Close Encounters with the Rich and Famous!

Like many of you I have had my brief, well actually exceedingly brief, encounters with people who have achieved celebrity status, fame, wealth, and power. The following is a recap of those encounters that were most memorable to me. Some folks may be famous or prominent only to me but as the author that is my prerogative. My apologies to some of the people I left off the list. In the end you just weren’t famous enough.


Randy Quaid: I think Randy Quaid is one of the most versatile actors ever. From Cousin Eddie in the Vacation movies to the trail boss in Brokeback Mountain, ( Yes I watched Brokeback Mountain and yes I felt sorry for Ennis after Jack died), Quaid is a consummate pro. I was standing in line at a K&B drugstore in New Orleans and he was right behind me. I turned, looked at him, and blurted out “What are you doing here?”  At the time he was a regular on Saturday Night Live. He could not have been nicer. He said he was in town to visit his brother Dennis who was shooting the Big Easy.

Peter Weller: I was in a group of people getting ready to walk , not run, in the Corporate Cup Road Race in New Orleans. I looked over my shoulder and standing over to the right of me was Robocop himself. I almost said something to him and then remembered that he also made The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Robocop was good, Buckaroo was awful. So awful that the promised sequel Buckaroo Banzai Versus the World Crime League never got made. I decided to not say hello. Hey I have my standards.

Jerry Seinfeld: I was in the bar at the Hilton Hotel in Lafayette, Louisiana for the Louisiana Young Bankers covention when I saw Jerry Seinfeld walk in. I am a hardcore Seinfeld fan. I know almost all of the episodes by heart. He later came back in the bar with his group and pulled out a cigar. Sitting with him was a comedian I recognized who had appeared in the episode where everyone got caught in a traffic jam for a Puerto Rican festival. He was the guy that had the famous Jackass exchange with Jerry. In the most incredible act of cowardice I have ever experienced I went up and spoke to him instead of Jerry. To paraphrase George Costanza, “I am Wautlet. Lord of the Idiots.”

Tom Brokaw: The Republican National Convention was in New Orleans. I was taking the streetcar to work when I saw NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw jogging down the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground. I leaned out the window and waved at him. He waved back. Tom Brokaw is a nice guy.

Phylicia Ayers-Allen and Philip Michael Tubbs: I didn’t exactly meet Mrs. Huxtable or Tubbs from Miami Vice but I was in a movie with them. It was called False Witness. In our scene together I walk past them arm in arm with a woman. If you look real fast you can see my back. That is if you can even find this movie anywhere. I also saw Ahmad Rashad hanging around the set. You know the former Minnesota Viking and television sports analyst? Ahh never mind.

Aaron Neville: Actually I know his son Ivan, as we were grammer school classmates. He was a local muscian at the time who had yet to record his duet with Linda Ronstadt. The Neville Brothers actually performed at our school for us. My mother and he met in the Principal’s office after Ivan and I had gotten into a fight. I’m pretty sure she didn’t ask for his autograph and I’m equally sure he didn’t offer it. 

Bob Barker: You know him as the long time host of “The Price is Right” but before that he hosted a show called “Truth or Consequences” that pitted contestants in funny competitions for prizes. He took that premise on the road and called it “Bob Barker’s Fun and Games Show.” When he came to Shreveport his advance team selected college kids to assist with the acts. I was chosen and made $50.00. I also met Bob, his wife, and the dogs they traveled with.

Dendy McCollam: Dendy dated a high school classmate of mine and her family was close friends with my in-laws. Dendy played a prostitute who got killed by Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire. Ok she’s not famous but she did get bit on the neck by Cruise.


Oliver North: I was at a fundraiser for Louisiana Governor Mike Foster. There were actually two groups. Some tables were just there to eat and hear Foster speak. Others got to have their picture taken with Oliver North. I was told by my host that my table fell in the first category. When I went to check in I told the young lady registering guests who I was and who my host was. I was then directed to get in a line. At the end of the line was Oliver North. Halfway through I saw my host and waived at him. He looked at me like ‘What are you doing in that line?” I couldn’t recall exactly what Oliver North had done to achieve celebrity but I did remember he had a beautiful assistant named Fawn Hall. I called my wife while in line and told her that I was in fact going to meet Oliver North. She asked if I even knew what he was famous for? I muttered something about Fawn Hall and my wife started yelling at me “The Iran-Contra Affair, The Iran Contra Affair!” I’m pretty sure at least three people in front of me and behind me heard her.

Louisiana Governors Edwards, Treen, Foster, Blanco, and Jindal: I shook hands with Edwards at the opening of a new multi-purpose facility in St. Tammany Parish. I was surprised at how small he was. Treen lived in the same community I did north of New Orleans so I saw him at a lot of civic functions. Foster, Blanco, and Jindal I met at various Chamber of Commerce functions, including one at the Governor’s Mansion. I also have met various Senators and Congressmen but if you live long enough everyone will meet politicians, whether you want to or not.


Elgin Baylor: Elgin Baylor was Michael Jordan before there was his Airness. He was a year in and year out All Pro for the Los Angeles Lakers. Only chronically bad knees kept this 6’5″ basketball magician from setting even higher standards of greatness. He scored 71 points in a game before the three point shot! I was in the New Orleans Airport when I saw him. He was retired and was coaching the NBA New Orleans Jazz. My mother was dropping me off and must have seen me staring with my mouth wide open. When I explained to her who it was she promptly went over and grabbed him by the arm and dragged him over to meet me. Despite the distress in his eyes and my stuttering apology he was nice enough to shake my hand.

Robert Parish: While in college I was the sports editor of my college newspaper. Robert Parish, who later went on to everlasting fame as a Boston Celtic, was about to enter his second season as a Golden State Warrior. I, along with more established journalists, got to interview him. The next day I read both Shreveport newspapers and lo and behold most of the quotes they used were from my questions. It was a defining moment for me and sent me heading away from the Fourth Estate and into finance.

Hal Sutton: Hal was a year ahead of me in college and and an All-American golfer. He later had a distinguished pro career and was a Ryder Cup Captain. I actually wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated about Hal after they had done a story on him and it was printed. I did play pick up basketball against him and the other golfers and if I may say so it was no contest. I was totally dominant! Of course afterwards he got in his BMW and went home and I walked back to the KA house.

Tony Dorsett: While I was coaching at Southfield School in Shreveport Pat Tilley, a Shreveport native and St. Louis Cardinal football player, would use our facility for his football camp. He got some big names for the time, Roger Carr of the Baltimore Colts, Ezra Johnson of the Green Bay Packers, the late Joe Delaney of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Tony Hill of the Dallas Cowboys. However the biggest name was Heisman Trophy winner and All Pro Tony Dorsett, also of the Cowboys. I had to drive to the airport and pick him up. I remember that he was a lot bigger in person and that he told me his high school coach would let him and others drink beer at his house. I guess even in high school Tony D was in charge.

Eli Manning: I was at a New Orleans Hornets game in a suite compliments of a local film producer. Because it was a “Hollywood” event I wore a black turtle neck with black slacks. After the game I ran into an old friend who was also Cooper Manning’s brother-in-law. He invited me to Maximo’s to have a drink. Once I arrived I saw that not only was Cooper there but also Eli. I shook Eli’s hand dressed like Dieter from an episode of Saturday Night Live’s Sprockets. I didn’t feel like a little girl but I did feel like a damn fool without my normal preppy clothes on. Two years later he was a Super Bowl MVP.

Archie Manning: if you were a kid growing up in the seventies in New Orleans there was only one football God and his name was Archie. As a high school junior I was standing on the corner of Seventh St. and St. Charles Avenue watching a Mardi Gras parade. I turn around and see Mr. John Wenzel. Mr Wenzel, also known as Big, had three sons who attended Country Day school with me, all of whom went on to play college football at Tulane. Mr. Wenzel introduced me to Archie. I think I said something inaudible and then just stared at him. In my home office is an autographed photo of Archie and an Archie action figure. The Saints now have Drew Brees but before him was Archie! 

Drew Brees: The bank I work for holds a conference every summer. This past summer the keynote speaker was Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. We all got to have our picture taken with him. As a then 51 year old it is little embarrassing to say that I was excited about the picture but it is what it is.

Deion Sanders: I was at a Saints game in a suite when Prime Time and his wife came and sat by me. He was nothing like his on air personality. He was quiet and reserved, even while people were sticking phones in his face and imitating his end zone dances. He did point out Michael Irvin to me across the stadium. Other than that he didn’t say much. He also wouldn’t predict the outcome of the game although he did tell me why he was the only one who could return a kick off up the middle of the field.

Allan Iverson: The consummate NBA bad boy was drinking in a Southfield, Michigan hotel bar that I happened to be staying at for a Final 4 trip. Emboldened by liquid courage I walked over to his table, sized up the large men he had sitting with him, told him that I saw him play in New Orleans when he was a Philadelphia 76er, that I thought he was amazing, and I hoped he recovered from his injury soon. He thanked me. I stuck out my hand, he stuck out his fist. I made a fist, he opened his hand. Awkwaaard.

Sean Tuohy: I played middle and high school basketball against Sean and was also friends with his older brother and sister. He was an all state point guard who later became an all SEC point guard at Ole Miss. However you know him as the legal guardian of Michael Oher from the Blind Side. By the way he looks nothing like Tim McGraw.

Ron Swoboda: Ron Swoboda was a local New Orleans sportscaster and also the voice of the Triple AAA New Orleans Zephyrs baseball team. I actually got to to throw out the first pitch at a Zephyrs game, one of the most treasured traditions we Americans have. You might ask why he is on the list? Ron was a member of the 1969 New York Miracle Mets. Every time that team is mentioned they show an outfielder leaping sideways into the air making a circus catch. The player in that iconic moment was none other than Ron Swoboda!

Kathy Johnson: Kathy was a college classmate of mine. She was  number one ranked female gymnast in the nation and went on to Olympic fame in 1984 when she won a silver and bronze medal. We had freshman english together, at least we did the times I showed up to class.

Near Misses

Harry Connick Jr: When my wife and I were dating I took her to Snug Harbor located in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans. We passed a part of the bar that a had a guy playing piano, with no cover charge. The doorman said it was a good show. I said something along the lines of ” The District Attorney’s son? You gotta be kidding me!” A few months later the soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally came out. Remember I’m still Lord of the Idiots.

John Grisham: After our oldest son was born my wife and I moved to a new apartment further Uptown in New Orleans. We were one block off of Magazine Street, which had a lot of shops and coffee houses. I used to stroll our son around there daily. One day I passed a bookstore called Beaucoups Books. They advertised that an author would be doing a book signing later that afternoon. I thought it might be neat to have a signed book by an author and then I figured he would probably not amount to much and it would be a waste of time. The book was The Firm.

Of course I think my list is great but if you ask any kid my wife has me beat by a mile, a Miracle Mile. She was a consultant on the Lifetime film of the same name. It told the story of a woman, played by Mary Louise Parker, who raised two boys with autism. One of the boys that my wife worked with in that movie is a little bit famous now. His name? Zac Efron.

About Merrill Wautlet

I am a finance professional and volunteer coach. I have also served in a leadership role for numerous non-profit and civic organizations. For a complete profile feel free to check me out on Linkedin.
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