5/17/11 Starlit Memories

In a few hours, I’ll be doing a phone interview with Joan Rivers for Vegas Seven Magazine, which is one of my favorite publications to write for. I haven’t done a celebrity interview in quite some time, mostly because my work realm has shifted to more news and feature items, as well as corporate work. But back in the day, I did some stargazing. Let’s reflect.
Sometime around 2004 I was contacted, out of the blue, by People Magazine. They were looking for Vegas stringers (i.e. monkeys holding tape recorders and asking a mix of assigned and original questions), and wanted to know if I’d be interested. I was, but not so much because I wanted to be wrangling the celeb gossip circuit. More because it seemed the exact least likely thing I would ever expect to do. I met with an editor for lunch at an off-Strip Mexican restaurant, jibed with him, and before I knew it I had an assignment to hang out outside the Palms hotel-casino in hopes that Michael Jackson would make an appearance. Jackson had just been charged with child molestation.
I didn’t speak with MJ that day, but I did get to much later, at a celebrity signing event (actually, I talked at him while he kind of pranced around squealing at fans and pretending not to hear me). Over the next three years, I talked to all kinds of other celebrities, too, some of whom I managed to piss off quite nicely. At the red-carpet opening of The Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil Show at The Mirage, Paul McCartney was swaggering up the runway after the show, and I shouted out to him what seemed a reasonable question: “What would George and John have thought?” This snapped him out of his goofy posturing. His eyes narrowed, drinking me in. “I don’t know,” he enunciated slowly. “Why don’t you ask them?” Then he stormed off to the end of the red carpet, where Siegfried and Roy were schmoozing with reporters. Roy Horn was still recovering from the Montecore tiger incident, and McCartney took the crutches from the injured magician and started hobbling with them up and down the red carpet, to the flash of cameras. It was as surreal a moment as they come, even by Vegas standards.
Avril Lavigne got catty with me once. I managed to get on the list to her birthday party (not by my doing…the celeb mags have moles everywhere) and was waiting to speak with her. Her manager shooed me away a few times, so I tried to blend at the party until I could track her down, solo. The moment came, I approached. I introduced myself to the tiny pixie, who stared back at me with her unblinking, deeply eyelined eyes. I explained to her I was with People and asked her about her recent engagement. Actually, I asked her questions about her new engagement ring, but she refused. “I don’t answer personal questions,” she said. So I wracked my brain for one of the standard questions that are always in the celeb queue to ask. These are timeless queries, distributed by the staff at the magazine, that each writer has access to and come in handy during red carpets and other events when you’re asking a million people (some of whom may be D-list and unrecognizable) a million questions. So I asked the first one that came to mind: “Do you have any celebrity crushes?” I asked, feigning genuine interest. And she scoffed at me. Sk8er Boi–the raccoon-eyed chick who used to be a Canadian country singer until she or someone close to her decided a tomboy sk8er image might sell better–scoffed. At me. “Do YOU?” she said, taking me back to any number of Mean Girls moments in high school.
“Well, Johnny Depp—of course,” I said, shrugging, as though anyone would know—and agree—with that. She looked me in the eye, and almost out of sympathy, uttered, “That’s so cliche.” And she walked away.
After a while I started writing celeb stuff for Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Life and Las Vegas Magazine. Almost by default, it was becoming my niche, and the stories grew and grew. I was kicked out of a Justin Timberlake party. I eavesdropped as Britney Spears hired little people prance across a dinner table at Tao carrying K-Fed’s birthday cake. I ceaselessly stalked the Hilton family. Carrot Top hit on me. Kevin Nealon complimented my Mr. Potato Head t-shirt. I made Bob Saget laugh. I stopped myself from asking Bea Arthur to be my grandmother. And so many more.
Now that I live in Chicago and write for different types of publications, the opportunity rarely arises, and I’m fine with that. I like real people who experience real struggles and real drama. I like their ticks and quirks, and understanding what brings us together. But every so often, it’s good to get a dose of some celebrity, as I will with Rivers.


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