Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Close Encounters With Classic TV Stars


I thought about doing this piece off and on for years, and hesitated mostly because it could easily come off as a humble brag. “Yes, it reminds me of that day I had lunch with Tanya Roberts, and…” you get the idea.


(Yes, that’s me with Tanya Roberts)


But not long ago a friend and fellow author and TV historian posted a question on Facebook: “Kindest and Rudest Celebrity You’ve Ever Met?” It generated more than 50 responses, all of which made for interesting reading. It also reminded me that it doesn’t make a person special because they’ve had encounters with the rich and famous – it happens every day to hundreds of people in restaurants, airports, and of course at collector’s shows and conventions.


Almost everyone has at least one story. Feel free to leave yours in the comments on this piece if you like.


And so, with apologies in advance to anyone who may wish to flag me for flagrant tooting of my own horn, here’s what happened on a few of the many occasions when your humble blogger crossed paths with the stars of the Comfort TV era.


Catherine Bach

I wrote about my visit with Catherine Bach very early in Comfort TV’s history. Back then I was less concerned with sounding egotistical and just wanted to get anyone to pay attention to the blog. I guess it didn’t work, cause more than ten years later there are still no comments on that piece (another reason I worried about returning to this kind of topic). But for those that don’t click on the link above, here’s the quick version: in 1981, I stood in line at a Las Vegas car show to have my picture taken with TV’s Daisy Duke. 


Twenty years later, I was in her home interviewing her about her days on The Dukes of Hazzard. She could not have been nicer.


Hugh O’Brian

Easiest interview I ever did, because after I said hello the star of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp spoke nearly non-stop for the next 30 minutes. My only concerns were whether I’d ever get to actually ask a question, and how many micro-cassettes were going to get filled up before we even got to the series that made him a TV western icon. 



Charlene Tilton

You’ll see more than one Dallas cast member on this list, because I wrote a magazine article on the series back when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. Of course I asked her how she was cast, a question to which I already knew the answer because she told the story during a profile segment on Battle of the Network Stars. But as she recounted the moments that changed her life I thought about the thousands of times she’s been asked that, and was impressed by her ability to respond in a way that made you feel like she was really talking to you and not just reciting the same lines she’s said so often before. I enjoyed talking with her very much.



Brian Forster

As often as I’ve blogged about The Brady Bunch, I regret to say I have never met a Brady – not even Oliver. But I did meet a Partridge. Brian Forster was thoughtful and soft-spoken. He may be one of the few people who enjoyed the awful cartoon Partridge Family 2200 AD as much as the original series, but that was because, as he put it, the little kids were finally given something to do. 



Barbi Benton

Poolside at Caesars Palace, somewhere around 1980. One-piece tan bathing suit with a plunging neckline (her, not me). A smile that could stop traffic on the other side of town. I admit to being dazzled. 



Larry Hagman

I spoke with Larry Hagman twice, once for a book and once for the Dallas piece. He was always a challenge to interview, but in a fun way. He was one of those people without an internal filter, and when you meet someone like that for an interview you’re guaranteed to get colorful quotes. 


Here’s my favorite, about a memorable visit to Romania: “…somebody rushed up to me with tears in his eyes saying, ‘J.R., you saved our country!’ Apparently they had three programs on every day on television, two were the dictator Ceausescu giving political speeches and the other was Dallas. They put Dallas on to show the corrupt moral fiber of America. But the people saw the beautiful women and the clothes and the cars and the food and they said, ‘Wow, that’s America? Why the hell don’t we have that over here?’ So they took old Ceausescu and his wife out and shot ‘em both 500 times.”


Cheryl Ladd

This one did not start out well. With my friend and coauthor of The Charlie’s Angels Casebook, we had driven up to Solvang, California to meet her at her golf club – and we went to the wrong course. She wound up having to drive to where we were, pick us up, and take us to the right place. I rode shotgun in her SUV – a moment my 13 year-old self, jaw dropped at the first glimpse of Kris Munroe, would never have believed possible. 


What was supposed to be a 60-90 minute interview lasted more than three hours, and the longer it went on the more she seemed to enjoy reflecting on the series that made her one of the most iconic stars of the 1970s. The memories were not always happy, but the passage of time had softened the struggles.


Tom Selleck

One of the most ego-free celebrities I’ve ever met. Even after all his success he said he still felt like an insecure 16 year-old inside. If that guy could still doubt his own appeal and abilities after four decades of television success, where does that leave the rest of us losers? I also got the feeling that he would have traded all of his Magnum P.I. fame for one lead role in classic western – he came pretty close with Quigley, Down Under. Check it out if you haven’t seen it. 



Jaclyn Smith

My Angels co-author Jack Condon had been friends with Jaclyn for years, so having lunch at her house was no big deal for him. I still have an odd jumble of memories of that day; how petite larger-than-life stars sometimes appear in person; the way her Texas twang would still emerge on certain words and phrases; all of us standing in the backyard looking at the surrounding homes and Jaclyn casually mentioning “That’s where Neil Diamond lives”: using the guest bathroom, resisting the urge to peek into the medicine cabinet, and being amazed by how sleek, quiet and classy the commodes of the stars look and function. Is “Southern belle’ derogatory now? It’s so hard to keep up with what is still acceptable. But that’s the description that seems best suited here. As an interview she was the opposite of Larry Hagman – very hesitant to say a negative word about anyone or any trying situation. It’s an admirable quality but one that makes it tough to get the real story.  


John Forsythe 

A true gentleman, in every sense of the word. As with Jaclyn Smith he did not like to speak negatively about anyone. He recounted the story of how Aaron Spelling called him in at the last minute to supply the voice of Charlie Townsend, because the actor who was originally hired showed up too drunk to read the lines. But he refused to reveal his identity, feeling that would not be proper (but we got it from someone else for the book). 



Linda Gray

That Facebook post I mentioned asking about the nicest celebrity you’ve ever met? My answer to that question is always Linda Gray. 


I remember after the interview was over she asked me some questions (which rarely happens in these situations), and after another 15 minutes or so I was chatting with her like she was a friend I’ve known for years. As someone who still gets a little nervous before an interview I can’t remember ever being so relaxed and at ease talking with someone I never met before, famous or not. I have two friends that also met her and had similar experiences. Whatever it is she’s got to generate so much kind and positive energy, I wish more people had it.


Okay – your turn. What classic TV stars have you met?


  1. I've played poker at the same table with several over the years; Benjamin McKenzie, Jason Alexander, Montel Williams. Jason was seated to my immediate left for 2 hours at Bellagio (2008) and we talked poker for 2 hours. Amazingly none of his series came up. Barry Corbin lived nearby awhile back and I've seen him at a local sports bar and talked with him several times. Burton Gilliam also lives near me. Nicest celeb I've ever met was thankfully one of my heroes, Larry Storch in 2000 backstage at Annie Get Your Gun. Also met Marilu Henner who was very nice also. Larry took the time to have a conversation with everyone, at 77 years old and after a 2 hour show (was saving his voice for the next performance though and speaking at almost a whisper).

    1. Those poker games sound like fun! I interviewed Barry Corbin but it was so long ago I can't even remember the project he was promoting, though I believe it was a western.

  2. One other I just thought of, played poker with Jennifer Tilly also, in 2014. She took a $350 pot from me. She was seated four to my left so not much conversation with her.

  3. Great article! I wish I had some names to share - I talked with Gary Lockwood at Mid Atlantic a few years ago while he was waiting for Keir Dullea to return from the restroom, and he was very casual, easy to talk to. My best memories are the athletes I met when I was younger - Harmon Killebrew, who was nicer than you could ask for, and Arthur Ashe, who was class (and, I think, was embarrassed to be told that). I did talk to F. Lee Bailey once, though, on the phone - he actually called me back to answer a question I'd emailed him about. He did a show in '67 called "Good Company" - does that count?

    1. Sure, that counts! And you've also met some admirable athletes. The only one I can recall is brief chat and autograph from Ernie Banks, which I still have in a scrapbook somewhere.

  4. I've had a few celebrity meetings over my life so far:
    I met Paul Petersen back when Nick-at-Nite was a good station that respected classic tv. At the time Nick would have events in shopping malls where celebs would appear for autographs while fans got to do things like sing kareoke to classic tv themes. (I enjoyed singing the MR. ED theme, though I overdid it in places.)
    In 1995 I spoke with Vicki Lawrence, buying her autobiography at a now-defunct bookstore, and I met Barry Williams, who had a local free show which led to his later Johnny Bravo show. I saw Mr. Williams in person a couple years later when he was performing in "The Music Man".
    Most recently my hometown had a show called "Retro Expo", and at this show I got to meet John O'Hurley, who autographed 2 SEINFELD scripts for me, and Tom "Biff" Wilson, who gave me an autographed picture. A friend & I are planning to go to the next Retro Expo in September, which will feature the voices of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I never cared about the Turtles, but 2 of the voices have Brady connections, Robbie Rist and Brian Tochi (who appeared as a friend of Peter's in an episode).

    1. Thanks for sharing! You're one Brady up on me. :)

  5. David what a great read! I apologize for not seeing this sooner, am away from home (and missing my laptop). But all your meetups were terrific and had a chuckle over Brian Forster and real surprise with Tom Selleck. You look great there with Tonya Roberts! I have one mini story and one good story, but have been meaning to share them on my own blog. Thanks for sharing all yours. 🙂👍

    1. I'll look forward to reading those stories on your blog! Hope you'll be back in your own place soon.

  6. Aside from being in a parade with Sissy Spacek in 1977 when I was 9, the only celebrity brush I had was when Fred "Rerun" Berry attended my wedding. He was friends with a co-worker's boyfriend. Prior to wedding upon learning this, she tried to call him for me, myself being a What's Happening fan. When he didn't answer his phone, I promptly created a "Top 10 Reasons Rerun Won't Answer His Phone". I recall one reason was "People keep calling and yelling 'Hey, Hey, Hey!' and hanging up."
    Anyway, on the day of my wedding while my wife and I were shooting photos in a local park after the wedding, in drives a limousine with my co-worker, her boyfriend and Fred Berry. He took photos with us and gave autographs and even said he thought the list was funny, which was probably not completely true.
    Being a huge TV watcher all my life, it just seemed so appropriate for my wedding.

  7. I played golf with David Hofstede in HS. My only other brush with fame was running down Dearborn or State and right before diversy there was a white Hen Hen. Hulk Hogan got out of a limo and I literally ran into him. He said "Sorry Brother."

    1. You are lucky that Hulkamania did not run wild on you!