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Guess what celebrity I ran into on my spring vacation in Florida?


I went to check out the Sarasota Film Festival Saturday while on vacation in the Florida city that attracts so many Western New York snowbirds.

I never made it to a film because the timing wasn’t right.

The ones I wanted to see were either too early in the afternoon when it would be foolish to leave the warmth outside that I was unlikely to feel for another month in Buffalo or they were too late at night to mess up my dinner plans with my sun-worshipping girlfriend.

But I did run into a celebrity.

After giving up on a film, I headed to a nearby deli that claimed it served New York City-style food.

I’ve heard that one before. Generally, you have a better chance of finding a chicken wing outside of Buffalo that does our city proud than you have of finding New York City corned beef.

I sat at the bar of the deli and was surprised to see someone who looked an awful like Dick Smothers, the one Tom Smothers claimed his mother loved best, 15 feet away at the far left.

So I asked the female bartender, who confirmed my suspicion.

Now I had a choice that was more difficult than deciding whether to have corned beef or pastrami.

Should I go over and talk to Smothers or allow him his privacy?

As a rule, celebrities don’t impress me because I’ve interviewed so many of them. I’ve even interviewed the Smothers Brothers in groups during television critics meetings.

But, hey, I was on vacation. And I thought of my late father, who would been upset with me if I didn’t say something even if I quickly left after judging if Smothers felt bothered.

So I went over to Dick and immediately saw that he wasn’t hiding his celebrity. He was wearing a shirt that said “Smothers Brothers” on it.

I introduced myself as a TV critic and told him I knew the television critic, David Bianculli, who wrote a terrific book about the Smothers Brothers and their battles with network censors. It is called “Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.’” I highly recommend it.

“What a wonderful man,” said Smothers. “It took him 15 years to write.”

That wasn’t a criticism. He explained that some things in Bianculli’s personal life led to the delay. Then, all of a sudden, Dick was talking about things in his personal life.

He proudly told me that he was about to celebrate 26 years sober. If you think it odd that he was at a bar in the deli, don’t. I was having a root beer at the bar, too. A bar is where you go when you are eating alone.

Then he told me he had been divorced four times, twice to the same woman. He pretty much blamed his lack of understanding who he was for the divorces but added he is in the right place now.

Then we talked about real estate, Buffalo, movies, folk music and sports.

Curiously, we never went to politics, which was a big part of his act in the days he used to fight with censors when he and his brother had a TV show. I didn’t think about that until the conversation was over.

He said he lived nearby in Sarasota, but suggested it wasn’t in a ritzy area because…. Well, did I mention he has been divorced four times? I’d guess he also might not have managed his money as well as he would have needed to afford a multimillion dollar palace on the water. But I could be wrong.

When I reminded him I was from Buffalo, he praised the area and recalled that he and his brother used to come here to perform at the Glen Park Casino.

He said he hadn’t gone to the Sarasota Film Festival, but loved movies. His recent favorite was “Eye in the Sky” that stars Helen Mirren. He was no fan of “Lady in the Van,” which stars Maggie Smith, though he is a fan of the “Downton Abbey” star.

Then it was on to sports. Smothers told me that he only watches sports events after he knows the results so he is certain that it will be an enjoyable viewing experience.

I thought that was an odd thing to do.

However, I told him that I was in flight to Florida during the NCAA men’s basketball title game between Villanova and North Carolina and almost missed the entire game. Yes, that was bad planning on my part.

I listened to the game on the road and arrived at my hotel just in time to hear a huge roar go up in the hotel area after Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit the game-winner at the buzzer.

I went inside my room for the replays of it and the earlier double-clutch, three-pointer by North Carolina’s Marcus Paige that tied the game with 4.7 seconds left before Jenkins’ shot.

Needless to say, I’ll be thinking of Dick Smothers tonight when I watch the entire Villanova-North Carolina game, which is being called one of the greatest finals ever.

I had the sense that Smothers is such a nice man that he would have talked with me for a few more minutes, but my corned beef sandwich was waiting so I said goodbye. Later, I wished I had asked him about his brother and his thoughts on the crazy presidential season.

Before he left, I did something I never do. Well, almost never. You see there is a rule against TV critics at meetings posing with celebrities for pictures. I only broke it once as a joke decades ago. Mike Duffy, who was the Detroit TV critic at the time, and I had a picture taken at a party with Raquel Welch between us.

She looks great. We look silly.

In any event, did I mention I was on vacation? I felt that meant the anti-posing rule didn’t apply.

The bartender and I took pictures for each other posing with Smothers.

He looks great. I look silly.

But it still was a better memory than going to a movie while it is 80 degrees out.

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