Last December 1, 2009; General Yeager was inducted into the California Hall of Fame induction.
The day started out with an interview from the Sacramento radio station. Two radio personalities talking a mile a minute. I worried Gen Yeager would just tell them to cut it out. He didn’t. He kept up and talked fast himself. Unusual for a West Virginian – they like to smell the roses.
Gen Yeager told a story about Carol Burnett – she, as a very young girl, was in the first USO or such like show that came to his base. Every one of the millions of GIs fell in love with her and wanted to marry her – she represented the girls they had left behind.
The female radio host said: You have just melted the hearts of millions of females listening to our radio show.
The evening was beautiful. As we drove there I considered that perhaps I should wear make-up but doing other fun things with my husband left no time.
We got there early as usual (don’t want to miss the tanker) and were led into the Chuck Yeager display. General Yeager’s flight jacket and some of his medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom were on loan from the Smithsonian to which Gen & Glennis Yeager had donated much of his historic items in 1986. Thank goodness.
We spied Carol Burnett and I approached her, introduced myself. She was very pleased to meet me –a very special woman who is so gracious. I quickly introduced my husband. They had met a few times and gave each other a huge, larger than life, lovely, joyous hug as only Carol Burnett can do.
I mentioned she and I had met on the movie Four Seasons in Virginia. She contemplated that and later said: “That was in 1980.” I said 1979 wasn’t…it…no! You are so right 1980. I was graduating. She is quite sharp. She told me she has her second book coming out in April and she goes on tour – an evening with Carol Burnett to keep the gray matter active. And boy is it active. When she walked the red carpet, she was very gracious, vivacious, and engaging with all the fans.
When I met Carol Burnett the first time in 1980, I was so in awe. I was the Exec Producer’s assistant and driver. She just turned to me and stretched right into my face and said Hello, I’m Carol Burnett. My hero was speaking to me up close and personal. Wow! I remembered myself just in time to prevent fainting, introduced myself but could not find any words to continue the conversation.
I always heard that stars hate to be reminded of their age – so I didn’t say that she was my hero or that I was allowed to stay up late to watch the Carol Burnett Show. I LOVED her and her show as a kid. After Tuesday and seeing her in person and on stage, I still love her.
I met Harvey Korman a few years after my first encounter with Carol Burnett – what a gracious fellow. He thought I was very talented and had sought me out after seeing me perform. I REALLY liked him after that!
At the rehearsal, which was more confusing than enlightening, I sat with Carol Burnett’s assistant on the road. She was saying what a real man Gen Yeager is even at 86. She wishes she could find a man like him. I told her, “Then you would understand why I didn’t marry until 45, after I met him.”
I told Carol and her assistant that Gen Yeager wears me out! He needs a younger model. They all laughed and could easily agree.
We also saw Coach John Madden – Chuck and he had done a commercial together for President Bush ’41 – John Madden won’t fly, he takes buses. And the idea was pairing opposites.
Coach John coached a lot of our friends: Jim Otto, Raymond Chester, MacFarlane Lane, Errol Mann. He said he could tell me a story or two about those guys. I guess not in front of so many people. So I told him about the three black players – Raymond, MacArthur, Jack making Gen Yeager an honorary soul brother! Gray Afro, boom box, big sunglasses. Coach John got a kick out of that. Coach John also played on my childhood hometown team – the Philadelphia Eagles, so I felt a kinship – 2 degrees of separation twice! His wife is delightful – we enjoyed some time together, too.
Secretary George Shultz was there. I first thought Charlie Brown – and thought I thought he was dead. And then remembered some more US history. I said to his wife, you should be in his positions. I always think it’s the wives who understand more and can solve problems better.
She smiled and said,” But let’s not tell them.” We had a good laugh. I didn’t know then that she is the Chief Protocol Officer for the State of California. Very elegant lady. Very appropriate position.
Four of our friends joined us. Sharing the evening with them – just made it even more magical. Two of them gave Gen Yeager a beautiful trophy re the California Hall of Fame that they had made up that is stunning – it is on our shelf even now.
Coach John Madden in introducing Chuck said, “Only in California can a guy who doesn’t fly introduce the greatest pilot of all time!”
Then Coach John read the rest of the introduction and ad-libbed: “Just before he got in the X-1 to break the sound barrier, go into the unknown, faster than anyone, they asked him what he wanted…and he said a stick of Beemans! Now just think about this: the most dangerous thing in a plane he’s about to attempt and he asks for a stick of gum!?!?!?
Gen Yeager reciprocated and gave Coach John a photo of an A-380, which Gen Yeager had been flying a year before, doing stall work over the Pyrenees, and signed it with the note: I finally found a plane that could lift you off the ground- Chuck Yeager.
Coach John is football, in shape big – not overweight – so it was funny.
Gen Yeager told some great stories in accepting his award. He introduced another recipient Governor Hiram Johnson (1866-194?) by saying to Governor Schwarzenegger – we need to clone him about 400 times, then we’ll get some good government. Governor Johnson was best friends with the Owner and Editor of the Sacramento Bee. That helps. Esp to get you elected to the Senate and Governor and get your ideas supported and passed into law. Probably a good argument for going back to the old rules about not being allowed to own more than one media outlet in a marketplace. Imagine the power if you own all outlets! It’s okay if you agree with me, but if you don’t, I don’t want you to have that much power….:-)
Governor Johnson was responsible for the referendum and California being a more democratic state than others, among other things.
Danielle Steel, whom I could have sworn I had seen give a talk but she says she never has, was honored. She had nine kids, now eight and still looks fit and trim after all those pregnancies. She enjoyed my saying so.
George Lucas talked with Gen Yeager about his movie in post – The Tuskegee Airmen. Gen Yeager said: “And you are telling the truth – they shot down about 107 planes, not the 1000 some historian was saying?”
To me, if you overstate, you diminish their real contribution. 107 planes is great – 107 fewer planes to harm the allies. However, if you state 1000, it means you don’t think 107 is impressive enough. I do.
At Maxwell AFB, one of the Tuskegee Airman was there with Gen Yeager for the Gathering of the Eagles seminar. I had found some posters in the history office there that were being given away, one beautiful one about the Tuskegee airmen. I would have liked to keep it, but decided I’d give it to him. Good decision. When I knocked on his door just down from ours and gave it to him, he was stunned that I would be so thoughtful and so grateful. Heck, I was and am grateful for his service. But his reaction made me sure I had made the right decision and given it to him.
George also was very gracious – I had met him before just when he had just had a baby, in 1991, he reminded me. This evening he was wearing a suit – I would not have guessed he would dress up. But he looked downright almost too straight to be creative Honestly, he looked great.
Rafer Johnson was pretty funny too. An inductee with Gen Yeager, his next job was to introduce George Lucas.
He ad-libbed:”At rehearsal a beautiful blond lady was sitting next to me, where George was supposed to be sitting. And I thought, ‘Well, he is renown for special effects, maybe that is George Lucas.’ George, could you bring her back?
I loved talking with Henry Kaiser’s granddaughter during rehearsal. She said she lived in something, Washington. To my,” Oh!” she said, “Do you know where that is?”
I replied, “Well. I know where Washington is.”
We laughed. She explained: “The Olympia peninsula. It was supposed to be the port for Seattle. They built all those port and ship buildings but it never materialized so the second floors aren’t finished. It became an artists’ community.”
Me: I LOVE that. I’ll have to visit.
She: You know, the kind of place where they don’t care what you wear. Sometimes I wake up and wish that they did care just once. But they don’t.
Now what makes this sort of funnier, is that her outfit was wonderful but almost Pippi Longstocking-ish. So maybe she was edging towards outrageous or “out there” to draw a comment to show someone cares.
I just realized I should have commented – she’s back in the land where we care
We both bemoaned the fact that we used to know how to dress for events such as these…:-)
But that’s what made the evening so luscious – all the different personalities and styles and characters.
We all stood for all the honorees as they walked on stage. Gen Yeager got the biggest cheer, John Madden the third biggest with George Lucas a close second, and Carol Burnett the second biggest. But who’s counting
First Lady Maria Shriver is very personable, with great energy. One of my first encounters with her long ago was at a Hollywood black tie fundraiser show. I gave her my seat. She was pregnant, VERY pregnant. She was surprised and grateful.
Another time, I met her at the Washington, DC Ford Theater show during Clinton’s inauguration festivities.
It was pretty funny when she called us to ask if Gen Yeager would accept the award. (Her people had called a few times before and we hadn’t had a chance to think about it, get some answers, and respond). Being the skeptics with good reason (experience) that we are, I asked,” What does Gen Yeager have to do, give a talk?” (Often awards can be bought or they want you to do a talk because it’s a façade for a fundraiser so basically they are using you to draw the crowd and the money. I only once arranged where Gen Yeager got an award, and a friend accepted for him – the organization didn’t award it only if Gen Yeager showed up for it).
She, being a celebrity herself, understood: No. All he has to do is accept a medallion from my husband.
OK. Just a minute. I went outside to where Chuck was enjoying our view and his handiwork and briefed him.
Gen Y: Oh..kay
I handed him the phone. He pushed it away: You tell her.
Me: No, you tell her.
Gen Y: YEAGER!
Maria: OH! OH! I’m actually talking to you. OH. Well. Oh. I wanted to… and then she went into warp speed like any respectable New Englander and TV journalist who has only a few seconds before “they” cut to commercial.
But Gen Yeager is from WV and they talk deliberately. He almost threw the phone like it was a wiggly animal.
They enjoyed a nice talk together.
At one point, it was our turn to walk the red carpet. Lots of autograph seekers to whom I said: Not today. Please go to our website www.chuckyeager.com and it tells you how to get an autograph….Thank you very much!
We stopped at the first media station – Comcast, who was doing a documentary. She asked the usual: How does it feel to be honored tonight.
I fed her some questions to ask such as what Gen Yeager gave to John Madden and what Gen Yeager says about Carol Burnett. The interviewer got far more interesting answers. And she thanked me profusely. Smart, perky, attractive girl
I wish I could convey to all reporters especially those starting out: Most people, but especially of Gen Yeager’s generation don’t express their feelings or even analyze them.
But the answers are the same. I am honored….or….
I did the same as a young interviewer when I didn’t know the subject or didn’t even know what the homework should have been. I was working in Russia. A producer took me aside and had me watch an interview done by a veteran who had experience and had done his homework and then some. What a far more interesting interview! Mine wasn’t bad but depth is far more interesting. And makes it easier for your interviewee.
With the internet, it is much easier than before around 2000. So there are no excuses.
I’ve helped some big name interviewers – most are grateful. One was nasty even though the producer acknowledged the interview would have been deadly dull without me feeding the producer questions who in turn fed them to his “star” interviewer.
The next stops were a few TV and radio stations. Same question: How do you feel about being honored tonight? By the sixth one, I felt bad. I had run out of new pertinent questions myself and I knew we were tiring of the exercise. I threw the last one a few, but he didn’t follow up and he didn’t run the camera when he mentioned Gen Yeager knew his grandfather – they were huntin’ buddies. I would have. So the on-camera interview was short – It was duty. The interviewer got tongue-tied. And that’s why we like to do press conferences – the questions are the same and get old and tired after the 3rd one – so the 4th, 5th, and 6th interviewers….unless you are paid millions as a trained, eager young actor with lots of time to treat each one like it’s fresh and new and who is looking for his/her next job….so you do the interviewer’s job for him or her.
Gen Yeager did keep telling the media that night his first memory of Carol Burnett, though.
Back in the museum, they took a photo of the 13 honorees in front of their larger than life photos. Danielle Steel and Chuck Yeager graciously held onto the body builder, Joe Weider, between them. Joe is in his 90s and looking pretty good but not too keen on standing too long. He was one of the first to popularize getting in shape and health eating. He was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sponsor and patron. Gov Schwarzenegger owes his biggest breaks to Joe Weider.
Everyone was very approachable and interesting. I am sorry I didn’t get to speak to Andy Grove, or Rafer Johnson or Fritz Scholder’s sister, or Ms. Kroc’s granddaughter. She did an enthusiastic job of reading the intro for Henry Kaiser, putting a lot of inflection and emotion in it. It was fun.
Our guests did speak to Andy Grove. For more on these honorees, please go to:
Harvey Milk was also honored. His nephew accepted and felt obligated to talk about himself (instead of the honoree) and to tell us he, too was gay. Very serious young man.
He introduced Carol Burnett – as with the other introductions, written by one of First Lady Maria Shriver’s staff. In it he said, Carol Burnett started off in show biz as an Usherette at the Chinese Theater and was fired. He went on to list her many accomplishments, including being the first female to host a variety show (and extremely successfully) and finished with – when asked where she wanted her Star of the Walk of Fame, well, it was put right on front of the Chinese Theater.
Carol got her medallion, took the podium and said: I was a good usherette.
We all laughed.
She went on to regale us all with more details re that – it was engaging, clever, funny – it was Carol Burnett.
We loved it.