In Short: Normal People.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet many famous people, including Star Wars creator George Lucas (long before he was famous), magician and skeptic James “The Amazing” Randi, original Star Trek’s “Scotty” Jimmy Doohan (and “Chekov” Walter Koenig — and “Trouble with Tribbles” writer David Gerrold), Science Fiction Grand Master Larry Niven, magicians Penn & Teller, America’s first female astronaut (and physicist) Sally Ride, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, and quite a few others.
How? Lucas was a tenant at a ranch my father co-owned — and where, I’d like to believe, he fell in love with ranches, leading to his own Skywalker Ranch. Randi was a fellow speaker at two conferences where I also spoke.
Doohan was at an appearance at Universal Studios for the very first Star Trek Adventure video made on replica Star Trek sets, where park guests in line for the show were picked to play various roles in each video. I happened to be picked as an engineer, so I was dressed in costume when Doohan popped in to say hello to his engineers. Weirdly, I was the only one in the group not afraid to step up and chat, and he was happy to talk while we waited a half-hour for things to get underway.
Koenig came to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the time I worked there, while in town to work on (I’m pretty sure) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That’s also where I met Ride, who was doing a tour of NASA centers, and Gerrold: he came to speak at an event, and I volunteered to be his escort — he came early enough for me to give him a short tour around the lab, and he was so full of wonder and appreciation I felt like I was the celebrity!
Niven was in the audience when I gave a talk at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, where he’s a member. He was kind enough to speak to me afterward, and chuckled when I told him his book Lucifer’s Hammer* scared the crap out of me because it was so plausible.
Penn & Teller had me come up on stage as a “firearms expert” to witness their famous shoot each other in the mouth illusion. And Wozniak is a long-time reader who said when I was in town to let him know so we could go to dinner, so I did, we did, and he brought a few other computer pioneers along so we could all meet each other.
They Are Much Alike
The one description applicable to all of them, in my experience, is: they’re just normal people. None of them were full of themselves, and they all were gracious and kind, even if some were a bit amazed that people wanted to meet them.
The Doohan story is especially telling: if a “celebrity” is there to meet people and say hello, don’t be afraid to step up and say hello! The best way to make them comfortable is to tell them you enjoy their work, maybe saying what, in particular, entertains or enlightens you. And then step back to let others approach if anyone is waiting.
After all, they really are regular people even if well known, and pretty much everyone is happy to talk briefly if they’re not busy or trying to get somewhere.
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Randy Cassingham is WiLt’s head writer and publisher. His flagship publication This is True, established in 1994, is the oldest entertainment feature on the Internet.
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