"Swells" are celebrities in case you are not familiar with the term.
Living in New York for many years one grew immune to them. Actually, many famous people live in the city to escape their very own notoriety. And New Yorkers are a class act, not caring if you are the man in the moon, let alone a Broadway star.
Over the years, I met many "Swells" and most were fun experiences. I worked in a retail store on Broadway and many times, I waited on the famous and the infamous. Most times, being a New Yorker, I totally ignored them, meaning their fame, giving them their space so to speak. I'm talking in everyday experiences, not when they are performing, but just being a New Yorker. So, here's a list of some of my most memorable encounters.
Estelle Parsons came in one day to buy a bed. As you know, she won an Academy Award for Bonnie and Clyde. I sold her a bed, like in a mattress and boxspring, for her cat.
Stephen Wright, the insane comic, with his very dry sense of humor dropped by. It's not an act.
Mia Farrow and I knew eachother on a first name basis. Every time she adopted a child, she called me for a new bed.
Alvin Ailey gave me a personal dance lesson in the middle of the showroom floor.
Bernadette Peters was wonderful. The name on the label of her bed is "The Princess."
The cast of Saturday Night Live came in. American Express wanted to talk to Dana Carvey before giving authorization. I heard him say, "Yes, I'm the Church Lady."
A gang of young blacks and whites came in one night. Thought they were going to rob me. Instead, they all bought and asked me if I ever heard their single, "I Wanna Sex You Up." Color me dumb, becuase they were "Color Me Bad," the rock group.
Milo O'Shea lives across the street from Mia, and he was just so charming, especially with that brogue.
"Excuse me, can you pass the milk." "Sure," I said to that guy who starred in Jaws, not Dreyfuss, the one who played Fosse in the film. I dunno. I passed the milk and read the paper in the diner on W. 72nd.
Dreyfuss, I ran into at a cafe near Lincoln Center.
Michelle Lee bummed a cigarette from me at the Tony Awards ball one year while Lily Tomlin was telling me jokes. Michelle was trying to quit smoking and kept blowing the smoke under the table cloth so she wouldn't be seen. Didn't know who was funnier. I was telling Lily that I remember her when she was pluggin' records in Filene's Basement in Boston... One ringy dingy!
Milton Berle, in a tuxedo, was is an elevator with a crowd of "Swells." I looked at him and said "Four, please." He replied, "Cute, kid!"
Andy Warhol asked me for a nickel to pay for his hotdogs once. I'm holding the estate accountable.
Isaac Stern, in his 70's arrived by Limousine, and we waited for his wife. She, too, was in her 70's. She arrived by bicycle.
Michael Jackson browsed one day.
Saw Garbo one day on the Upper East Side. Definately left her alone.
J.F.K. Jr. blades all over the Upper West Side.
Wanda Richert, nominated for a Tony for 42nd Street bought furniture from me. She cancelled too.
Chita came in one day with sister, and mom. What a hoot. Worked on a room in her house, and eventually got the job of doing the dressing rooms for Merlin which Chita starred in. Unknown Nathan Lane was in that. Met Nathan on my knees while measuring his dressing room.
Met Chris Reeves at a urinal in Jimmy Ray's. I think we talked about the weather. I mean, what can you say? Back upstairs, Cissy Spacek was having dinner.
Kissed George Hearn the night he won the Tony for La Cage. But, George kisses everyone.
Sondheim and Angela Lansbury were at my table one New Years Eve, much to my chagrin and delight. I keep meeting this Sondheim guy in restaurants, another time was at the next table in Washington.
Both Julie Andrews and Frank Langella were recently in shopping, but not together. I saved their signatures on the credit card slips. I think I'm gonna bill Frank for a trip to London.
Ran into Liz Smith at "Moon Over Buffalo" on Broadway. Wanted to say hello, but I couldn't place the face. Again, I see her at "Ragtime" in L.A. Next time, I'm saying hello. Watch out Liz!
And the list goes on and on. I have never been phased by their "star" status. Only once.
I was crossing Madison Avenue at 34th Street going over to B. Altmans when this lady on my left stood next to me for the light. I turned, and thought, my god, I don't believe it. This was not a star, this was a legend.
Knowing my way of ignoring the famous, I couldn't help it. I turned to the woman, and my thoughts were "Aren't you so and so?" The lady looked at me with squinted eyes, as if to say, "Don't you dare." However, the vocal chords were in action and I blurted out, "Excuse me, but what time do you have?" At which point, Katherine Hepburn reached out picked up my wrist, pointing my own watch in my face and stating in that wonderful cadenced voice, "A-bout a-quarter to four, young man." And then she gave me a beaming smile, one I will never forget. I put out my arm and we walked across the street.
"Swells, swells." It's a city full of swells, and it's a lot of fun. I never knew the term until one night at Backstage, a theatre nightclub.
I was standing at the entrance, just watching the crowd. I hear a low whisper. "Any swells here?" I thought immediately and turned.
"Nah, just me and you, Chita. Oh, hi Liza."