Chance star sightings that set fans aglow

More than a billion people will watch this year's Academy Awards on Sunday night.The Oscar show has more top stars per rating point than any other television event.Most people will admit they like to celebrity-gaze, and that when their lives brush those of the famous, it's an experience long remembered. I've heard - and participated in - such encounters in my role as a journalist. For instance....

The early morning mist was still rising from the Interstate as I drove through a small Iowa town. Spotting a diner, I decided to stop for an early breakfast. Once inside the door, I knew something had just happened.

It was obvious that Mom was the waitress, and Pop was dishing up the hash browns. Her face was flushed as she handed me the menu upside-down.

"You'll never guess who was just sitting on that stool at our counter!" she burbled. "It was Harrison Ford! Imagine, at our little diner! He was so nice. Just had coffee and eggs, but he left a $10 tip."

With that, Dad left the grill. "He's a pilot and had stopped up the road at a refueling site. Sure seems like a regular guy."

By this time, she'd brought my bowl of oatmeal."It's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to us," she sighed, as she poured ketchup into my cereal.

Jack Nicholson's pleasant surprise

First impressions are a two-way-street. Actors also remember special fan reactions.As Jack Nicholson explained:

"I was in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. I had flown in specifically to see my favorite basketball team, the L.A. Lakers, play." Mr. Nicholson, in fact, is virtually a fixture at Lakers games. "I'll admit I wasn't feeling too loving when the driver missed the VIP entrance to the arena three times!It was pouring down rain, and after the third pass, I just got out of the car and ran to the entrance."

Soaked and sullen, he wearily made his way to his seat. "Just as I got to Row 26," Nicholson added, "My anger just drained away.Everyone in the row turned to me, wearing a Jack Nicholson mask!"

Melted by Newman's blue eyes

One of my favorite stories was supplied to me by Nell Newman, daughter of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.

"Dad and I decided to go into town to the hardware store," Nell said. "It was a hot summer day, and he suggested getting an ice cream cone."

There was a line to the counter, and the lady ordering was upset. Her preschooler was playing "airplane" in the corner and making as much noise as a real jet.She turned around to tell the youngster to knock it off - and looked right into the startling blue eyes of Paul Newman.She regained her composure, bought her child an ice cream cone, and left. But she was back in an instant.

Charging to the head of the line, she asked, "Didn't I just get an ice cream cone?" Yes, she had, the server said.

"Well, where is it?" she demanded.

At that moment, Paul Newman tapped the woman on her shoulder and answered, "You put it in your purse!"

Julia Roberts's unpleasant surprise

Another star with a good memory is Julia Roberts. She can tell you the time and the place when she was asked for her first autograph. "It was in the mall near our home in Georgia.My mom, sister, and I had gone to the theater to see one of my best roles to date - 'Mystic Pizza.' "

On the way out of the show, Julia stopped at the rest room.She heard a voice call out: "Hey, you - in Stall 3! Are you the girl in the movie?"

"Yes," a startled Julia replied, frozen with surprise. Then a piece of paper and pencil were slid under the door, with the request, "Can I have your autograph?"

I stroll among the stars

One of my most memorable personal experiences was when Prince Charles came to Los Angeles.

A fundraising event was to be held at the Regent Beverly-Wilshire Hotel.After six calls, I finally got an invitation, but with the caution: "Even though your name is on the press list, you'll have to show a photo ID, police pass, press pass, or a valid passport."

I arrived with an evening bag crammed with everything including my birth certificate.Clearances included federal, state, local police, plus Scotland Yard.

The entry at the Beverly-Wilshire is a center driveway.On one side are suites and restaurants;on the other side is a series of ballrooms.At the moment I got out of the car, Michael Caine came from the right entrance. He called, "Bonnie!"

His family was in England, and he was staying at the hotel while doing a film.With that cheery hello, Sir Michael Caine took my elbow and guided me through the guards, into the entry, up the elevator to the VIP reception, and toward an introduction to the prince.

I looked at my overstuffed evening bag.Not a scrap of identification had been required.Doors open when you're on the arm of a film star.I dined out on that experience for months....

OK, years.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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