How to REALLY impress a first date!
By Don Mueller
Have you ever planned something in detail, only to have everything completely derail itself? I see all hands up on that one! Have you ever planned something in detail, then suddenly fate steps in, and actually re-arranges everything into a much better progression than anything that you could've even deliberately thought of? Yes, that's happened to me a number of times also. As a person who believes in a divine power, I know who's actually orchestrating these things, but for the purposes of this article, let's just call it lucky fate!
Case in point. October 1982. I met a beautiful woman at a dance group that I belonged to at that time. I'll call her Ruth, especially since that's her real name anyway! We both agreed that we'd like to get to know each other some more, so we made a date. Usually, for a first date, I like to keep things simple. So I made plans to take her out for a pizza at a nice, quiet restaurant, one that had the right atmosphere so that I could talk to her. And, afterwards, I could perhaps show her my massive record collection at home. Or video collection. Or magazine collection. Or dustball collection. Whatever works, y'know? It was an hour before I was to pick her up, and I had left myself plenty of time to carefully get ready in full sartorial splendor. As I'm ironing my shirt, and humming "Tonight's the Night" to myself, the phone rang.
It was KLZ, a radio station that I was working for as a newsman at the time. They had just gotten the word that my press credentials for the Carousel Ball had just cleared for that night, and it was up to me to decide what to do.
Now let me back up slightly and explain what this was all about. Oilman and all-around rich guy Marvin Davis would have these Carousel Ball benefits every year in Denver to raise money to fight children's diabetes. If you had an invitation, and a few hundred or thousand dollars to spend for a meal, maybe you could go. Or, in my case, if you were a professional newsperson with a press pass, maybe you could go. This involved submitting an application a month ahead of time, so that the FBI and secret service could make their various background checks. Why so much security and trouble to do this? We're talkin' Hollywood stars and former presidents here. We're talking about a situation that's equal to getting lost backstage at the academy awards. Anything can happen!
Now things got urgent. I had to make some quick decisions fast. "Forget the pizza" was my first decision. But what do I do with Ruth? Tell her to forget the date? Bring her along and try to smuggle her in? Dump her? (no, bad idea. It would've made me Ruthless) I called her and said, "Baby, we goin' to a big party that's gonna knock your socks off, get dressed, I'll explain later". I grabbed my audio equipment, grabbed my 35mm camera, and on the way down, I "collaborated" with Ruth on how I was going to attempt to smuggle her into the affair, and discussed alternative emergency itineraries! When we arrived, I showed the security guard at the hotel area my ID and various press credentials, and we were ushered pass the ropes into a holding area. I explained to the guard that Ruth was my "photographer's assistant", which is a bit of a stretch since KLZ is a radio station that doesn't use pictures on the air very often! It worked. We both got our badges that we wore around our necks. We went to a party area, which consisted just of the press and the Hollywood stars. For one hour before the actual event, we could mingle with the stars, do interviews, take pictures, and just have one Hollywood-of-a-time! So who did we mingle with??
Awesome. Cary Grant. Gregory Peck. Kenny Rogers. Merv Griffin. Eva Gabor. Linda Evans. Eric Estrada. Brook Shields. Gerry Ford. Jamie Farr. Joan Collins. Anne Jeffreys. (the photos that you see at the top of this page were some of the many taken at that event by myself) I turned around. I saw an older women standing in front of me with bright red hair and these large tinted glasses. I surmised that her makeup looked rather strong for a woman her age before I recognized her. I was face to face with Lucille Ball herself! Forgetting to even introduce myself, I asked her a question about what it was like to be there. There was a long pause. Lucy looked at me carefully with those big eyes, and then proceeded to answer. Not only was I aghast at being in a situation such as that, so was she. She laughed and told me, "a lot of people think we have parties like this in Hollywood, but no, nothing like soirees like this!" I talked to her husband, Gary Morton, and he gave me a great interview. Later, Gary was talking with one of his old buddies in the corner, and I overheard them telling each other some jokes that were a bit too ribald for air use! I mustered up my courage, and decided to see if I could interview his buddy: Bob Hope. Bob gave me a warm handshake, and said "Hi, how are ya". As it turned out, that was my entire interview with Bob right there! But that's all right. I know he would've said more, but there were no cue cards available at the time! Remember Gary Owens of Laugh-In? Did you know that he talks that way all the time? He was very friendly when I met him, and he introduced me to his wife, and told me how great is was to be there, including the fact that his radio career started in Denver in 1957.
I said, "do you have parties like this in Hollywood?" He said proudly, "Yes we do Don, but we have more DRUNKS at our parties". I knew my interview was probably at an end when Gary said in his full radio modulation, "I beg your pardon Don, but your cigarette lighter has ignited my nostril hairs. Do you mind if I dunk my head into the carved ice bowl?" Later, I looked over to the other corner, and saw a familiar legendary comedian light his cigar. No, not George. Milton. Mr. Television himself. I was so surprised to see him, and before I had a chance to think, I told him, "how nice to see you!!" Boy, did I get the Berle treatment! I don't think I've ever enjoyed being insulted so much in my life! Mr. "machine-gun of jokes" let me have it both barrels for a good 7 minutes.
"Mr. Berle, I work for KLZ radio, the oldest station in Colorado."
"Well, you're talkin' to the oldest comedian, so it doesn't make much difference".
"What is your purpose for being here tonight?"
"What is my poipose for....that's the dumbest question I ev-vuh hoid, Don, but I wanna tell ya....that laughter you hear in the background is Gary Morton, Lucy's husband. He's the one who said, 'show business is my wife'.....by the way, is the Orpheum theater still around? I was going to go there to check my fan mail....I heard it was torn down?...Do you know? Are you from here?"
"I was born in Denver."
"Funny, you born here, I died here."
I think I was used! But for first hand education in playing straight man, I couldn't have had a better instructor! My friend Ruth wasn't doing badly herself. She had a mother-to-mother talk with Brook Shield's mom about what it's like to raise a daughter. Ruth saw Donald Sutherland just standing by the wall with nobody to talk to, so she welcomed him to Denver and had a nice chat. But the highlight of her night is when her idol, Gregory Peck walked into the room. She said, "Hi, Greg", and he turned to her and said, "Oh, Hi, How are you?" Later, as he was being interviewed by a TV station, the camera caught Ruth in the background-- a picture that she still treasures!
I'll have to admit, that evening gave me an adrenaline rush that I could never get from a pepperoni pizza. And yes, Ruth was quite impressed with the evening. I pulled off a first date that was too awesome to even contemplate. So......did I get lucky that night? I ain't tellin'. But I will say this: I can do the most incredible impression of Gregory Peck that you've ever seen........
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