I was 24.
Tending bar and waiting tables at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, DC; rebooting after a year of advance work in the Pacific.
My first Celebrity Crush was Hayley Mills. (“Pollyanna”? I was a goner.) Subsequently, as the world opened up beyond Disney movies, I had developed a thing for Glenda Jackson. With “Women in Love,” a crush grew through and beyond “The Music Lovers,” “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and “A Touch of Class” to the point where I pretty much believed she walked on water, I admired her so.
When I learned she was coming to DC in “Hedda Gabler” at the National, I knew that it was Time We Met.
I bought tickets to Closing Night, then wrote her before opening night, explaining who I was and that I would love to take her to one of the 14 or so lunches she’d be having during her two-week run in DC. My intentions were purely Platonic; and that I didn’t want to subject her to crowds, just a quiet lunch and a casual place where we could talk and get to know one another a bit. I gave her the number of my work and my swim coach as local reference…
A week later, mid-run, I had not heard back from her; so I followed up with another note, accompanied by a crystal brandy snifter in which a gardenia was afloat. (I’d been a floral delivery guy my senior year in High School, and the gardenia-in-a-brandy snifter was my pièce de résistance when I really wanted to land a good impression.
In my note, I acknowledged that she’d surely been busy while in DC, and that her performance was surely exhausting; but that my invitation remained open and valid and I’d love to take her to lunch someplace special to DC.
The following week, nothing. By Saturday, I’d chalked it up to having given it a solid Go and let go of my little luncheon-with-Ms. Jackson fantasy. That morning, before the Ebbitt opened, I was setting tables and polishing silverware for the lunch shift when the manager came over with a funny look on his face and said there was a phone call for me.
I went to the back stairway and picked up the phone and this gorgeous voice said, in the plummiest of tones, “Hello, is this Kile Ozier…?”
“Yes, it is…” I said; thinking “No WAY!” as my knees went weak.
“Well, this is Glenda Jackson. I’m sorry not to have gotten back to you before now; I’ve just been so busy that I’ve had no time for lunch…or even tea…”
In my head, I’m (“TEA! She would have had Tea with me? Tea with Glenda Jackson! Glenda Jackson is on the phone with me!”)
“Are you coming to the performance this evening?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, why don’t you pop-round after the performance?”
“Pardon me…?” I said, having never heard the term “pop-round” before and being unable to actually think at the moment.
“Please come backstage after the performance; I’d love to meet you.”
“I’d love to do that, Miss Jackson; thank you.”
“Brilliant! See you after the show, then.”
That night, after curtain, I went backstage. There were probably 15 or so people at her dressing room door. I held back a bit, not wanting to be a part of some gushy, adulatory mob and also not sure of the dictates of procedure and protocol. As the last person before me was escorted from the Star Chamber, the guard looked at me and said, “Anyone else for Miss Jackson?”
I nodded, he beckoned, I entered and there she was. Seated before her mirror on a small bench, wrapped in an elegant dressing gown, she turned and offered me her hand… “Kile…?”
“Miss Jackson.” (So far, so good: no faux pas.)
There, tucked into the frame of her mirror, were both notes I’d written her; and on the dresser was the fragrant gardenia, still fresh, still afloat.
We sat and talked – well, mostly she interviewed me. Though I pretty much held my own, I can barely remember the conversation; as I was just a tad gobsmacked at the quality of grace and the level of respect she was showing me. The fact that she’d kept and had on display my missives and gift offered such affirmation and recognition in a gesture I’ve never forgotten.
Ten minutes or so, and I took my leave. She stood up, gave me a hug, said “Cheers” and wished me good luck. I thanked her and said goodbye.
I took that experience as an example of how simple it is to give respect and treat people well. She was far more than a simple touch of class.
Thank you and R.I.P.