My Brush With Celebrity

Well, people seemed to like the post about the time I stole a car, so I’ll tell you another true story from my life’s misadventures. This is about the time I used a famous actor’s hotel room for a day care center.

lou grant
Ed Asner as Lou Grant

Back in the mid 1980s, I was involved with an annual fundraising dinner in Chicago where the Norman Thomas and Eugene V. Debs Award was presented. Recognition was given to Congressman, political activists, union leaders, and such like.

In this particular year, we were very excited because Ed Asner had agreed to accept the award. You remember Ed Asner, right? He was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant (possibly my favorite TV show of all time), among other things. He was also president of the Screen Actors’ Guild at the time.

debs thomas dinner button
A button from the 1980 dinner. Looks very retro, right?

I have to confess, our committee was really not experienced in dealing with celebrities. So my friend Kathye and I didn’t think twice about picking Ed Asner up at O’Hare airport with Kathye’s rusted out beater of an old Nissan. I forget the model, but it was definitely a subcompact.

Ed Asner didn’t bat an eye, however. We didn’t know how lucky we were that he wasn’t the temperamental sort of celebrity. Instead, he seemed perfectly happy crammed into the front passenger seat next to Kathye (Ed Asner was not a small guy). Kathye was quite a vivacious young woman, so that might have had something to do with it.

Anyhow, back then lots us of baby boomers were beginning to have children of our own. Naturally, some of us acted as if we were the first generation in the universe to experience parenthood. Many people I knew believed that ALL public events, including funerals and ship launches, should provide free child care. They and their little ones should be accommodated under all circumstances.


I didn’t have kids of my own yet, but I was willing to go along with the zeitgeist. And so for the first time our award dinner offered free child care and we hired a couple of babysitters. (This was a TERRIBLE idea for a lot of reasons.) One of the organizers was assigned to reserve a childcare room at the hotel where the dinner was being held.

So. Evening of the event. Parents with small children are advised to park their offspring with the babysitters, who are standing outside the ballroom where the dinner is to occur.

The question is asked: where are the babysitters supposed to take the children? I check with the person who was supposed to reserve the room. He denies being given that assignment. WE HAVE NO ROOM FOR CHILDCARE.

What space can we possibly use? Only one answer: Ed Asner’s room.

So I accompany the two baby sitters and about half a dozen toddlers up to Ed Asner’s hotel room. Honestly, I had no sense that I was doing something outrageous.

I knock on the door. He opens it and looks at all the toddlers. The toddlers look at him. I explain the situation, and then he looks at me for a long time.

Finally, he says, “OK. But no ka-ka on my bed!”

The event turned out fine, and there was no ka-ka on Ed Asner’s bed when the toddlers left his room, which was a lucky thing.

What did I learn from this experience? First, Ed Asner has a good soul. Second, I don’t mean to sound heartless, but fundraisers should not be expected to provide childcare. Third, if you do provide childcare in a hotel room, cover the bed with a tarp in case of ka-ka.

45 Comments on “My Brush With Celebrity”

  1. I always loved Ed Asner, Lou Grant was one of my favorite shows too. I used to be a journalist, so that may be one reason why. What a good sport he was. I can hear him saying “No ka-ka on the bed.” Your tale has me giggling uncontrollably.

  2. What a story, priceless! It reminds me of my giddy youth when there was no childcare but we used to take our babies to house parties in their carry cots and leave them with the coats. It worked fine until a friend of mine absent -mindedly took the wrong baby home. It wasn’t even the same colour or the same sex. Similar carry cot though. Fortunately it was quickly sorted out. The baby now grown up and a tiger mother, like all her generation is appalled at the story.

  3. What a great story, and I can just picture the scene with him responding in that classic “Lou Grant” voice! 🙂
    My only brush with celebrity was during the early 1990s when my son and I rode up in a hotel elevator with Leonard Nimoy, his wife, and son. They had checked into the hotel right next to us and were assigned a room on the same floor. Of course after years of watching Star Trek I was completely tongue tied and could think of nothing to say except “Good afternoon Mr. Nimoy” !! *smacks head*

  4. Another classic story! I LOVED the Mary Tyler Moore show – I can still hear Lou saying “Get me Ted!!” Ha! When we went to the Minneapolis fling, one of my goals was to get a photo of me doing the ol’ hat swing at the exact corner where Mary did it in the intro to the show. All of the buildings had since been replaced with newer, glassier structures, but hey – it was still a great moment for me!.

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