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Brushes with Greatness



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In today’s Impromptus, I have a note on Ben Stein, and I recount a memory about him: Years ago, I walked up to him in the Detroit airport. I have approached a celebrity very few times in my life. Anyway, I told Ben I was a big fan, which I still am, of course. He said, “What do you do?” I said, “I work at a golf course.” He said, “You look like a golfer.” (I was probably sunburned.) This was a high compliment. He wouldn’t have thought so after about half a swing.

Anyway, after I wrote my column, I got to thinking, “What other times have I approached celebrities?” I could think of two other instances. All three of my bold moves (bold for me) took place before I worked in journalism.

In Washington, I saw Arnaud de Borchgrave walking along the street. This was in about 1993. I had to approach him. I thanked him for having told the truth in the Cold War, when so few others did (as I saw it). We then talked about the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The next instance occurred in 1993 as well, I think. Michael Deaver showed up in the lobby of the place where I was working. He was going to be deposed. He probably didn’t want to be there. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and said, “Thank you for what you did to elect Ronald Reagan twice.” He smiled brightly — surprised, I think. He said, “We were right, too, despite what Time magazine says this week.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Later, I got a hold of Time magazine, and there was some anti-Reagan cover, even at that late date. (Time magazine mattered quite a bit in those days.) Years later, I contributed to a book Deaver edited.

As you can see, everyone I approached had to do with politics, in some way. I can’t remember approaching any musician or actress or what have you. (Saw Natalie Portman in an airport once, as she left New York for the Democratic convention in Boston. She ignored me, which was annoying.)

Bill Buckley, age twelve in London, I think, hung around the Savoy Hotel to meet Toscanini. I can’t remember whether it happened. Paul Johnson was 16 when he encountered Churchill. (This was during the war, in either 1943 or 1944.) Paul called out, “Mr. Winston Churchill, to what do you attribute your great success in life?” Churchill said, “The conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.” With that, he was off.



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