I don’t normally get jazzed about meeting celebrities. I don’t collect autographs and I don’t make a point of asking for a handshake or a photo when I do meet a famous person. It’s just not something I do.
Tonight, however, was an exception. I was at the Canadian Embassy, attending the Helen Hayes Awards’ Nominees Reception. I’d just gotten my glass of wine and was chatting with some friends when I was informed that movie star (and Canadian) Leslie Nielsen was in the room. I peered in the general direction I was pointed and was rewarded with the sight of the top of Mr. Nielsen’s famously, shockingly white hair.
I’m a big fan of Leslie Nielsen. I’m a big fan of anyone in the performing arts who’s broken free of a stereotype and reinvented themselves. Most times you see it when a glamorous star plays an “ugly” role – usually in a bald-faced bid for an Oscar nomination. But no one’s done it as successfully as Nielsen, who went from playing unmemorable handsome straight-up guys (read: stiffs) to his breakout role as Dr. Rumack in Airplane! Nielsen has the best deadpan in the business (next to Bea Arthur), but who’d have thought it? It didn’t come to light until Nielsen hit the has-been circuit, and found a whole new career as a comedian.
He was a guest speaker at the reception, and his speech was daffy and deliberately rambling. Afterwards, I made my way over to him and asked if I could shake his hand. He’s a little guy, and as charmingly bandy-legged in person as he is on screen. His hair up close is blinding, but his handshake was soft; he was pleasant and unassuming. I couldn’t think of anything particularly clever to say, except that my husband was going to be sorry he missed meeting him (John’s a big fan). Mr. Nielsen didn’t say anything particularly clever in response, either, but I wasn’t looking for that.
I just wanted to say hi, and thanks for the inspiration.