A little levity
Flashing and flirting with fleeting fame
By STEVE LANG
“In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol
The longer one lives, the fewer the degrees of separation exist between the celebrating and the celebrated.
These days, contact with the rich and famous looms as close as the camera lens on a Blackberry or iPhone.
And in West Texas, encounters with fame seem as common as cow flop, despite the fact that the drought has greatly reduced cattle herds.
Movies are filmed here. Tom Selleck once came to the aid of an Alpine lady who faked a parking lot accident just to have her photo snapped with the star of “Magnum, P.I.” and “Quigley Down Under.” James Dean took time out from the filming of “Giant” and went rabbit hunting with a Sul Ross grad. Julia Roberts partied outside the motel where I stayed while I snored inside oblivious to her presence.
At least a dozen old-timers recalled striking out against legendary Satchel Paige during a 1950s exhibition game at Kokernot Field, even though he pitched just one inning. Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Lou Brock also played at Kokernot, and former American League batting champ Norm Cash was a Sul Ross and Alpine Cowboy hero.
As a lad in rural Minnesota, most out-of-the-ordinary occasions were handshakes with politicians. However, my father, I was told, once passed on a chance to buy a car previously owned by actress Greta Garbo.
I learned that Al Capone passed through my hometown of 50 people in the 1920s, stopping long enough to buy candy and smokes.
Four decades later, Miss America – Debra Barnes of Kansas – rode in an Independence Day parade in a neighboring town, but for the most part, fame, like fortune, bypassed the communities where I lived and worked.
I was briefly on the high school wrestling team with Dick Enderle, who was told to “just bring your toothbrush,” if he wanted to play football at the University of Minnesota. He did and later spent later spent eight years in the National Football League. And I learned a high school classmate who became a nurse cared for Betty Ford in a California hospital.
When I received a Sul Ross degree, I became a fellow alum of Norm Cash and Hoss (Dan Blocker) Cartwright, both of whom were as close to me as my TV set, although I have since met some of their contemporaries.
The arrival of the 2012 Olympics reminded me that I also share an alma mater with an Olympic medalist.
Dennis Koslowski (not to be confused with convicted Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski) and his twin brother Duane starred in football and wrestling at the University of Minnesota, Morris in the 1970s and 1980s, then competed with the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Dennis won a bronze medal in the heavyweight division, while Duane placed eighth in his bracket.
Four years later, Dennis competed in the Barcelona games, this time winning a silver medal. In addition to his Olympic prowess, Dennis best typified the saying, “Physician, heal thyself.”
Off the mat, he is a chiropractor.
Somewhere in this litany it should be noted, as Anonymous said, “fame is the comic distinction shared by Miss Watermelon of 1955 and Roy Rogers’ horse.”
And famously or not, my favorite somewhat-connected-with-a-celebrity story occurred thousands of miles away, in Seattle, where I was not present.
It seems a distant relative – both in lineage and geography – had a next-door neighbor who owned a car previously possessed by the English poet Rudyard Kipling. The neighbor kept the vehicle in spotless condition, and for fun, would dress in a chauffeur’s uniform and taxi his wife downtown to major society events.
Once, he dropped her off at a downtown Seattle hotel for a fashion show. He pulled into a parking area ahead of a modern stretch limo, shut off the engine, stepped outside and started to polish the brass headlights.
The stretch limo driver gazed at the ex-Kipling antique with awe.
“Man! That’s some car! Wow! The lady who owns that must be loaded!”
The husband merely nodded and continued polishing the brass.
“Hey!” the limo jockey said conspiratorially. “Just between you and me, does she pay you pretty well?
“Not really,” my relative’s neighbor said, “but she does let me sleep with her.”
Steve Lang is famous for sleeping through explosions, fireworks and celebrity visits. He is a transplanted Minnesotan who is often lost in time and stuck in space. He serves as director of News and Publications at Sul Ross State University. He is a native of Erdahl, MN, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received a Master’s degree from Sul Ross. He has spent most of the last 45 years in various journalistic endeavors, including community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota and news bureaus at four universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. He came to Sul Ross in 1998 and lives in Alpine with his wife, Clarissa Kaiser, four cats and two dogs.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog