with cadets at the Air Force Academy to celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary, I had to go.

I met Heller the day before his appearance. We shared a bench in a mall near his Colorado Springs hotel.


He was amazingly gracious and patient. Given his unsparing portrayal of military life, Heller was slightly anxious about his reception from future warriors.

We talked for nearly two hours. To be honest, I figured his appearance would take care of itself. So, most of my questions focused on his writing routines and thought processes creating such far-fetched yet credible scenes.

He was warm and responsive; I mostly forgot to take notes. But he needn’t have worried about the cadets. They loved him. Here’s that story.

The Beatles

In my college days. I was walking on the shady streets of Chicago’s Near North side to visit my parents. I turned the corner at a famous hotel and encountered a large mob of happy women filling the street with laughter and song.

My surprised face prompted a cop to smile with two words, “The Beatles.” They were on a US tour.

It was a decidedly joyous scene to witness in contrast to the angry, often violent anti-war demonstrations that filled the 1960s.

Suddenly, four mop-headed men dashed out the hotel’s front door, tumbled into a car, and raced off down the street. Screaming, the growing crowd of females ran after them in passionate pursuit.

I was puzzled why the police were just watching in amusement. Then, I looked down the hotel alley.


The real Beatles emerged from a side door into a waiting car that began driving straight toward me.

It turned and was escaping the wrong way on the one-way street. The famed quartet of young men were smiling and waving out the back window.

The mob of ladies realized the trick, reversed course, and began chasing the Fab Four. There must have been several hundred of them by then.

The women filled the side street and streamed by me, all screaming and happy just to be in the proximity of fame.

Suddenly, a familiar face in the passing throng. “Mom!?”

“Hi!” she said.  “It’s the Beatles!”

And ran on.

This is the second in an occasional series of memories that RedState editors suggested I share. Here’s the first. Feel free to share your encounters with fame in the Comments below. I hope you enjoyed this and will pass it on to others. Follow me @AHMalcolm


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