Tim’s new columns are alternating with previously published “Woodward Classics” during the pandemic. This one originally appeared in The Idaho Statesman in 2010, following the death of actress Lynn Redgrave.
Occasionally, not often because there aren’t a lot of them in Idaho, readers ask me what it’s like to interview famous people.
The answer depends on the famous person. A few are arrogant snobs, but most are just regular people who happen to be famous.
I like regular people. I’m comfortable with them. That’s why, on the night I had dinner with Lynn Redgrave, the famous actress, I was looking for a regular person to hang out with instead.
The occasion was the tenth anniversary of the Morrison Center. Velma Morrison was hosting a $250-a-plate dinner at her home. The newspaper paid $250 for me to go and write about it.
For someone whose idea of dressing up is wearing my best pair of jeans, it was unnerving. Some of the men were wearing tuxedos, and most of those who weren’t were sporting suits that cost more than my car. The women were wearing formal gowns and expensive jewelry. No jeans anywhere.
The guest list included corporate presidents, university presidents, congressmen, society mavens, a governor or two … You could have thrown a boomerang and not hit anyone who frequented a tavern or a tattoo parlor.
I was looking for someone I’d feel comfortable having dinner with and not finding anyone when my attention was drawn to a regular looking guy wearing a corduroy jacket and a string tie, sitting alone at a table for 12. Figuring that he felt as uncomfortable and out of place as I did, I pulled up a chair next to him.
And that’s how I met the world famous raptor expert Morley Nelson.
“Anyone sitting here?” I asked him.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
Considering that no one but him was sitting in any of the other 11 chairs, I thought he was joking.
Until a big shot asked if he and his wife could join us.
“No,” Nelson replied. “That’s where Lynn and her family are sitting.”
“Lynn” was Redgrave, who was appearing at the Morrison Center that evening in a one-woman play she’d written. Searching for regular folks, I’d stumbled into the last seat at the VIP table.
You can imagine my surprise when Redgrave herself sat down beside me, so close our elbows were touching, and introduced herself.
As if she needed an introduction. This was a member of one of Britain’s preeminent acting families – Sir Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson to name a few. She’d become a household word in the title role of the movie “Georgy Girl, won two Golden Globe Awards, was nominated for two Academy Awards and was critically acclaimed on both stage and screen,
As if that weren’t enough, she was then omnipresent on television in a series of Weight Watchers commercials. I might as well have been sitting next to Oprah.
Normally the situation would have left me tongue-tied. It probably did, in fact, until I realized something surprising. I was sitting between two of the most regular folks in the room. Nelson was one of most down-to-earth people you could meet, and Redgrave couldn’t have been nicer.
In the unlikely event that you didn’t know who she was, you’d never have guessed that she was a star. It wasn’t just that she was utterly lacking in attitude; she had a way of effortlessly putting you at ease. It was like talking to an old friend over a beer. She was funny and genuinely interested in what you had to say. In two minutes, you felt as if you’d known her for years.
We spent the evening talking about acting, Morley’s birds, population control and other subjects that interested them. I’ve seldom enjoyed an evening more.
It’s hard to believe they’re both gone now – two people who made it to the top of their professions, received worldwide acclaim and had the good sense not to let it go to their heads.
I’ve been missing Morley, who later became a friend, since his death a couple of years ago. Now I miss both of my onetime dinner companions. Landing at their table was one of the luckiest accidents I’ve had.
The $250-a-plate lasagna wasn’t bad, either.