OK, I'll admit it. I still get star-struck when meeting a famous person. Meeting someone who is considered a celebrity is a special treat for many of us. I think that's human nature.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting many political, musical, sports and theatrical somebodies. Some were pleasant, others were not. It seems to me that the "really" famous are more down to earth and unassuming than a few of the local celebrities who seem to have the largest egos. I guess that's what's known as "the big fish in the little pond" syndrome.
My first encounter with a celeb was at the tender age of 8. My mother had taken me Christmas shopping downtown. As we walked past the Yankee Doodle room at AM&A's, famed Buffalo sportscaster Ralph Hubbell was just finishing his broadcast for WBEN. Being the precocious little brat that I was, I immediately ran up to him -- much to my mother's dismay -- and asked for his autograph. I also made sure he knew I was a Cub Scout. Hubbell, always the gentleman, cordially obliged.
During the '50s, I can recall standing for hours in front of the remote trailer studio of WGR as it broadcast from the Loblaw's parking lot, hoping to get a chance to talk to one of the DJs.
Perhaps the biggest thrill of my life occurred in 1962, when I was serving in the Navy and had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to President John F. Kennedy. The president and his entire entourage were aboard my destroyer, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. The president had come aboard to view the America's Cup races off Newport, R.I. At the end of the day, he made it a point to meet some of the crew. Although the handshake and the brief conversation I had with him lasted no more than 30 seconds, that 30-second period, almost 50 years ago, is as vivid to me today as if it occurred yesterday.
During the '60s and '70s, I was involved in the local broadcasting scene. As a DJ at WEBR in the early '70s, I had the opportunity to meet a number of national celebrities from the music and entertainment industries. Wayne Newton, Jerry Vale, Burt Reynolds and Don Rickles were but a few of the stars I had a chance to meet. They were all as pleasant as could be and didn't come across as being phony or pompous.
I think my most interesting meeting occurred in the mid '90s, when I had the pleasure of spending about a half hour, over coffee, with Buffalo native James Whitmore. He had just completed filming "The Shawshank Redemption." Whitmore was a classy guy.
Although a veteran of countless movies and TV roles, he was as approachable and unpretentious as my neighborhood barber. I wonder how many of today's movie stars are like this?
But a strange thing happened along the way -- a reversal so to speak.
As the years passed, I started to resemble "Happy Days" actor Tom Bosley. The resemblance must have been quite startling to some people, because strangers would stop me in airports and in shopping malls and ask, "Do you know who you look like?" Some were convinced that I was indeed Mr. C gone incognito.
I always thanked them for the compliment but assured them I wasn't really Mr. Cunningham.
Thinking back, maybe I should have said, "Yup, I'm him."
Everybody loves meeting a celebrity.
Jack Horohoe, who lives in the Town of Tonawanda, has enjoyed meeting a number of celebrities over the years.