One of the drawbacks of living here out in the sticks will become obvious later this month when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the nominations for the 2018 Oscars.
Since most of the theaters within a reasonable drive stick to mainstream money-makers, it’s a safe bet that when movies, actors, actresses and directors up for the industry’s highest honors are named, The Mrs. and me will look at each other before one says, “I’ve never hear of (insert film or star’s name here), have you?
“Nope” is the most common response. Sometimes it’s “Uh-uh,” or “Were you saying something?” OK, that last one comes from me 99.99999 percent of the time. Then, before you can say “cut!”, the conversation veers far, far away from the current cinema, if you catch my drift.
When the Academy IDs the Oscar nominees, and when they hand out the statuettes a few months later, I can’t help but recall my one chance meeting with a bona fide member of Hollywood royalty, Cary Grant.
That’s right. I said Cary Grant. The smooth, suave, impeccably quaffed cinema legend who wooed leading ladies and took pratfalls with equal ease and style.
Would you believe that, although twice nominated, he never received an acting Oscar? In 1970 the Academy finally came to its senses and gave him an honorary (read “lifetime achievement”) award.
That was just one year before summer employment during college took me to the Bohack’s market on Main Street, Westhampton Beach. Although “Bohack’s” sounds like a digestive disorder, it was, in fact, a chain of grocery stores in the New York metro area before its 90-year run ended in 1977. Rite Aid currently occupies the old WHB location.
Stationed in produce, I helped keep the angled displays stocked with all manner of fruits and veggies, from bib lettuce to bananas. Back then, produce scales were in the produce section, not at checkout. Shoppers placed their plums or peaches or peppers in small brown paper bags then handed them to me. I’d put ‘em on the tray atop a sizable rectangular white enameled scale, then check the horizontal red line in the narrow glass window for the intersection of price per pound and bag weight.
With the price scribbled on, I sent them on their way.
During a backroom break, I asked some of the veteran staffers if any celebrities ever came in. I mean, it’s the Hamptons, right?
Yeah, every now and then, one of ‘em said.
Like sportscaster Howard Cosell. Remember “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” No? Ok, Google it. Or maybe YouTube.
Then another coworker piped up with, “And Cary Grant.”
Cary Grant? The movie star?
No, stupid, Cary Grant the ax murderer. Of course the movie star.
Wow! Sure, he was a bit before my time and I can’t recall ever watching one of his flicks, at least not all the way through. But even I knew who Cary Grant was. Ah, those killer looks and that swoon-inducing British accent.
I continued putting out celery and carrots, weighing apples and pears. As for celebrities, I spied Gene Wilder by the checkouts one Saturday. Some weeks later it was Orson Bean, who I recognized as a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” He appeared on Broadway and in films as well? Who knew?
Then one day in walked himself. The Sultan of the Silver Screen. The Master of Matinees. The King of … Fine, I’ll stop.
The store went silent, no kidding. Clearly, something was up. Then I heard a customer say in a reverenced whisper, “Cary Grant is here.”
So it’s true!
Suddenly women descended upon the produce section, grabbing brown paper bags, not for beefsteak tomatoes, certainly, but for a once-in-a-lifetime autograph opportunity. Or so they hoped.
Didn’t get the chance to gauge their success, or to pursue my plan of checking each aisle and, when finding him, casually yet confidently walk past him like I had a work-related reason to do so.
While watching the brown bag supply dwindle – What was I going to do? Put up a hand and declare in my best stentorian voice, “Ladies! Those bags are for fruit and vegetables only!” – the loudspeaker carried the manager’s voice with the one command I loathed.
“Kelly! Round up carts!”
What’s the big deal? Listen, I had a good thing going working indoors in air conditioning, away from the heat, humidity and sun that brought out latent freckles, sweat rings and baked my skin into the color of a summer sunset. Need I remind you that my ancestors did mountain mists, fog and rain? For them “copper tone” was a common hair color.
Out the south-facing back entrance I went, into the parking lot across from the old Grimshaw and Palmer hardware store, next door to the Westhampton Free Library.
Awash in self-pity over the harsh changeover to tropical conditions, I dutifully collected carts. And then, on the way back in, there he was! At the end of an aisle examining a can of who-knows-what.
Never had I ever seen a more handsome or striking man. On in years, sure, yet he stood tall in a loose shirt and matching pants of what I guessed were light, white cotton. Not eggshell, not ecru, not ivory, but white as new-fallen snow.
His deeply tanned face perfectly set off his oh-so-shiny silver hair. If a spotlight suddenly appeared, accompanied by a choir of angels, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.
But no heavenly music overpowered the clanking of carts as I manhandled a train of eight or so through two sets of steel and glass doors.
Should have had my mind on the task at hand, but didn’t. Should have noticed a single cart standing at an awkward angle between those I was pushing and a cigarette machine, but didn’t. Should have stopped, ducked through the “out” doors and moved that cart, but didn’t.
No, I kept on pushing, eyes fixed on him, the archetypal Hollywood leading man. It was inevitable, then, that my carts T-boned that one cart, sending it ricocheting off a cigarette machine and against my lead cart before slamming onto the floor on its side.
Bang! Crash! A multi-note, high-pitch metallic crunch assaulted the store. There was no way C.G., or whatever his friends called him, missed it.
He didn’t. Turning slowly toward me, face screwed up in disgust, he put down the can and walked away.
I never saw him again.
If only it hadn’t been so quiet. If only it had been Orson Bean. He probably would have thought it hilarious.
Can’t say how long I stood there, both hands still gripping the last cart’s push bar, smiling a stupid smile.
Well, there goes any chance of my being “discovered” in a Westhampton Beach grocery.
After clearing away the mess, I retired to the onions and oranges, red-faced from sun and celebrity overexposure. Sadly, no spray or crème could protect me from the latter.
Eventually the sting wore off, the memory faded.
It bubbled back up during a Turner Movie Classics’ homage to director Alfred Hitchcock. In our decades together, my wife and I watched only a few Hitchcock films, “Frenzy” and “The Birds,” and that while dating. In our maturity, we found the director intriguing and watched as many as we could. Guess what? Cary Grant featured prominently in several Hitchcock works.
Strangely enough, the Academy also didn’t think much of Hitchcock. Nominated five times for best director, he never scored an Oscar. What were they smoking back then?
True, light comedy wasn’t an element of Hitchcock’ milieu, so it came as no surprise that we never saw C.G. trip over his own feet or slip on a banana peel. Buy maybe, if in just one scene he stumbled into a line of shopping carts, causing a comical collision and knocking Katherine Hepburn, Sophia Loren or Grace Kelly onto one of their keisters, “It Happened in Bohacks” would have been a blockbuster honored with best actor and best director Oscars.
Hey, I’ve seen crazier plot twists.
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper. To read Tim’s latest column about his ongoing campaign for U.S. President in 2020, pick up the February edition of The Beacon at a newsstand near you.