It was 1999, and my final Spring Break of high school. A friend of mine was moderately obsessed with Kevin Spacey at the time so for an early graduation gift, her mother sent her off to New York City for a few days to see Mr. Spacey in The Iceman Cometh on Broadway. She also got to bring a friend, and that friend was me.
We were two eighteen year-olds on our own in Manhattan - it was fantastic. We stayed at the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel, had no parents there to tell us when to come home, and walked around like we owned the place. Getting asked for directions only made it all the more clear: We could totally be New Yorkers one day.
The Iceman Cometh was in its preview run a couple of weeks before the official opening and we were there to see it. I could cut and paste a little synopsis here because I don't remember what it was about, but that's not really the point of the story, is it? Fast forward to after the curtain came down, and we scurried out front of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, playbills in hand, to collect Mr. Spacey's John Hancock. Sadly, the crowd had already formed by the time we got there, and although we were able to reach through the people when his highness emerged from the stage door to get our playbills signed (if you consider an illegible scribble a signature), there was no talking to the actor. And isn't that what every fan really wants? To engage in the smallest bit of dialogue on which to base an imaginary relationship? We hung around and watched a few other actors trail out before heading back to the hotel. Had I known at the time who Paul Giamatti was, I would have asked him to sign my playbill, as well. And although I knew Tony Danza from his Who's The Boss days, I was somehow unimpressed by his presence. (Weird, since I'm easily starstruck.) The star of that night turned out to be Robert Sean Leonard (My Best Friend is a Vampire, Dead Poets Society, House), but that's another story. Focus, damnit!
The following night we got tickets to see Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz in Death of a Salesman. (This is relevant, I promise.) Now Brian Dennehy I knew from Cocoon (1985), but apparently Ms. Franz was a big deal actress that I should have know, but didn't. Anyway, the play was great and let out just a tad earlier than Iceman around the corner, so instead of waiting around for more autographs, we hightailed it back to the actors' exit door at Iceman to get another chance to rub elbows with the stars.
It was perfect - the show hadn't gotten out yet, so we were the only ones there for the first few minutes. My Spacey-obsessed friend suddenly became too cool to stand with me once people started coming out of the theatre, so I hung out by myself right at the barricade meant to keep the common folk from getting too close to the talent. The crowd grew thicker, as did the anticipation. Every time the door squeaked open everyone held their breath (you could actually hear it) until someone other than Kevin Spacey walked out, to their disappointment. The sad part was every actor who wasn't Kevin Spacey knew who everybody was hoping for, and acknowledged it. I was just thrilled to be right up front, so I was content to wait it out. Mr. Giamatti and Mr. Danza emerged and signed playbills, but the frenzy didn't really begin until the star of the show appeared.
When Kevin peeked out from behind the door, the people went a little nutty. Looking ridiculously sharp in his immaculate suit, he casually waltzed toward his adoring crowd smiling, waving hello and thank you, and was about to start accepting playbills and Sharpies, when my impending doom revealed itself. At the sight of Mr. Spacey, the crowd of people behind me lurched forward as crazy fans tend to do, so I could forgive them that. But what I had trouble with was that I'd been pushed so hard, I was involuntarily doubled over the wooden barricade, my arm swinging to catch myself so that I actually smacked Kevin Spacey with my hand. He stopped and turned to see who'd hit him to find me struggling to stand back up straight, smiling up at him and apologizing for the smack. And then Kevin Spacey talked to me.
"Are you being squashed?" he asked. And he was totally concerned, I could tell.
"Kind of," I replied, concentrating very hard on keeping cool.
And then Kevin Spacey single-handedly saved me from being smashed to death by a killer fan mob. He looked at them and said with authority, "People, back up. You're squashing this poor girl."
And they did. Back up I mean, not squash.
Then he asked if I was alright, and could he sign my playbill, and I was all, Thanks, but you already signed mine last night. I really enjoyed the play, by the way.
Then he was all like, I'm so glad, and that's how we became best friends for life.
The best part, aside from the fact that my life was spared by an Oscar winning actor, was that I'd behaved totally cool, like I could care less this famous actor was talking to me. Yes, starstruck easily but cool as a cucumber on the spot. I'm pretty awesome. Also, my friend was fiercely jealous of Kevin's and my newfound friendship and I had a great time talking about it for the rest of the trip.
|Kevin as "Hickey" in The Iceman Cometh; image borrowed from PlayBill.com|
Kevin Spacey, you starred in my very first Broadway play, and a couple of my favorite movies, too. You could have passed me by that March night in 1999, turning a blind eye to the mayhem, and not getting yourself involved with the carnage of Broadway fans, but you didn't. You looked at me and saw a young girl in a vulnerable position (in more ways than one) and you, sir, took action.
And for that, I thank you.