I lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan back in the '70s and '80s. So, for about 20 years or so, I bumped into celebrities almost every day. I was a kind of celebrity of sorts because I hosted an early-morning radio show on WRFM. But mostly I saw movie stars and TV stars and the famous from all walks of life meandering the streets of the city.
I saw beautiful Joan Fontaine, red hair parted in the middle and pulled straight back (you've got to have a really good face to do that!) walking along Sixth Avenue with a gentleman friend, arm in arm.
There was John Forsythe on a warm summer day strolling along, jacket tossed over his shoulder, looking exactly as he did every week on Dynasty.
Some famous people didn't look like they did onscreen. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy were tiny. They always held each other as they walked on 54th Street.
I entered a pharmacy on Columbus Avenue one morning and there was Tony Randall walking out of the place. I looked at him, broke into a smile and said, "Tony Randall!" He smiled back and said, "Yes!"
When I finished my show each morning, I walked to the parking garage at 54th and Madison, and waited for my car. One day Arthur Godfrey was there waiting for his Chrysler Cordoba. I introduced myself and told him I did a radio show from 6 to 9 a.m. He said, "That's the worst time slot in the business! I was tired for years doing that!"
Some stars you just couldn't bring yourself to speak to. I saw Ethel Merman on Fifth Avenue making an effort to hail a cab. I looked at her, she looked at me, and I knew I'd better keep my mouth shut.
One time I was walking slowly down Fifth Avenue past Elizabeth Arden's boutique. The traffic had stopped. It was a parking lot of cars and limousines. Suddenly, the back door of one huge limo opened and Donald Trump came storming out. Annoyed, frustrated, he stalked up the avenue. Even the Donald couldn't make the traffic flow.
On another beautiful sunny morning, in almost the same spot, I saw the incredibly lovely Lena Horne, gently strolling along — a mink wraparound, a knowing smile, that ageless face. I smiled. She nodded.
I did a lot of writing for newspapers and magazines while I had my radio show. At one time, a fashion industry magazine asked me to do a monthly column. The editor invited me to go to a Halston show. I sat with her along the runway, and backstage she photographed me with Halston models, some of them leaving big lipstick prints on my face. Nice!
The editor spotted Liza Minnelli, a Halston pal, sitting quietly on one of the little runway chairs waiting for Halston to finish. Before I knew what was happening, the editor insisted I be photographed with Liza. So, I was seated next to her, introduced, and then a puzzled Miss Minnelli had her photograph taken with Mr. Awkward. The photo was sent to me, and my gang at WRFM put it on the bulletin board and invited everybody to write a caption for what Liza might be saying to me. The winner was: "Who did she say you were?"
Every day after the show, I would get my car at 54th, drive across town to First Avenue and then quickly downtown to the Brooklyn bridges. It was sunny, clear and beautiful one morning as I swung the car from 54th to First and almost knocked down an elderly lady trying to cross the street. I managed to stop about one foot from her knees. She was tall, thin, had gray moplike hair, horn-rimmed glasses and a very large stride. She looked at me directly. I looked at her and waved her on. She then turned and quickly crossed the road. She was Greta Garbo. I had almost killed Greta Garbo. I knew instantly who she was. She knew who I was. I was the jerk in the gray Buick Skylark.
New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.