I remember one day in the early 80s when I waited on the corner of 79th street and Madison Avenue for the M17 (now the M79) cross-town bus to travel home from school. It was relatively cold – everyone was wearing coats – and the bus was taking a long time to arrive, so the prospective riders grew increasingly annoyed. One woman finally lost patience and hailed a cab. The one that stopped was dispensing a passenger and the man took his time. The waiting woman became more and more aggravated at his slowness, puffing up and readying to yell or strike when he emerged; imagine the Big Bad Wolf getting ready to blow. I was attentive to the moment, sensitive soul that I am, because I was anticipating her outburst with mild dread. His business done, the man finally emerged from the cab – and when his face turned out he was immediately recognizable as Warren Beatty. I have never seen a woman’s face change so fast; she near melted as he straightened up, glanced down at her briefly but did not smile or speak and then started walking away. I do not remember exactly what she did next – I think that she took awhile herself as she was climbing in while trying to follow the movie star with her eyes. I too was watching him, as who could not. Even for native New Yorkers glimpses of stars are a treat and I was a young teen. Also, he was not just famous and good-looking but incredibly suave in his gait, a fair swagger. I do not know if he had any idea of how angry the woman had been; I believe that he knew the effect he had on onlookers, but I am likely projecting his reputation onto this memory. I well remember how tall he appeared and how square the shoulders of his coat seemed, matching his face and jawline.
This sighting remains one of my favorites and one of the funniest I have experienced. It came back to me as I saw a headline about the new Warren Beatty biography and the report that he had slept with almost 13,000 women. At the time that I saw him I had some sense of his reputation but it was pretty tame compared to what I later understood. I know that at the time he was quite at the height of his fame and handsomeness. It became clearer on that day just what the fuss was about in regards to his particular self. He was also a striking example of how attraction is not just about one’s physical attributes, however beautiful, but also about one’s aura and air. He had a certain something that was broadcasting loudly, even in the absent-minded moment on a street corner.
Part of the fun of this memory is how many ways I can spin it. I wonder what any male onlookers thought of the scene. I wonder too how Beatty would have behaved differently if he had decided to hold that woman’s attention and even return it. I muse over how celebrities pique our curiosity and devotion and that even with their domination of screens of all sizes there is something different about them when seen in person; it is sometimes more magical and certainly notable.
©2010 Leah Strigler