In the early ’80s, I worked on a television talk show, and Cybill Shepherd was a planned guest host. One of the station’s directors had a legendary crush on her; her poster hung prominently in his office, a shrine to his devotion.
The day she arrived, Joe “happened by” our offices, which were at the end of an obscure hallway. He boldly approached her and introduced himself. She smiled politely, shook his hand, and said something along the lines of what her character said to Charles Grodin in The Heartbreak Kid after he traveled across the country to find her: “I’m really very flattered.” Now goodbye.
Joe was excited to have met her, but later that day, he took down the poster.
My celebrity crushes have been somewhat obscure: Larry Bird, Guillermo Vilas, Aidan Quinn. But Sex and the City changed that. I loved all the regulars, but especially Chris Noth. As Mr. Big, he was sexy on every level: funny, naughty, elusive, and intelligent—wrapped in a delicious package.
I was in New York with a male companion a few years back, and we were looking for a place for dinner after a show. We chose a restaurant listed in the playbill: Da Marino. There, the hostess greeted us and started to show us to our table. When we walked into the dining room, I saw Chris Noth seated at a large table in the center of the room. I raised my eyebrows at the waitress. “Is that…?” She nodded discreetly, and led us to a cramped table, the closest to his. It was along the wall, practically under the coat rack.
“Is this okay?” she asked with a knowing smile.
I smiled back as I took my seat. “This is just fine. Perfect.”
I pretended to read the menu and pay attention to my date, but Noth was hard to ignore. In fact, he was a bit of an ass, talking loudly and swearing. Still, I wanted to make contact with him, so I stared at him until he looked at me. Then I smiled and mouthed, “Hi.” He smiled back, but I immediately looked away, embarrassed by my boldness.
After dinner, he left, and he didn’t come by my table to try to steal me away from my date, which would have posed quite a dilemma. Still…disappointing.
Earlier this year, I learned that author Jonathan Franzen was being interviewed at Harvard. I’d had a crush on him for years, though it became strictly an intellectual one once I learned he had a long-term girlfriend. (Even in fantasy, I won’t get hung up on someone who’s unavailable.) I had written him a letter shortly after The Corrections came out, and he graciously sent a postcard in reply. When I wrote him again, he responded with a letter—now one of my most prized possessions, the equivalent of a teenage girl’s autographed picture of Robert Pattinson.
When I heard about the Harvard event, I dropped everything—kids be damned—dolled myself up a little, and made sure I got there early enough to get a good seat. I was in the third row, close enough to call out to him when he arrived. He came over.
“I wanted to introduce myself.” I held out my hand, and he shook it. I said my name and mumbled something about letters.
“Thank you for coming out,” he said.
Did he have any clue who I was? I doubt it, but he pointed to the half-empty front row, which had been reserved for dignitaries. “Do you want to sit down here?”
That was the start of an evening that did not disappoint. During the interview, he was everything I thought he would be: brilliant, deep-thinking, and genuine. My head nearly fell off from shaking itself up and down in agreement with him; we were simpatico on every topic.
Before Franzen arrived, I texted a friend to tell him where I was sitting. “Get his attention. Lift your shirt,” he advised. While that wasn’t quite my style, the room did get uncomfortably hot, and I had to remove my cardigan to reveal the form-fitting sweater beneath. He might have looked my way briefly—not the possessed head-swivel I’ve seen some men do—more likely distracted by the movement and flash of white skin than my Mae West bosom.
During the question-and-answer period, I asked a stupid question (I lacked a piece of information that would have prevented that), but tried not to beat myself up over it. How could I? I’d spent an hour breathing the same air as Jonathan Franzen, and fantasy fulfillment really doesn’t get much better than that.