11 Peculiar Meetings Between Famous People
By Bill DeMain
You'd expect famous people to know other famous people. But maybe not these famous people.
1. Nikita Khrushchev & Marilyn Monroe
In September 1959, during Khrushchev's American tour, he visited 20th Century Fox Studios. At a lunch banquet with hundreds of stars (including Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, and Gary Cooper), he was introduced to Marilyn Monroe. Wearing a low-cut, tight black dress, she delivered a line that Natalie Wood, a fluent Russian speaker, had taught her: "We the workers of 20th Century Fox rejoice that you have come to visit our studio and country."
Khrushchev was mesmerized. "He looked at me the way a man looks on a woman," Monroe said.
"You're a very lovely young lady," he said, squeezing her hand.
"This is about the biggest day in the history of the movie business," Monroe told the cameras. But later, she reportedly told her maid, "He was fat and ugly and had warts on his face and he growled. He squeezed my hand so long and so hard that I thought he would break it. I guess it was better than having to kiss him."
2. Samuel Beckett & André the Giant
In 1953, after the success of Waiting for Godot, playwright Beckett bought land in a French commune, forty miles north of Paris. He built a cottage with the help of some locals, including a Bulgarian-born farmer named Boris Rousimoff. Beckett and Rousimoff became friends, and would sometimes get together to play cards. Rousimoff had a son, André. At age 12, the boy was well over six feet tall and weighed 250 pounds. The local school bus couldn't hold him, and the Rousimoff family car wasn't big enough for him. So Beckett stepped forward, offering to give the growing giant a lift to school in his pick-up truck on his drives into town. Years later, André said that the two of them mostly talked about cricket.
3. T.S. Eliot & Groucho Marx
In the early 1960s, the poet and the comedian became unlikely pen pals. Eliot was a fan and requested a signed photo. In his letter of thanks, he called Groucho his "most coveted pin-up" and said, "Whether you really want a photograph of me or whether you merely asked for it out of politeness, you are going to get one anyway." Upon receiving Eliot's 8x10, Groucho replied, "I had no idea you were so handsome. Why you haven't been offered the lead in some sexy movies I can only attribute to the stupidity of the casting directors." After three years of occasional correspondence, the two finally met in London in 1964. Marx and his wife were looking forward to an evening of intellectually stimulating conversation, but all the ailing Eliot wanted to talk about was old Marx Brothers movies. "We didn't stay late," Marx later said, "for we both felt that he wasn't up to a long evening of conversation. Especially mine."
4. Federico Fellini & Stan Lee
During a visit to New York in 1965, the Italian film director caught a virus and was laid up in the Hotel Pierre. Someone brought him some comic books to read. Fellini was so taken with the exploits of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk that he called the Marvel Comics office and set up a meeting with the company's honcho Stan Lee. Years later, Lee recalled that his receptionist said, "Stan, there's a Fred Felony here to see you." Fellini entered Lee's office with a four-man entourage, all of them clad in black raincoats. With a translator smoothing the way, Fellini and Lee had a lively chat. Mostly, Fellini wanted to know about how the comic books were made. The two creative geniuses stayed in touch, with Lee visiting Fellini's villa in Rome and Fellini attending Broadway shows with Lee in New York.
5. James Brown & Alfred Hitchcock
Remember when talk shows used to keep guests on the panel together? One afternoon in 1969, Mike Douglas played host to Joan Rivers, Rod McKuen, James Brown, and Alfred Hitchcock. At one point, Brown leaned toward Hitch and asked a strangely confounding question: "In the picture Homicidal [Brown meant Psycho, but was confusing the title with a William Castle-directed knockoff], at the very end, this fella takes his wig off, as though he had played the part all the way through. Did you actually use a girl or did you use a fella?" Polite Englishman that he was, Hitchcock didn't embarrass Brown by correcting him on the movie title. Instead he offered a winking response: "I wouldn't dare tell you. It's a professional secret. That's worth money. Do you want to ruin me? What about my starving wife and child?" He then added, "I'll tell you afterwards when we go off."
6. The Beatles & Elvis Presley
During their summer tour in 1965, The Beatles visited Elvis in California one night at his Bel-Air home. At first, everyone was awkward around each other. Paul, John, and Ringo sat on the sofa with Elvis. George sat cross-legged on the floor. Respective managers Colonel Tom Parker and Brian Epstein stood off to the side. The television was on with the sound turned off. Elvis showed the Fabs the first remote control switcher any of them had ever seen. Finally, Elvis joked, "If you damn guys are just going to sit there and stare at me, I'm going to bed."
That broke the ice. Soon one of Elvis's buddies brought in guitars, and an informal jam session commenced. What songs did they play? No one remembers exactly, but, reportedly, a hit of the day called "You're My World" and "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles were two. Then they traded some war stories from the road, and talked about their mutual love for Peter Sellers and the film Dr. Strangelove. A few hours later, The Beatles left, with a complete set of Elvis records, a gun holster with a gold leather belt, and a table lamp shaped like a wagon – gifts from the King.
Elvis, by then far-removed from the raw rock 'n' roller that The Beatles had loved as teenagers, was something of a letdown. To John Lennon, at least. He later said: "It was like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck."
7. Elvis Presley & Richard Nixon
In the late 1960s, Elvis Presley started a hobby that bordered on an obsession – collecting honorary police badges. On December 21, 1970, he went after his holy grail, a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), charming his way into President Richard Nixon's oval office.
In a heartfelt appeal, the purple-suited Elvis spoke of his rags-to-riches story and his desire to give back by helping America in its fight against "the drug culture and the hippie element." Pulling out all the stops, he even pointed a finger at The Beatles, who he said had been "promoting an anti-American spirit."
Nixon was apparently perplexed by the visit, but figured an association with a performer as popular as Elvis couldn't hurt. At the extensively photographed meeting, Elvis showed Nixon some family photos and a collection of law enforcement badges. Later, Nixon awarded him a BNDD badge, which listed Elvis' position as "Special Assistant."
8. Edgar Allan Poe & Charles Dickens
In 1842, when Dickens visited the U.S., the relatively unknown Poe requested a meeting. In a hotel in Philadelphia, the two discussed favorite writers and the necessity for an international copyright law. But what Poe really wanted was help in getting his book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published in England. Dickens promised to do what he could. Nine months later, he wrote Poe an apologetic note: "I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture...Do not for a moment suppose that I have ever thought of you but with a pleasant recollection; and that I am not at all times prepared to forward your views in this country."
Actually, according to Poe biographer Una Pope-Hennessy, the meetings between the two "proved sterile and closed coldly. Neither seems to have liked the other much."
Twenty-five years later, when Dickens returned to America for his second tour, Poe was already dead. In Baltimore, Dickens learned that Poe's mother-in-law was ill and living on charity. Dickens visited her and slipped her some cash to help her out.
9. Orson Welles & Adolf Hitler
In 1970, while being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show, Welles recalled his long-ago encounter with an unknown Hitler. As a teenager studying in Germany and Austria, Welles had accompanied a teacher on a hike. "The teacher, as it turned out, was sort of a budding Nazi," Welles said. "And there was a Nazi rally near Innsbruck, in the days when the Nazis were a very comical kind of minority party of nuts that no one took seriously at all. This teacher wangled a place at the table with the great man of this tiny little party of cranks. The man sitting next to me was Hitler, and he made so little impression on me that I can't remember a second of it. He had no personality whatsoever. He was invisible."
10. Bob Dylan & Woody Guthrie
Bob Dylan has said that when he first heard legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie's songs, he decided he wanted to be "Guthrie's greatest disciple." In 1961, a 19-year-old Dylan – still Robert Zimmerman to the world – visited his ailing hero at the Greystone Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey. Guthrie was being treated for erratic behavior, later diagnosed as Huntington's Chorea. The two struck up a warm friendship, with Dylan returning regularly to play songs, both Woody's and his own. One of those original tunes, called "Song to Woody," ended up on his debut album in 1962. Their friendship was later spoofed on an SNL skit in 1980.
11. Steve Jobs & Andy Warhol
In October 1984, a 29-year-old Steve Jobs attended a birthday party for Sean Lennon, son of Yoko Ono and the late John Lennon. Steve's gift to the nine-year-old boy was a Macintosh computer (it had debuted earlier that year). As Steve showed Sean how to use the mouse, and a program called MacPaint, a few party guests gathered, gaping at this amazing machine.
"Can I try?" asked Andy Warhol. Jobs gave Warhol a quick lesson, but Warhol didn't get how to use the mouse. He lifted and waved it, as if it were a conductor's baton. Jobs placed his hand on Warhol's and guided it along the floor. Finally, Warhol began drawing, staring at the "pencil" as it drew on the screen.
In his diary, Warhol later wrote, "I said that once some man had been calling me a lot wanting to give me one [a Macintosh], but I'd never called him back or something, and then the kid looked up and said, 'Yeah, that was me. I'm Steve Jobs.'"