Chris Rodell [00:00:00]:
Today, I'm gonna be talking about the times I was confused for being an actual celebrity and what happens to the funeral when the national enquirer confuses your dead mother with the mother of someone famous. Hi. I'm Chris Rodell. I've written stories and features for just about every major magazine or publication in America. This is the use all the Crayons podcast, where I'll share those colorful stories with you. I've said before I didn't do many celebrity stories, and that's true, but only in relation to people who did nothing but cover celebrities. Those guys and gals were the stars of the tabloid journalism back in 1990's. They were the ones that kept tabs on Bert and Lonnie and did things like infiltrate Oprah's dressing room to detect if she'd gained a pound or two.
Chris Rodell [00:00:42]:
Why they considered it more necessary than me, I can't determine. I mean, let's see them come up with a story for the headline, baby born with wooden leg. There's not enough exclamation points in the world to properly punctuate a story like that, so I'm no innocent when it comes to celebrity news reportage. But this is no time for whining over perceived slights. Now is the time to talk about 2 of the times when I got to pretend I was a celebrity. They both happen in Baltimore. One time involved Julia Roberts, the other Bruce Willis. The results were mixed.
Chris Rodell [00:01:10]:
With Willis, the Enquirer had scored an invitation to the 1998 opening of the Planet Hollywood on Pratt Street near the inner harbor. Invites like that were somewhat easy to come by. With events, Some press agent would include the Lantana, Florida address of the Enquirer headquarters, and they'd call someone like me, someone inquisitive, someone steeped in Hollywood history, someone who'd drive 3 hours through a monsoon for a shot at a free drink. It was 1998. Really, I was there just in case Willis or any of the other celebs, I'm pretty sure 1 or 2 of them were the lesser grade Baldwin brothers, caught on fire or use their penis to extinguish 1 burning on another guest. Lines were up and down Pratt Avenue to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood glitter shitters. Security was tight. All the invited guests were herded through the VIP entrance gates at the end of a very long red carpet.
Chris Rodell [00:01:58]:
I approached the smiling lady and handed her my invitation. She took a maul from a fistful of sharpies and did some scribbling. Oh, you're our writer. You get to walk the red carpet. I demurred. There must be some mistake. I I couldn't. Turns out I could.
Chris Rodell [00:01:57]:
They gave me a swag bag and an all access laminate, and I was off. Have you ever walked a red carpet in front of several 100 confused strangers? They were cheering. They were encouraging. They were looking at me like I was either a local TV weatherman or one of those child actors on one of those giddy sitcoms his graduate from his recent rehab, but no one dared ask who I was or what I did. I was on the red carpet, and that was enough. Emboldened, I began to approach the rope line to share celebrity microbanter with people I began to consider my folks. I did not linger long. I figured the less time I spend in front of them, the less chance I'd have to be exposed.
Chris Rodell [00:02:48]:
I ended with a fabulous impromptu flourish. I was now nearing the end. Crowds were 10 deep on both sides of the velvet ropes. There's a table stacked with VIP souvenir shirts. I impulsively grabbed 5 or 6 of them, Ran back to the red carpet to secure the most attention, and I began to heave the shirts into the crowd. And I did it again. Everybody was very happy. Someone who they thought was a celebrity had been nice to them.
Chris Rodell [00:03:11]:
There was a VIP lounge where I was corralled, and I guess what you'd call a VVIP where the real debauchery took place. I did get to see how Bruce Willis, a real pro, did the red carpet walk, but his behavior wouldn't have made his parents proud. He'd sauntered to one side of the carpet, Grabbed the front of his polo shirt with both hands, lift the front of its shirt exposing his nipples. I believe he was trying to get people in the crowd to mimic the motion. And the more I thought about, the more it occurred to me that he didn't care if the men participated at all. It was lewd. It was crass. I was appalled.
Chris Rodell [00:03:43]:
The only reason I kept staring at the spectacle was so I could identify the women who fell for it and maybe learn of their weaknesses. So if one day I ever had became the father of daughters of my own, I could prepare them on how to best preserve their virtue.
Jim Beattie [00:03:59]:
Hey. This is Jim Beatty. I like 187. Officianados autos of vinyl records believe that life doesn't begin till 33 and a third
Chris Rodell [00:04:11]:
The other celebrity encounter also at Baltimore's inner harbor involved Julia Roberts and her 30th birthday party. It would be held aboard a Taco Bell sized yacht docked at the posh inner harbor. It's my favorite type of assignment because it involved travel to a well regarded metropolis, and I was hallelujah on the expense account. You could have fun in Daton on an expense account. True. The most fun would be buying a departure ticket at the nearest bus terminal, but you takes your fun where he gets it. But Baltimore has splendid amenities.
Chris Rodell [00:04:41]:
Best part was they had no hope I'd get anywhere near the pretty woman. My editor said, look. If you get something great, but there are no expectations, just go to Baltimore and have a great night on us. Can I take the missus? You betcha. We checked into the harbor court and began our stroll. We stopped at a gift shop, and I thought, jeez, we can't show up empty handed. So I bought some crab themed candles, some crab themed seasonings, and I remember I bought some crab themed boxer shorts. I remember they were inside out, and I had to rearrange them so the fly was out Front.
Chris Rodell [00:05:10]:
This time, I was done in by a peach colored Sharpie. I swear these star assistants in their Sharpies. She was very friendly and asked me where I'd gotten the invitation. I mumbled something about a friend of a friend. Sorry. If you're not on the list, you can't board. It's been 30 years, and I bet I'm still not on that damn list. So So we started to walk away, but I realized I was holding an armload of now pretty much useless gifts.
Chris Rodell [00:05:31]:
I turned and impetuously said, will you at least give her these gifts and tell her they're from her friends at the National Enquirer. And I don't know if she ever gave the gifts to Julia. I don't know if she ever heaved them overboard or if she kept them all for herself. But this much I know, including the crab themed boxer shorts was an unwitting stroke of genius because now I can plausibly say I've had my hands in Julia Roberts's pants. It's just a pity the pretty woman wasn't anywhere near them at the time.
Buck Pawlosky [00:05:56]:
Yeah. Yeah. I'm Buck oh you don't you don't video yet? No. Oh, yeah. Audio. Number 2, see a movie solo. It feels very liberating.
Chris Rodell [00:06:09]:
Good job, Buck. Of all the Enquirer stories I did, this is my wife's clear favorite. It's about what happened when I staked out Charles Bronson's mom's funeral. I think I know why. The story contains an appealing mix of bumbling incompetence, delightful coincidence, and a surprise happy ending. So it's just like a muppet movie without all the feathers and felt. Of course, to some, the story contains elements of morally questionable behavior on my part, and they find it wholly distasteful. So to some, it was just like a Charles Bronson movie without the buckets of fake blood.
Chris Rodell [00:06:42]:
Born Charles Buchinski, Bronson died in 2003 at the age of 81. He was a terrific actor with Western Pennsylvania roots. His biggest success came with the Death Wish movies. In those 5 blockbusters, He played a Manhattan architect Paul Kersey, an avenging angel who slaughtered evildoers who'd made the lethal mistake of harming his loved ones or other hapless innocents. It's the same formula for which Liam Neeson's succeeding in the can't be taken films. It was back in the mid 19 nineties. I got a call from one of my Enquirer editors saying They'd gotten a tip that Bronson's mother, a missus Buczynski, had died. They wanted me to attend the funeral to observe and ask Bronson how he was doing.
Chris Rodell [00:07:21]:
Now this wasn't my favorite thing to do. I loved writing features for the Enquirer. Stories that ran under headlines like town saved by giant ball of twine. I had so much fun working for them, and they paid great too. So I wasn't going to say no if they gave me an assignment that involved something unsavory or morally objectionable. It was all part of the job. And, yes, I enjoyed the skullduggery of a juicy celebrity caper. My photographer was more skittish than I.
Chris Rodell [00:07:45]:
He slinked up the hill with his long distance peeper lens to hide amongst the tombstones. He told me later he was approached by a suspicious maintenance worker. I told the guy I was there to get pictures of Charles Bronson. I told him I wasn't exactly proud to be sneaking around the cemetery, but that these assignments help feed my kids. He said, do you think I do a lot of bragging that I spend my days digging graves? Me, I discreetly snuck into the chapel and began scanning the tear streaked faces to the widely recognizable one. Then I saw clear back in the 3rd row, a silver haired profile of one of America's most successful actors. I remember thinking it odd that he wasn't in the front row. Maybe the star had an appealing shyness about him.
Chris Rodell [00:08:23]:
I told this story in a bar the other night, and my bartender reacted with true repugnance. He was appalled. That's obnoxious, he said. I don't care if he's a star or not. These people had a right to their privacy. But he was wrong. I was perfectly discreet. I lingered to the back and listened as the minister delivered a standard eulogy for the widow Burzynski.
Chris Rodell [00:08:42]:
She loved her family. She loved to bake. She enjoyed beach vacations at Ocean City. Taking care of her cat Buster brought her great joy. There was no mention that she'd raise one of America's most marketable movie stars. I kept my eyes glued on the stoic Bronson. My plan was to approach him after the burial. So I was surprised when Bronson beat a hasty exit before graveside services.
Chris Rodell [00:09:01]:
In my mind, I saw the eventual Enquirer headline. Bronson blows off mom's burial. I decided to stay with the family. My plan was to wait there through the burial and approach them as they made their way to the parking lot. When that time came, I straightened my tie, fell in line with the front row of mourners. Excuse me, I said. I'm sorry about your loss. I'm a local reporter.
Chris Rodell [00:09:20]:
That was true in a shady sort of way. And we heard about mister Bronson's mother. His fans would love to know how he's doing. Also true. The woman was baffled. She wanted to know, who's mister Bronson? It's alright, I assured her. I saw him at the funeral. It's just a quick word.
Chris Rodell [00:09:35]:
She said she was sorry, but she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her she didn't have to pretend. I knew Charles Bronson had been there to grieve for his late mother. I've dealt with many able liars in pursuit of difficult stories, and I began to sense right away, she wasn't one of them. This was a sweet woman about 60 who just buried her mother. She wasn't dodging. She wasn't insulted. She was confused.
Chris Rodell [00:09:56]:
That's when another man spoke up. He's talking about her cousin Frank. Oh, cousin Frank. Yes. He looks exactly like Charles Bronson. He He runs an auto body shop down on Maple. Frank and mom were very close. She couldn't have been more dear.
Chris Rodell [00:10:08]:
She apologized to me, in fact. I'm sorry you had to waste your time, she said. Nothing newsworthy ever happened to my mom. The highlight of her entire week was getting the mail the day the National Enquirer came out. Excuse me? Oh, she loved to read all the stories about the celebrities and what they were up to. It's all she talked about. Is that so? Absolutely. Well, let me come clean, I said.
Chris Rodell [00:10:29]:
And I told her that the old widow Bochowski's funeral had been staked out by 2 hired guns working for National Enquirer. I told them all about our preparations, our sly deceptions, and pointed at the paparazzi lurking up behind the mausoleum. That's when these 5 grieving family members collapsed with laughter. They were just overjoyed. I've never worked on a single story that brought so much instant joy to unwitting subjects. I'm sure it's still the first thing many of them recount whenever they tell the stories about the life of the widow Butchowsky. When I phoned in to report the non story to my editor, he already knew. Their tipster had been had it all wrong.
Chris Rodell [00:11:02]:
Charles Bronson wasn't fixing fended fenders down on Maple. He was vacationing in France. His mother had been dead for years. Guaranteed, you can go the rest of your life and never hear another story about 2 dead moms that has such a happy ending. If you enjoy the podcast, we urge you to complete the podcast road to success triathlon of share, rate, and review. Be sure to tell all your friends and urge them to tell all their friends. Like the podcast? You'll love the book. Crayon signed copies of Use All the Crayons can be acquired through chrissrodel.com along with 6 of his other books.
Chris Rodell [00:11:32]:
When people ask me what the book is about, I truthfully tell them it's about 200 pages. Learn the Fine art of knowing precisely when to quit. Thank you.