A hometown hero from Hollywood

I Love the town I live in. For one thing, it's a village, only one square mile big. It's full of flowering trees and gardens. It has a library and a Hagen-Dazs. Plus, if you live here long enough it's like that TV series "Cheers" - everybody knows your name. And if not your name, at least your face. People smile and say hello.

If you're a mom like me, you can see the same people (and by "people," I mean moms) three or four times a day: at school, the supermarket, the video store, the bank. After the third run-in, you're allowed to act as if you don't see one another. But if l had to come up with the single reason why I love this place above all other places, the answer would be: Gwen Verdon.

You wouldn't think that living in the same town as Gwen Verdon, who was a really big star in the 1950s and '60s, would be such a big deal to me, since I grew up in southern California. I saw as many actors, dancers, and movie stars as most people see policemen, teachers, or - I don't know - waiters. Actually, most of the waiters I saw growing up were actors. At least that's what they told me.

So seeing celebrities shouldn't be such a big deal. But what can I say? Gwen Verdon is different. She is a goddess walking the earth. Maybe she has this effect on me because I first saw her dance when I was a child no older than my own daughter is now. It was a movie version of the hit Broadway show "Damn Yankees."

Miss Verdon was a whole lot of wow: sultry, snazzy, funny, but also vulnerable, tender, and boy oh boy could she dance. I wished with all my heart that I could look, act, and dance the way she did when I grew up. I didn't get my wish, but I got a close second: I get to see her when I'm doing my errands.

Now, I'm not implying that Miss Verdon is jet-ing down the main road in my town, picking up her dry cleaning wearing fishnet tights and a leotard. Miss Verdon dresses like the rest of us, in sweaters and trousers - and occasionally, in colder months, a cape. She looks regal, but not off-putting.

Now that I'm older and so is she, I want even more to be like her - classy and sassy, cool (as in hip, not as in cold) and still working, but also doing my own shopping like it's no big deal. That's the way she danced - like scorching the earth with her feet was no big deal. For me, she epitomizes the fact that, famous or not, life goes on and stuff needs to get done. She gives that fact more than pizazz, she gives it hope.

I've learned to cultivate a sly acknowledging grin whenever I see her and our eyes happen to meet. I don't want to invade her privacy, or appear to be a stalker. But I also want to make sure that she knows that I know who she is. More than that: I want her to know that seeing her has made my day. Why, you ask?

Because of all the places she could live - Malibu, Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Fe - she chose here. As I did. It makes my choice seem less random, more special. My husband and I chose this town because it has a great school for our kids and it's an easy commute into work for him.

But what do I get out of the deal? I, who could live anywhere so long as there's a typewriter/word processor/piece of paper and pen. What do I get? I get Gwen. I get my own private joke that I share with myself. Or to quote a song from that long-ago musical, I get proof that all you really need in life is "a little brains, a little talent, with an emphasis on the latter."

If you're scratching your head and thinking, "Who's Gwen Verdon?" Well, all I can say is shame on you. It's a darn good thing you don't live in my town. You'd miss all the best sights.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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