How to Approach a Celebrity, Vol. 6, Issue 36

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is the most proper way to approach a celebrity?

I have a colleague who recently ran into Bruce Willis in a hotel lobby in Paris while on a business trip. She babbled to him, and apparently he was very kind to her as she was blathering on. It got me thinking - what is the most proper way to approach a celebrity that one encounters unexpectedly? Respect their privacy? Sneak a glance at them, but no more? Approach them respectfully? The paparazzi approach? I'm sure that Etiquetteer may have some gracious pointers in this regard.

Dear Starstruck:

Etiquetteer has had to think very carefully about this, and has come up with two Truths About Celebrity Interaction: a) celebrities are people, too; b) no matter what their publicists would have you believe, celebrities do not care about you. So the short answer to your query is not to make a fuss.

A Celebrity Who Will Not Be Named, after an outstanding career in notorious movies, finally decided not to go out to bars any longer. He got tired of being recognized as a celebrity and was quoted as saying "I just want to be myself." Etiquetteer thinks just about any celebrity feels the same way. One has only to look at the extraordinary lengths to which certain superstars have gone to avoid dealing with fans. Quite possibly the most famous example is the late Greta Garbo. Before she became a recluse, she used all sorts of subterfuges to escape notice; once she even had the studio makeup artist disguise her as an Asian woman so she could dine in a restaurant with her lover of the moment. These days the likes of Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor travel with bodyguards.

Some celebrities might even make fun of you behind your back. When mistaken for Edna St. Vincent Millay by an old man in a diner, famously irreverent Tallulah Bankhead convinced him that she was really the inspirational poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox.*

When accidentally thrown together with a celebrity, the best thing to do is not to mention their celebrity status at all. Etiquetteer wishes he could remember who recently told him the story of a friend who met Michelle Pfeiffer at a wedding. Both friends of the couple, they met while signing the guest book and passed the time talking the Happy Couple. Noreference was made to La Pfeiffer’s film career. But when you see someone on the street or in a hotel lobby, like your friend and Bruce Willis, the most respectful approach is to say simply "I just had to tell you I love your work" and then leave. Don’t ask inappropriate questions, don’t ask for an autograph, and don’

t take photos.

These situations are quite different from when you are invited to meet a celebrity, for instance backstage at a theatre or at an event where the celebrity is featured. Such occasions are established around the celebrity’s, uh, celebrity; in other words, they expect it and aren’t caught off guard. Etiquetteer vividly remembers being taken as a young boy to meet the legendary singer Roberta Peters in her dressing room after a recital. More than any other space, the dressing room is the celebrity’s own territory; to be willing to admit a stranger signifies that a celebrity wants to spend time with one. Many years later Etiquetteer was privileged to meet (on different occasions) Jeff Bridges, Judith Martin, Liv Ullmann, and the legendary Celeste Holm, among others. All of them were Perfectly Gracious, no doubt in part because they knew why they’

d been invited.

*This lovely anecdote from Eugenia Rawls’

book Tallulah: A Memory.

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