The Power of Fame
Here's a little notice that Jason Alexander has had to put out about people who converge on him with stuff to get signed. Like most famous folks, he has to differentiate between people who want one autograph as a treasured momento and people who have a whole pile o' stuff they want signed so they can sell it on eBay. Whenever you hear that a celeb is bitchy or rude about signing autographs, make sure you know which kind they're talking about. The seekers in the latter category can be very intrusive, very demanding and sometimes even a menace to public safety.
I've met Jason on a number of occasions and for whatever my reporting is worth, he seems to be one of the nicest, most approachable stars around. He's especially good if you have something more to say to him than, "I've always enjoyed your work." Not that he'd probably mind just that.
One night, we were both at a one-performance-only performance of a musical out in Glendale. Being a one-time event, everyone on stage had most of their friends and family there…and most of these performers were young and new at this. After the show, there was an informal party out in the parking lot by the stage door. There, much of the audience mingled with the actors, congratulating them and heaping deserved (in most cases) praise on them. Jason was mingling too and I noticed and was impressed by two things he did.
One was that he approached each and every actor and made a point of giving them some non-gushy, sincere compliments and gentle advice. I didn't exactly eavesdrop on the conversations but I heard enough to know he was finding something positive and encouraging to say to each performer and none of what I heard sounded phony. It took him a while to make the rounds and make sure he didn't miss any…and that alone was a fine gesture. But I figured out something else he was doing…
He was making a point of approaching each actor when they were with their friends and family.
There were moments when an actor was alone and Jason could have laid his compliments on the guy and split. That would have been nice enough. But he always waited until the actor was with loved ones. I can't tell you how perceptive and caring I thought that was.
Imagine this for a sec: You're a young actor, darn near making your stage debut. You have your parents there and other family members. You have friends and supporters there. And this is maybe the first time they've seen you in anything on a big stage in a real musical…
…and then up comes that guy on Seinfeld. A real star. A real actor. A person your friends and folks have all heard of. A guy who's made millions at the profession into which you're now wading. A guy with a Tony Award and a couple of Emmys and some others…
And he makes a special point of seeking you out to tell you you were good.
I spied on this because I thought it was so wonderful. I can still see the expression on some parents' faces and it just made me remember another place I saw that expression.
When Ray Bradbury passed away, I ran this obit and memory piece about him. Writing the above, I got to thinking about something I left out when I recounted my first encounter with Mr. Bradbury. A bunch of us teenagers had been to his office and spent a lot more time than we'd expected we'd get with him. Much of the conversation was taped so it could run in a fanzine published by one of us.
That evening, my parents asked me eagerly about the visit and I explained how nice Ray Bradbury was and how encouraging. They were thrilled that he'd invited me to come back on my own for some one-on-one advice about writing. I quoted a number of things he'd said, including something I no longer recall verbatim about how I could have a great career in writing.
My father's face lit up. "He said that? Ray Bradbury said that?" He had the expression I'm talking about here. "Do you have that on tape? Could I hear that?"
I told my father that my friend Craig had recorded it…but there was no need to get the tape. I was quite certain I'd quoted it accurately. I also didn't think it was that big a deal. Bradbury hadn't read anything I'd written and then said that. He'd just told a kid of unknown talent that it was possible to have a great career in writing. Why was that news? Nevertheless, my father insisted he had to hear it for himself so I borrowed the tape from Craig and played him that part and a few others…and that's when I really saw that expression.
I think I was around sixteen at the time. That I was going to be pursuing a career as a professional writer was already decided. Hell, it had been decided — by me if not by anyone else — ten years earlier. And while my father had great confidence in me and an even greater desire that I find an occupation that I would love as much as he hated his, he was worried. My father was a great worrier. A world-class worrier. And he was stuck in this profession he hated, toiling away for the Internal Revenue Service…so he'd met a lot of writers who weren't able to make a living writing.
It meant a lot to him to hear the actual voice of the actual Ray Bradbury say the actual words, "You could have a great career in writing." A lot.
Just as I'm sure it meant a lot to all those young actors' parents and friends to hear Jason Alexander, a guy who'd actually done it, say things like, "You're going to go far in this business." And it meant a lot to those actors to have their parents and friends hear him say that. Jason also posed for photos with the ones who wanted photos…which was, I think, all of them.
This may all strike you as me making a big deal out of very little. So Jason Alexander stuck around for a half-hour or 45 minutes to offer some encouragement to beginning thespians. So what? You could look at it that way. I just thought it was a very decent, kind use of his celebrity.
The piece of his I linked to above was him defending himself against some criticism somewhere that he won't sign autographs for the eBay mob. Good for him. It might be easier to just sign than to not sign but that just encourages them…and justifies what they do. If he signed for them then the next star who refuses is going to be hit with, "Hey, Jason Alexander signed for us." Ah, but if he doesn't sign for them, that just frees up his time and space for the kind of celebrity/fan encounters where he can use his awesome powers for good. I like that better.