HELLO AMERICA!—It is so sad to learn that many of our favorite new stars and entertainers who have taken the main stage of our lives are no longer with us. Of course, I remember when I was coming up during the 40s appearing on “The Stan Lee Broza Children’s Hour” for WCAU-CBS in Philadelphia, many beloved headliners would appear and the audience would go out of their minds with excitement. Kate Smith, Eddie Cantor, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny and so many others recognized through the world and loved.
For the most part, it was genuinely exciting to meet these people, especially for a kid of 12, because they treated their fans with utter respect and special. Once meeting them for a few moments, you felt as if the experience was something extremely special, an experience to remember the rest of your life. However, there were a few so-called stars such as Johnny Ray, Ethel Merman, and Mitzi Gaynor when out of the sight of the press treated their fans as trespassers and let them know it. I’ll never forget how Miss Merman responded to one of her fans who idolized her when requesting an autograph. The little bright-eyed girl yelled, “Oh, Miss Merman, would you please sign my book? Ethel who was anxious to get to her dressing room looked down at her and said, “Listen, I’ve got more important things to do than sign a book I never heard of.” The girl who looked around 11 or 12 quietly responded with a disappointed sad expression and said, “Sorry, to bother you, Miss Merman.”
Yes, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, we did have stars that were absolutely wonderful to their fans and some were pure assholes! Jimmy Stewart, even though his films were loved by millions had a reputation of shoving fans aside and refusing to sign autographs. Glen Ford, Eleanor Powell was like royalty, their arms were always open to their fans; Bette Davis, my mentor, never excluded those who followed and supported her through the years. She went out of her way to open doors to those she felt had the talent or something special to offer.
I was fortunate enough to be one of those she went out of her way to get inside the studio gates. For example, I was having dinner at one of those private gatherings in Hollywood. I was sitting with Mike Frankovitch, his son Peter and the rest of his family and when Bette Davis spotted me, she rushed to literally pull Jack Warner over to the table, introduced us and insisted that Warner do something to help me with my career. The poor man’s opened, not knowing how to respond except say very quietly, “Very nice meeting you, if Miss Davis believes in you, there must be something special there. Give me a call next week.”
When one observes high powered entertainers such as Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Reese Witherspoon appearing at industry gatherings with bodyguards or arriving and entering from a back entrance of the building, then there is an ego problem. Usually, so-called “hot” names don’t last very long in the spotlight. After relaxing in the spotlight following a few hit records or films it is not unusual at all for the lights to begin to fade. That’s when this type of so-called star is begging to make appearances on the night-time talk shows and some are extremely grateful to have a guest spot on day-timers such as “The View” and “The Talk.”
Mary Pickford who met with me when I was attending the University of Southern California to work with her on a special charity production project made it very clear that everyone should be treated the same. That meant the ushers, ticket takers, backstage staff and any and everyone connected with the show. As a result, when Jane Russell, Debbie Reynolds, Bette Davis, Ronald Reagan and Lionel Barrymore showed up, they didn’t expect any special treatment, only to be shown to their seat. And they all seemed to know, it was the way Miss Pickford expected to have it. Then too, she was considered the First Lady of Hollywood.