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Washington Voices

Close encounters of a lifetime

Sat., June 26, 2010

Like many Southern California college students, I worked at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.; I was in restaurant services in the early 1970s.

Rumors about celebrities in the park traveled quickly on the Goofy Grapevine, and I served my share of luminaries. One day the buzz was about a famous stage and film actor, who’d had a big pop hit with an acid-trippy, melodramatic Jimmy Webb song about runny green frosting.

In the afternoon rush, a tall guest with an almost unintelligible accent politely gave his order to me. He had a bit of a familiar look, and as I turned to fill his request, I wryly thought, “If people think whats-his-name is here today, this must be the one they think is him.” Then realization hit…duh.

And that is how, in the land of fantasy, I came to serve burgers to Albus Dumbledore, otherwise known as Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films.

OK, not very weird. This is Southern California and Disneyland, right?

A couple of years later I dated a guy who was beginning his career as a cameraman. He moved away to Spokane, worked for a network affiliate, and left several years before (irony alert!) my husband Richard and I moved here. He’s now a successful cinematographer in Hollywood, specializing in “making of” documentaries and interviews; and it’s always kind of stunning to see his name on DVDs of films made by Spielberg, Lucas, and other big names.

Well, not too far out, but it gets weirder.

When I was 10, my average parents became friends with an average couple. The wife was first cousin to actor Jimmy Durante’s wife Marge, and they all went to Las Vegas together. Now what are the odds of that? I got to meet the Durantes and they were the sweetest people; you’d never know they were big shots.

In the early 1980s, my voice class teacher at a community college was opera singer Sara McFerrin, whose husband Robert McFerrin was the first African-American male to sing at the Met, and sang for Sidney Poitier in the film Porgy and Bess. At a teachers’ concert, Richard and I greeted them backstage and met their son, a small, shy, skinny guy; five years later Bobby McFerrin would shoot to instant stardom with the hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

When I related a couple of these stories at my favorite literary blog on World Storytelling Day, a music director with the screen name “Joivre” wrote: “Oh my gosh! Bobby McFerrin was my teacher of Creativity 101 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music during my undergrad years! What a small world!”

It sure is. “Joivre” herself knows scads of famous people.

For someone who doesn’t rub elbows with the famous, I’ve scraped some amazingly close “degrees of separation” from old and new Hollywood. I certainly can’t brag, nor can I exactly contact an old friend and ask to meet Steven or George, or Oscar-winning actors. I can only be rather amused by the odd propinquity.

That I, a “nobody,” have interacted, no matter how briefly, with some famous and vastly interconnected somebodies, who knew, or would come to know, zillions of somebodies … well, it somehow makes me feel connected to everybody, like I’m in an old Coke commercial or something.

Thinking about these “close encounters” makes me bet that many of you have some fascinating stories of your own. I’m not sure I’ve even told these stories to most family members or friends. Perhaps after reading this, they’ll delight me with their surprising stories.

Because, really, it’s a small world after all.

You can reach Spokane Valley resident Deborah Chan at


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