Just this week, I mentioned the time I met Cyd Charisse, who died on the seventeenth. Years ago, I was a wardrobe slave at two different summer stock theaters, and Ms. Charisse came and did a show and was marvelous. There was a day we had a funny conversation when she needed help with an errand and her tone was so funny and she was so kind that this regular errand really made an impression on me. Plenty of people came and went on the stage of these theaters, some has-beens, some famous, some silver screen royalty like her. I was awkward and super-young and left with the crummy jobs of laundering dance belts and Lysol-ing tap shoes and scrubbing stage make-up off of collars, so I spent a lot of time in the way, way background where the has-beens, the famous and especially the silver screen royalty had zero reason to notice. But she did. And when she needed this help with this errand, she gave dance-belt washing wardrobe slaves the same interest and respect as she gave the man who signed her paychecks. I always liked that, and have thought of her way of being often over the years.
At the same gig, I also met George Carlin, when he came to perform a one-night stand-up show. For the wardrobe slave, the director’s slave, the prop slave and the box office slaves, these one-night shows were great as they were a break in our routines, and usually meant a job that felt more important. As I wrote, Cyd Charisse treated everyone around her so wonderfully and seemed so kind and interested in the people around her. It was only months later that I met Mr. Carlin and I can say nothing less of him. In fact, when I met him, as we started to walk through the greenroom so I could show him to his dressing room, I introduced myself in that, “Mr. Carlin, hi, I’m Amy Guth. If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. I’ve put a few local menus in your dressing room, which is just ahead if you’ll follow me.” sort of way and he stopped, shook my hand and introduced himself.
Now, by all accounts, everyone in the building was there to see him that evening. Everyone in the building knew him, or knew of him. But, unassuming and cool, he shook my hand and introduced himself and that’s always stuck out to me about the quality of person he was.
When he was ready for the show, I was to walk with him, in the dark backstage area, pointing a flashlight just ahead of his feet so he wouldn’t fall in the darkness. He made a “Yo! Don’t touch me there!” sort of joke, we laughed. He asked me if I was old enough to know any of his material. “Sure I am. I have a few of your tapes.”, I said. “Cool. Got any favorite bits?” he asked. “I like the one about pro-lifers.” He laughed and as the lights came up and he headed out to the stage area, he gave me a thumbs up, then opened his show with that very joke.
Odd that I met two people only months apart who both died in the past few days. But, as I’m sitting here thinking of them both, I realize the two of them set the bar pretty high for how successful people were to act. Not just “famous” people, mind you, but successful people. Though Cyd Charisse and George Carlin are extremely different, they both made a career out of doing what they each do best, enjoyed their work, were kind, easy-going and gave their full attention to the person with whom they were speaking in a given moment, making that person feel just as important as anyone else.