Serving Celebrities: The Complete Collection (3 page)

BOOK: Serving Celebrities: The Complete Collection
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Dustin Hoffman is a Movie Star

I
was the day bartender at a Columbus Avenue restaurant in New York City, called Nanny Rose. I would usually arrive in the morning (like around ten) to set up the bar, except for the days that I worked brunches and had to be there even earlier.

One Sunday, I came in to set up the bar for brunch. I came in earlier than anyone else except for the kitchen staff that was busy prepping the food that they would serve that day. The kitchen staff at Nanny Rose was composed of all Thai men, although the restaurant’s menu consisted of mostly American fare of the eighties. The head chef was a small Asian man named Chi who sported, I’m sure very fashionable in his culture, two silver-capped front teeth.

While removing the bar stools from the top of the bar, where they were left every night, I noticed that there seemed to be something happening in the kitchen. Chi’s kitchen was always off limits to the wait and bar staff. Even standing in the doorway, asking Chi for a quick hamburger for lunch, always got the response of “Out of kitchen -- no waiter in kitchen,” from the chef. It was Chi’s domain and he ran it like it was his own mini-kingdom. It also may have helped that Chi was the only one in the kitchen who could speak any English.

As I walked to the front door of the kitchen, I realized that there was someone new in there… a white man. It looked a lot like Dustin Hoffman -- it was Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman held a frying pan, filled with some kind of an egg omelet. Dustin looked over at me and said, “How’re ya doing?” I smiled and said, “hi,” in return.

I was aware that Dustin Hoffman lived in the neighborhood and I had even seen him eating in the restaurant before. The word was; that before I started working there, whenever Mr. Hoffman had lunch in the restaurant he would always request the same waitress -- Ann McIntosh. Ann was his waitress whenever he came in -- everyone knew it; it got so no one else would even try to take the table. When Hoffman played Willie Loman in
Death of a Salesman
on Broadway, he took Ann with him. At first she under-studied the role of the other woman and eventually she took over the part.

I turned to Chi, who was standing next to the door, and pulled him into the dining room. “Chi, what’s he’s doing in there?” I asked, knowing that if the corporation who owned the restaurant found out that anyone who wasn’t an employee was using an oven, even if it was Dustin Hoffman, they would go crazy. Chi looked at Hoffman and then back at me and smiled, with both of his silver teeth gleaming and said, “Movie Star!” -- as if that was a good enough reason for him to cook in his kitchen. It was good enough for me; I went back to work setting up the bar.

Dustin finished cooking his omelet, toasted some bread, poured himself some of the coffee I had started, sat at a table and ate. Eventually, some of the wait-staff arrived and someone gave him a check, he paid it and went on his way. At lunch I walked into the kitchen to see if they would make me a burger. Chi turned to me and snapped, “No waiter in kitchen!” Movie stars, no problem, but when it’s the bartender… “No waiter in kitchen!”

There is always that celebrity dispensation rule, the same thing happened the next time I ran into Dustin Hoffman. I was working as an Assistant Theater Manager at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Now you have to realize that Sundance likes to play this “There-Are-No-Stars-Here-Except-The-Film-makers” rap every year, but it’s a crock. They kiss up to celebrities just as much, or maybe even more, than anyone else.

I was working inside a theater, helping the ushers clean up between shows, when I got a call over my walkie-talkie that Dustin Hoffman was in the wait-list tent and would like to wait inside. I understand the whole Friend-of-Bob thing -- Woodward or Bernstein -- whoever was who in
All the President’s Men
, so I told them to send him in. The festival management consistently admonished us about catering to the stars but whenever you didn’t give a celebrity his proper due you also heard about that. I hoped no one was going to jump up my ass for letting Mr. Hoffman wait in the theater, rather than in the tent.

The venue I worked at Sundance, was Park City’s regular movie cinema and had four separate theaters. It would take us about a half hour to load the patrons into a single theater, and with four theaters to fill, it took more than two hours to fill them all. Then we would have to start all over again, without much down time. We were busy loading theaters, making sure all the seats were filled and that every single person we could legally fit into the theater was inside, when I noticed that Mr. Hoffman had entered three different theaters, sort of like sampling what we were showing that day. Finally, at the door of third theater, I asked the volunteer who was taking tickets if Mr. Hoffman had a ticket. “No,” she told me, “It was Dustin Hoffman.”

I went inside and ushered Mr. Hoffmann out of the theater. It turned out that he had a ticket to the fourth screening and he went peaceably. I told him that we would start seating his screening soon. I went back to the ticket-taker to re-enforce the film festival’s policy on the treatment of celebrities --
that there would be no special treatment or privileges and that every festival-go-er was equal.
I made sure that it wouldn’t happen again and hoped that it wouldn’t get back to the higher echelon of festival management.

At that moment, I got a direct call from the festival’s office. They wanted to know if Dustin Hoffman was there. Dread swept over me, I couldn’t understand how they had heard of Hoffman slipping by us. They never seemed that on-the-ball; I guess I was wrong. I told them that Hoffman was standing right in front of me. The person from the festival office asked me to ask Mr. Hoffman to turn on his cell phone -- his assistant had been trying to get a hold of him. Every festival patron will be treated equally... unless, of course, Dustin Hoffman forgets to turn on his phone.

Faye Dunaway, Bukowski Babe

T
he Sundance Film Festival was always busy. The day would usually start very early and end in the wee hours of the next morning. Sleeping at Sundance was always at the minimum -- five hours of shut-eye was a pretty good night.

I was always exhausted. On this one exhausting morning, I was at work, as an Assistant Theater Manager, filling a theater for a screening. As we came closer to filling the cinema, the ushers inside would radio out to me how many empty seats we had and I would then allow that many people to enter the theater. If the ushers found an empty seat, they would ask the people sitting around it if the seat was available; they were told that if the seat was filled, the usher would then ask if the person was at the snack bar or restroom and warn that, if the owner of the seat was not in the theater now, they would not be getting in, since we had lines waiting for every single seat.

During one particular screening, I received a call on the radio from an usher that I was needed in the theater. I held up the line and went in. The usher introduced me as the Assistant Theater Manager to a young man, who claimed to be Faye Dunaway’s assistant. The assistant told me that he was holding a seat for Miss Dunaway and that she was stuck in traffic, but would be here soon. I told the assistant that he couldn’t hold the seat and that I had a line of people waiting to get in. The assistant desperately begged me (only as a good assistant can do) to wait for Miss Dunaway.

I’ve never been a big Faye Dunaway fan, even though I thought she gave some good performances in
Bonnie and Clyde
,
Network, Mommie Dearest
and especially
Barfly
(I’m a fan of Charles Bukowski’s writing). I gave in and told her assistant that we would wait for Miss Dunaway but that we would be starting the film in ten minutes and if she wasn’t in the seat by then we were going to take the seat. Approximately nine minutes and forty-five seconds later, Faye Dunaway hurried through the lobby and I led her into the theater and the empty seat.

As the lights came down, I had to ask four or five patrons who didn’t have seats to leave the theater. One of the rejected patrons turned and confronted me, charging that I held that seat for Faye Dunaway and she wasn’t in the theater. Of course he was right, but on the other hand, if you didn’t think celebrity got priority at Sundance, then you’ve never been there. But, being tired and a bit hung over from the night before and just glad that we finished filling the theater, I lied and said she was in the bathroom. He didn’t believe me and I didn’t care.

I went on with the morning and began filling another theater. About ten minutes later, after checking to make sure the theater was clean and set up for the next screening, I slipped into the theater that we had just filled. As I came in through the door, in the back of the theater, I could make out a figure of someone standing against the wall. A big part of the job was making sure that no one was standing or sitting in the aisles. Not only was it against the fire code, but it was opening a difficult can of worms. Once people saw that they could make use of the aisles, then the people in the front, closest to the screen, would move back, the people in the back would move down and those who just were not happy with their seats would take places in the aisles. Then once all the stairs were taken, someone who couldn’t find an open stair would come out and tattle to us. It was best to stop it as fast possible. As I approached the woman standing against the wall in the dark, I realized -- it was Faye Dunaway.

I once saw Bette Davis on the Tonight Show, when Johnny Carson was host. That was in the days of Bette-Is-A-Film-Icon-Who-Can-Get-Away-With-Anything, she was like the crotchety old spinster aunt who was always pleased as punch to give you her two cent... and usually it was right on the nose. Johnny just threw this question out at her, “Bette, you’ve worked with everyone. Who was the one person you just couldn’t get along with?” Without even taking the time to think about it Bette wailed, “FAYE DUNAWAY!!!” and Johnny broke up laughing, the way only he could. I can’t remember why, but I could never forget Bette Davis screaming “FAYE DUNAWAY!!!”

Faye Dunaway turned to me and I told her, as nice as my booze soaked head would allow, “You have to sit down.” “I can’t,” she said, “I don’t like my seat.” The very same seat that I broke the rules to hold for her. “You have to sit down.” I repeated, with Bette yelling within my throbbing head, “FAYE DUNAWAY!!!” and Johnny breaking up laughing. Glaring at me, she went back to her seat and her openly embarrassed assistant.

Now I was on the prowl -- we would go through this with someone just about every other screening. I’d wait about ten minutes and slip back into the theater and sure enough there she was, sitting on the steps in the aisle. “You have to get back into your seat,” I told her. “You don’t understand,” she replied, “I don’t like my seat and I have to see this film.” I kindly asked her to step out into the hall with me because I didn’t want to bother the other patrons, since this scene was becoming more interesting than the film. She hemmed and hawed, but I finally got her into the hallway. “I’m giving you two choices,” I told her, in the cinema hallway, “You can go back and sit in your seat or you can leave but those are the only two choices.” She glared at me defiantly, “Do you know who I am?” she asked. “FAYE DUNAWAY!!!” Bette Davis shrieked again in my mind and Johnny again broke up laughing. “And who do you think you are?” she asked me. Blocking the door to the theater, I said, “I’m the guy who isn’t going to let you back in and who will call the police, first and Entertainment Tonight, second, so if you don’t want to get arrested and have your face all over the Indie Wire (the festival’s gossip rag) tomorrow, you’ll go in there and sit in your seat.”

Pissed, but complacent, she went back into the theater and I followed her to her seat. Of course, the next three times I went into the theater, she was either standing or sitting in the aisle. Each time she went back to her hated seat when she spotted me, as Bette Davis continued to scream, “FAYE DUNAWAY!!!” in my head and Johnny broke up laughing. Eventually, the film ended and Faye left, her assistant secretly apologized to me for her behavior and I went to take a dump (actually, I can’t remember if I did or not... I only wrote that as a tribute to Charles Bukowski).

Elton John, Shoot the Piano Player

W
orking at the Sunset Marquis Hotel could be filled with surprises. One night I finished my shift as the Villa Butler and came down to the main hotel to turn some checks in to the cashier. As I entered the front lobby, I saw there was a large boisterous crowd gathered around the piano. Walking by, I was surprised to find Elton John sitting at the piano, tickling the ivories and talking to some of his friends.

I dropped off my checks, but instead of going downstairs to the locker-room, I slipped back to the foyer and listened as Elton played songs for his guests. He had stopped most of the traffic entering and exiting the hotel but since it was after eleven in the evening, there wasn’t much anyways.

Elton was laid back and enjoying himself. He played some of his songs like
Your
Song
and
Crocodile Rock
and some Beatles songs and even a little Frank Sinatra. Some songs he finished and some he didn’t -- stopping to talk and joke with his friends. I couldn’t believe I was standing there, just listening and watching this superstar hang out with his buddies. At one point, the piano player that worked for the hotel arrived, holding a glass of water. He also stood watching, as I was, or so I thought…

The piano player never really considered himself a part of the hotel staff; he didn’t socialize with us and the only time I ever saw him not at the piano was the half hour that he took for dinner in the employee’s cantina, downstairs. I didn’t have much to do with him the whole time I was there. Once, before Elton, when I was working in the restaurant as a waiter, I passed through the lobby and spotted two guests napping on the couches in front of where he was playing. Trying to have a little a fun on a hectic night, I went up to him and suggested that he play something “bouncy” for his audience. He turned to me and dismissively said, “Do you want to play? Can you play? Just what I thought -- I play what I want to play!” I gave him a “whatever” shake of my head and went back to my party of eighteen, that I was working alone, except for a bus boy. The piano player was a wet-blanket in my opinion.

Still holding his water, the piano player spotted me from across the room and came over. He leaned over to me, as Elton played
Candle in the Wind
, and asked “What’s this?” I smiled and answered, “It’s cool, isn’t it?” He didn’t seem to see the coolness. “Who said he could play
my
piano?” I rolled my eyes. “Come on, it’s Elton John,” I said. “But it’s not his job!” he exclaimed, moving closer to me, so that I could hear him better.

BOOK: Serving Celebrities: The Complete Collection
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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