Readers share more of their near
Sep 23, 2023
Some years ago I was in a men’s hat shop in Manhattan. I was about to leave — there was nothing there that suited my particular fancy — when in walked Alec Baldwin with a woman I assumed to be his wife.
Alec Baldwin! I decided to stick around a little longer. What sort of hat would Alec Baldwin want?
“Do you have any scarves?” he asked the salesman.
Now, this place was literally brimming with hats: fedoras, homburgs, pork pies, Panamas, stingy brims, newsboys, boaters. Hats were arranged on shelves and stands and mannequin heads. Hats nested in teetering columns. Everywhere you looked: hats. I didn’t see a single scarf.
It was a hat shop.
“No,” said the clerk. “We don’t have any scarves.”
I’d spent the last few minutes fingering a blue-and-white straw hat — Borsalino, Size 7⅜ — while trying to steal surreptitious glances at the star of “Beetlejuice” and “The Hunt for Red October.” At some point I realized that although this hat had not interested me before, I would now be buying it. For now it was a hat with a story: the story of how Alec Baldwin went into a hat shop and tried to buy a scarf.
Every time I wear it — well, not every time, but many times — I find myself telling someone, “Some years ago I was in a men’s hat shop in Manhattan …”
All summer, readers have been sharing their celebrity stories with me, either their own interactions or those of family members. Usually, there’s been some meaningful interaction, an interaction that both parties were aware of. But not always.
Georgia Webb was a native Tennessean who spent most of her adult life in Washington, her grandson Gene Dodd said. One day in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Georgia was driving up Wisconsin Avenue NW at about Calvert Street when she saw a well-dressed, middle-aged woman on the sidewalk who looked lost.
“My grandmother never picked up strangers but on this occasion made an exception,” wrote Gene, of Raleigh, N.C. “Perhaps it was, as she was later to say, because the woman looked vaguely familiar.”
It turned out the woman was trying to get to Washington National Cathedral. Georgia drove her the few blocks to the cathedral and let her off in front of it.
“My grandmother mentioned the fact that she thought she looked familiar but the lady said no, she didn’t think they’d ever met,” Gene wrote.
The next day, the newspaper had a story about how Olivia de Havilland, of “Gone With the Wind” fame, was in Washington.
“My grandmother died in 1976 without knowing for certain that her rider had in fact been Olivia de Havilland,” Gene wrote.
About a year later, Gene attended a lecture by de Havilland at the University of North Carolina. He wasn’t permitted to meet with the actress, but he was able give a note to a guard who took it upstairs, where the star was socializing with some friends from Chapel Hill.
“The acoustics were such that Ms. de Havilland’s voice and the voices of her friends could be heard quite clearly from where I stood,” Gene wrote. “In just a moment a delightful burst of laughter emerged from upstairs which I recognized as coming from Olivia de Havilland. She proceeded to tell her friends all about her experience going to Washington and encountering this wonderful elderly woman in a yellow car who helped her out when she was lost and got her to her destination.”
In 1968, Wynne Cougill was working as the assistant to the assistant manager at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. Her job? “I sat in the middle of the lobby, answering questions and taking complaints from 3 to 11 p.m.,” wrote Wynne, who lives in the District.
“A tall, lithe young man approached my desk one night,” she wrote. “He politely began hitting on me and asked me out perhaps five times in as many minutes. Judging by his dress in snowy February — a white suit, white fedora, white shoes and white cashmere coat — I assumed he was a pimp, and just as politely declined, citing my work schedule. He said he’d catch me the next time he was in town.”
A few minutes after the man left, Wynne’s boss came over and asked what it was like to meet Jimi Hendrix.
Wrote Wynne: “Half a century on and I still regret that case of mistaken identity.”
Have you ever had an unconsummated brush with fame — that is, a celebrity who you didn’t meet? Or didn’t know that you met? I’d love to hear about it. Drop a line to [email protected].