Name Dropping with Jane

Name Dropping with Jane

I grew up in 1960s southern California. Back then, it seemed that rich and famous Hollywood stars were all around us, living everyday lives. For example, my father owned his own business, and the great Oscar-winning actress Bette Davis was his best customer.

The great Bette Davis.

My mother shopped in the same grocery store as Raymond Burr (of TV’s “Perry Mason” fame) and chatted in the check-out line with Barbara Eden.

Actress Barbara Eden. My mother knew her in the days before she became America’s favorite genie.

As I grew up, I had some celebrity sightings of my own. While waiting for a table at a restaurant one night, I sat in the bar and hobnobbed with rock-and-rollers Meatloaf and Dee Snider. A couple years ago Jay Leno happily wished my son and me a Merry Christmas; and Rue McClanahan and I had a nice chat at a bookstore one summer afternoon.

My family and I have probably had more than our share of celebrity interactions; and though we’re all practical, hard-working people, we still got a kick out of coming home at night and announcing at the dinner table, “Guess who I saw in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store today?”

But then, who doesn’t like to meet famous people? And who doesn’t like to casually drop a celebrity name or two in everyday conversation at just the right time?

Jane Austen certainly enjoyed doing so—at least, she did through the characters in her books.

In Persuasion Sir Walter Elliot made the most of his connection to a noble branch of the family by going out of his way to tell everyone he was cousin to the Viscountess Lady Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Carteret.

People part like the Red Sea when Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret sally forth, in the 1995 movie version of Persuasion.

When visitors came to call, Sir Walter ensured that . . .

. . . the cards of Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and the Honourable Miss Carteret, [were] arranged wherever they might be most visible.

And into almost every conversation he worked in little references to his famous cousin, saying, “Our cousins in Laura Place,” or “Our cousin, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.”

Sir Walter lived in constant fear that he might say or do something to displease Lady Dalrymple, and thereby lose his status in society’s eyes.

Perhaps Jane Austen’s most famous name-dropper was Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. His veneration for his wealthy patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh peppered almost every conversation he had. Long before Lady Catherine make an appearance in the story, Mr. Collins freely announced there was no low to which he was not willing to sink to show his devotion to that honourable lady:

It shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship.”

Under Jane Austen’s skilled hand, we can see the pride Mr. Collins claims for himself just by knowing Lady Catherine. And we can sense the undercurrent of desperation in every encounter Sir Walter Elliot has with Lady Dalrymple.

But in real life, Jane Austen was not impressed with celebrity. She resisted all efforts to reveal her identity as the anonymous author of Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Pride and Prejudice.

She even resisted capitalizing on the fact that the Prince Regent was a fan of her books.

The Prince Regent, later George IV

It was the same way in her novels; characters who were decidedly not star-struck had the greatest impact on the rich and famous. In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet didn’t see Mr. Darcy for the rich, influential man he was; she saw him as a human being—proud and arrogant, at first; kind and generous by the story’s end.

The same was true of Anne Elliot in Persuasion. When faced with the choice of visiting an old friend or joining her father and sister in chasing after Lady Dalrymple, Anne chose to keep her promise to visit her friend (and earned her father’s wrath in the bargain).

Can you think of other Jane Austen characters who refused to get weak in the knees after meeting a rich or powerful person?

How about you? Have you ever met someone famous? Please dish a little and tell us who!


25 Responses to Name Dropping with Jane

  1. I didn’t meet any international stars, but when my daughters were young there was a T.V. show in Israel with three singers, and the nicest was an american born violin and banjo player – Jonathan Miller. Years later, a disabled man had published a poetry book and was having a “launching”, and they were looking for a photographer for the event so I volunteered. I met the poet in advance so we’d get used to each other, and then came to the event – and Jonathan Miller was there! Turns out he volunteered regularly at the institution, and he and the poet had become good friends! We chatted a bit, I photographed him playing and singing, as well as with his friend, and sent him the pictures – and he actually used one of them as his facebook picture for a while! One of my proudest moments. Also, of course, the poet uploaded some of my photos to his page, which was exciting for me.

    • I enjoyed your story, Tali! How delightful that Jonathan Miller turned out to be just as nice as you judged him to be while watching him on T.V. years before. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Never met any of the rich and famous, but a friends mother was Leonard Bernstein’s first piano teacher. He used to sign his name Lennie with a big L in the shape of a baby grand piano. My friend still has one of the notes he gave to her mother. An engineer friend of mine used to work for Columbia Records in New York. He recorded lots of famous artists in the day. Interesting post.

  3. The most memorable meeting I had was when I was pregnant with my daughter. I was in a Dallas hotel in the elevator going to meet my mother-in-law at a party. The man behind me made the mistake of opening his mouth and speaking with his companion. Recognized Charlton Heston immediately. I mentioned that I had loved the Ten Commandments and wondered if it would be showing again. He didn’t know. So I wished him a pleasant and safe trip and continued on my way. I figured he would always be hounded by autograph seekers, and I felt that just speaking with him was sufficient to remember. 🙂

    • Wow, Gianna, Charleton Heston was a mega-star when that movie came out! That’s a great example of encountering a celebrity in places we least expect. Thanks for sharing the story.

  4. When I was around 13 years old, I met and got autographs from Randolph Mantooth and Gary Collins. I don’t remember Mantooth being particularly friendly, but Collins was very nice. About 15 years ago, I met and talked with Jennifer Ehle’s parents, actress Rosemary Harris and author John Ehle. Both were very friendly…lovely people. Then, in 2010, I was going through security at O’Hare airport in Chicago. I happened to turn around, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson was right behind me. He shook hands with those in my party and was very friendly. I’ve also met country singers Brooks and Dunn and American Idol singer Clay Aiken. I think that’s all. ?

    • That counts! You never know who you’re going to spot on an airplane. I was on a flight from Chicago to Hartford with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and The Buckinghams. They were terrific, as was the flight crew. Ken Burns fed one of the flight attendants bits of info so all the passengers could play an impromptu game of American history trivia, and the Buckinghams led the passengers in a sing-along to their old songs. It was hands-down the most fun I’ve ever had on a flight.

      • So very cool. I despise flying (after picking up bodies following the Marshall University plane crash), and that would have distracted me. I forgot to mention I walked the “green” carpet with Matthew Fox, Matthew McConaughey, January Jones, Anthony Mackie, Ian McShane, David Strathrain, Kate Mara, and Kimberley Williams-Paisley for the opening of the movie “We Are Marshall.” I was on the alumni board for Marshall University at the time of the filming and got to be in a few crowd scenes.

  5. While my only claim is sitting next to Kevin Costner at a movie in Santa Barbara back in the 90s, my boyfriend is in the film industry in LA and has met so many famous people that I can’t keep track (although I could list at least a dozen off the top of my head). He was also in the racing scene when we met, so he knows/knew a lot of the guys there, too. Even my boyfriend was in a couple of movies and can be found on IMDB!

  6. Okay, in another lifetime, I worked for a booking agent who handled some big names of the period: Tommy James & the Shondells, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Yardbirds, the Napoleonic Wars, etc. I spent lots of time with these band members, more than I should have.

    I also spent time in NY in a short-lived, but fun-filled dancing career. On Broadway, I met several “big” names. I adored Hal Linden of “Barney Miller” fame. He was in The Rothchilds at the time, for which he won a Tony Award. He attended a college with which I was very familiar, which made us “talking” acquaintances. Likewise, as Jesus Christ, Superstar was all the rage then, I met Ben Vereen, Yvonne Elliman, and even Andrew Lloyd Weber. There are more, but I cannot recall them all. It was a daily thing to encounter someone one has admired for years when standing in line at “cattle calls.”

    Later, I served on a National Media Literacy Commission. Naturally, we had to have big names as part of the group. I remember calling home and telling my son I sat next to Al Pacino at a supper event. My son said, “Cappuccino?” After that, whenever Pacino appeared in a film, we jokingly called him “Cappuccino.”

    Now, to satisfy the Austen fanatics, I once met Colin Firth. He and Orlando Bloom were in the Raleigh, NC, area filming a movie (which was a flop, by the way – called “Main Street” – they just couldn’t capture the NC accent – and, in truth, the film went straight to DVD). Some of my Austen friends wanted to go see him, so, naturally, I tagged along. When we reached the filming site, we were behind barriers. Finally, the filming took a break. My friends were all screaming “Mr. Darcy!”, but Firth turned to sign autographs for some less exuberant fans. The barriers shifted, and I moved with them, but my friends did not. Heck, all the experiences above told me when to approach a “star,” and when to keep my distance. At the time I always wore one of those pink rubber bracelets. As he signed papers and autograph books, Firth noted the bracelet. He said, “Is that for breast cancer awareness?” I answered, “Yes, but it also says, ‘I love Matthew Macfadyen.'” He laughed, and told me that was “bloody sacrilegious.” I told him I could not find one that said, “I love Colin Firth.” As I was leaving, one of the crew stopped and asked me if I would mind sharing my name and address, for Mr. Firth wished to send me something. Several months later, I received a small package from what must have been his agent. Inside, was a “I love Colin Firth” beaded bracelet. It is tucked away in box with all my “special” Austen paraphernalia.

  7. I didn’t realignment and greet but I did get David Copperfield’s autograph after seeing his performance at a theater in my hometown. I guess that’s something!

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