john guzlowski

john guzlowski
Danville, Virginia, USA
June 22
I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after World War II, and came with my Polish Catholic parents Jan and Tekla and my sister Donna to the United States as Displaced Persons in 1951. My parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and DP neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, I met Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. I write about these people.


FEBRUARY 10, 2009 5:05PM

Have You Had a Brush with Fame?

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marilyn monroe and tom ewell
I was at a blog site reading a posting about brushes with famous writers, and I started thinking about them. About brushes with fame.

When I was in grad school at Purdue, people would sit around for hours and talk about their brushes with fame. How they met James Cagney or Al Pacino or Martin Luther King. How they had slept with Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan. How they were hitch-hiking and got a ride from Jim Morrison. That kind of stuff.

I haven't had many of those brushes with fame. I once ran into Tom Ewell (he was in The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe) in a subway station in chicago. This was shortly before he died. He was in Chicago to do a play, and he was in the subway, staring at the wall above the third rail. He looked tired, worn, unhappy, gloomy, like an ice-cream bar that was melted and refrozen. I didn't say anything to him.

(Suddenly, I'm thinking that maybe not many people remember Tom Ewell.  That's what fame is like.  What's Sinatra say?  You're riding high in April and then you're shot down in May.  Anyway,  to jog your memory, that's  a picture of Tom Ewell at the top of this blog. He's the one next to Marilyn Monroe.)
Whenever I think about brushes with fame, I think about what Isaac Bashevis Singer said about his favorite writer Dostoevsky: "I wouldn't cross the street to talk to him."
I feel that way some times about meeting writers. There's a kind of ecstacy that I feel in reading, and when I meet the writer of what gave me that surge I don't feel that ecstasy. I'm not sure why that is, but I just don't feel it.
Maybe it's like when we get high with someone, and then later after the high starts wearing off we're standing around and wondering about what it was we were laughing at, and all we notice is that we're both wearing gray wrinkled suits.
PS: I just remembered that my daughter Lillian had an amazing brush with fame. Rosa Parks came to her class when she was at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, and Lillian had lunch with her! That means I've had lunch with somebody who had lunch with Rosa Parks!
PPS: After I showed a draft of this to Lillian, she asked me, "How can you write a blog about brushes with fame and not mention your most famous brush with fame?" I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Don't you remember the time you almost ran over the nobel-prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow?!?!?!"
PPPS:  Well, I guess I have had a brush with fame, maybe even two. 
If you've had one and are willing to talk about it, I'm willing to listen.  It'll be like a brush with fame!

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Laugh, no brushes here :) not even brushes with brushes of fame.

You are missing one of the few nice days Chicago has been allotted this millenia. I'm surprised there were not spontaneous little explosions of joy going off around here. I went all day w/o my coat and was hot!! IN FEB :D Everyone is wearing a grin, but driving like dicks.

I'm going to be in Chicago on Thursday to do a poetry reading at the Polish Museum of America (on Milwaukee Ave). I hope the weather is as beautiful as late spring in Tuscany!
Hey John -- I like your fun side! Very amusing little muse on the nature of fame and famous people. As you already know, I had my fifteen minutes of association with fame during a brief but disastrous stint as a writer for Garrison Keillor, which I wrote about in one of my first OS posts.
My experience with Keillor supports your theory that writers are much more interesting in print than in person. GK was pretty grumpy, and he clearly didn't have much empathy for a novice comedy writer who'd gotten in over her head. I don't know how he creates such believable regular folks in his monologues, but I suspect that he, like a lot of talented creative people, pours the best of himself into his art.

One more writer story: My best friend in high school was a writer named Mary Gaitskill, whose novel "Veronica" was nominated for a National Book Award two years ago. My mother and I appear as thinly disguised characters in her first novel, "Two Girls, Fat and Thin."
Details, please, on how you almost ran over Saul Bellow.
Jack LaLanne took me to dinner in Morro Bay once and asked the restaurant owner to sit down and listen to me read poetry. I met him that day when I was riding my bike around town. He had a Porsche, I had a Schwinn.

Also, I waited on Robert Mitchum when I was working at Whispering Palms Golf Course at age 16. He tipped me $10 for bringing him something from the buffet line so he could be left alone.

I am not going to tell you who I slept with, chuckle.
I was, (am still) a big fan of a movie star named Aldo Ray. In the early 1980s he came to my home town and was going to be the grand marshal of our town fair. I was besides myself with excitement.

My 1st wife and I headed for the fair because I wanted to meet him and maybe get his autograph. In the movie, "We're no Angels" he towered above Humphrey Bogart so I'm walking across the fairgrounds looking for a guy about my height, (6' 6".)

I passed by a crowd of people and as I was walking by my wife said she thought that I had just walked by him. I stopped and looked at that guy and he was short... maybe a foot shorter than me, and balding.

He turned out to be a great guy, very warm and friendly but what a shock it was for me to find out he was just human, like the rest of us.
Talked to Studs Terkel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago one afternoon.
We both waited for a bus......he was charming and positive...took the bus whenever he could...he treated everyone the same..with charm and respect.
Me and Saul Bellow?

My wife Linda and I were showing Chicago to her brother Bruce who was visiting from the east. We were driving around the U of Chicago area on the south of Chicago, and Bruce was saying, "Say this is a pretty campus, what kind of people teach her?"

I was driving and started in, "Well, this is one of the great universities in the world. There are probably more Nobel Laureates teachng here then in any other school in the midwest."

Bruce is a scoffer and he said, "Yeah, like who, any names an average guy would recognize?"

I'm driving around these narrow streets around the school and trying to avoid hitting anybody because it's a Saturday and people are walking to and from shopping.

Bruce thinks I'm ignoring him and he says again, "So name some of these Nobel guys!"

I say, "Well, one of my favorite writers is Saul Bellow and he won the Nobel prize and he teaches here."

And Bruce says, "Yeah? What's he like."

And I slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a guy with two bulging grocery bags who just stepped into the intersection, and I say to Bruce, "That's him. The guy I almost hit. Saul Bellow!"

And Bellow must of heard me call his name because he looked up at me and smiled, and nodded his head.
Ric, you met Aldo Ray!

He was one of my favorites. He was a big star and then he was forgotten and then he tried to make a come back. I remember seeing him on the Mike Douglas talk show back in the mid-60s.

He seemed like a guy who needed a break.
Studs? Yeah, I grew up in Chicago, and never met him, but people always said nice things about him. I remember listening to his radio program when I was a kid--always interesting, and then those books of his.

One great book after another. He was terrific.
I ran into Brad Pitt buying potato chips in the chips/soda aisle at the South Miami Winn Dixie about ten years ago. Didn't recognize him and had to be told who he was by the cashier fifteen minutes later. He does not glow in person.
That's interesting about Brad Pitt. I would have thought he would have been one of those people who was like a warm fire on a cold, winter night--someone you were drawn to, had to get close to.
hmm, I guess I don't get around very much.
man, I wish I did not have clinicals on Thurs. I'd come watch you read.
I love your Saul Bellow story!

Several years ago, my husband, his daughter and I were having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in Santa Fe. Gene Hackman was at the next table. Unlike Brad Pitt, he did glow. At one point, our eyes met for a few fleeting moments. I glowed for the rest of the night, too.
I met a guy who knew a gal who rode the subway with somebody who knew somebody who blew a person who was once on the front page of the National Inquirer. Does that count?
Our group was invited to perform at the premiere of Braveheart - we danced in the crowd while The Chieftains played, and at the end of the night we shamed Mel Gibson into learning a ceilidh dance with us. (He's short, but smelled amazing.)
According to my mother, I threw up in front of a Kennedy once.

I shook the hand of Bill Clinton and someone (forgot his name) who was part of the ruling triumvirate in Haiti at the time. I wouldn't have shook the guy's hand, except he seemed to expect it and I thought it would be rude to stick my hand behind my back.

I had a driver once who'd been Boris Yeltsin's driver when Boris Yeltsin was just another apparatchik in the Soviet Gov't.
Hi John:

When I was in Kenya in college, we were hitch hiking and an old car from the 40's pulled over and gave us a ride. We quickly huddled in the back seat. Really didn't get a good look at the driver or his passenger.

About a day or two later we were at the airport waiting in line and the people in front were talking about Hollywood kind of stuff. I almost fell over. It was the same guy and woman who had picked us up--Mick Jagger and his wife (Bianca?). This was in the 70's. They were quite sedate.

The Seven Year Itch is one my favorite movies.
I've had quite a few brushes with fame especially during my time in the cruise industry. A lot of celebrities sailed with our line and many were real prima donnas. That said, Patricia Neal was wonderful - she and I spent a day together in Istanbul shopping and going to the hamam (Turkish baths) and she was a great scrabble player. She was always generous and kind with everyone and very funny. Mr. Blackwell was simply a handful and I seemed to be the only one who could console his ego.
I used to run into Princess Stepahanie of Monaco frequently and she always had that mad look in her eye as if she was going to take a big pair of lawn shears to her head and then run away and join the circus Oh yeah, I forgot. She DID run away and join the circus.
I had dinner with Jimmy Carter 25 years ago and he was just as polite and sweet as he could be but Bill Clinton was by far the most charismatic. I've run into Ringo Starr three or four times in different countries and we always look at each other with that "I think I know you look". There are plenty more, but these came off the top of my head. Thanks for the memories!
This is going to sound like bullsh*t but here it is. For a guy who was born and pretty much raised in the rural outback of southern Illinois I seem to have had more than my share of brushes with celebs, or at least former celebrity. When I was 13 I sold corn dogs to the members of Steppenwolf. They were performing at a fair. Nice guys mostly, they may have been stoned. Then there was Dave Mason of Rare Earth, J. Geils, Parnelli Jones, The Beach Boys, sans Brian. I actully sat and had drinks with Dave Pevertt of Foghat. The same for Ray Sawyer and a couple of other members of Dr. Hook. For you Chicago types you may remember Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows, I went to school with Rick Ogolini and was at my sisters home when Twist accidentally shot himself in the leg.
Most of my encounters seem to be with musicians, but , there were a few others. I spoke for few minutes with Micheal Jordan at the St. Louis airport. Once in Portland I nearly tackled Steve Allen, who was very cold and nasty about it. It was an accident and he was standing in the middle of the concourse reading a newspaper.
How fun! Well, I waited on Diane Von Furstenberg and Robert Redford back in the 70's at the Nassau Colliseum. It was some kind of fund-raising event and I was part of the wait staff for the caterers. When I was growing up, my block was full of kids. One of the kids we hung out with had an older brother in a wheelchair. He was injured in the war. He would spin around while we were playing kickball saying how he was going to write a book about the Vietnam War. Later, he wrote Born on the 4th of July. One of my best friends dated one of our schoolmates, Brian Setzer. I was good friends with the bass players sister, Roseann. Helen Slater, she played in Ruthless People and a few other movies, was in the same grade. And one time, at Tobay Beach, I had a full on fist throwing, knock-down fight with some kid because he was picking on one of my friends. It was Daniel Baldwin, the youngest of the Baldwin Brothers. When I moved to Florida, I ran into Dan Marino and his father at a laundrymat... I wanted to die! I also used to write for a music magazine and I ran into lots of musicians, but my all time fav was shaking the hands of Ann and Nancy Wilson. I was later able to go on stage and get Ann's tamborine, which I still have to this day. :)
Sorry, how could I forget? My son was on a show with Shaquille O'Neal a few years ago. He actually came in my house, sat on my couch and blessed the toilet! All 7 feet of him! Okay, I'm leaving now! Sorry to be so chatty! :0