22 May 2011

Xerox Celebrities

The late Benton Srpski, around the time he met Aunt Hattie.

The great American philosopher Sally Boldt once opined that there are in the world a limited number of faces — and all of the Xerox copies are in New York. This accounts for the frequency with which one sees people on the sidewalk whom one thinks one recognizes, only to be realize the mistake a moment later. Ideally this is done before one has embarrassed oneself by joyfully embracing one’s Great Aunt Hattie, who turns out to be a Greenwich Village eccentric and neither Hattie nor (quite possibly) a woman at all.

New York is filled with faces that truly are famous and recognized — celebrities live on the sidewalks in this town, and very often one finds oneself lying in the gutter and looking up at the stars of a Broadway show, major motion picture, or TV series. My real-life Aunt Hattie once bumped into a famous editor and quiz-show star on a New York street. “Why, Bennet Cerf!” she exclaimed, exactly as if he were an old friend whom she hadn’t expected to see anywhere but the lunch counter of the Von Dohlen-Byrd Pharmacy in Goliad, Texas. (Actually, given the state of Hattie’s mind in later life, it’s possible she did believe just that.)

History does not record precisely what Mr. Cerf said to Aunt Hattie, but we must presume that he handled the matter gracefully enough that she bore him no grudge and continued to watch What’s My Line? as avidly as ever.

Is this my darling Jib-Jib or his twin —
the lesser-known Jason Franco?

Of course, there’s no assurance that the man Hattie met really was Bennet Cerf. Not only was her vision awful, but the cosmic Xerox machine that cranks out all those copies of un-famous faces is cranking out copies of famous faces, too. Anyone spending more than a few hours on the streets of New York will encounter dozens of ordinary pedestrians who look exactly like exciting celebrities — and who really, really don’t want to sign an autograph for you because they are sick to death of being told they look like Neil Patrick Harris.

Celebrity Doppelgängers are an unstoppably entertaining phenomenon, and some years ago, Andy Weems made a game of it.

“Look!” Andy would cry out. “It’s Dom DeLuise’s twin brother, Tom DeLuise!”

Authentic photograph of Tom — or possibly Don, Doc, Dean, or Dumbarton — DeLuise

New York being full of Italian-Americans (and probably several of the late Mr. DeLuise’s own relatives), “Tom” DeLuises were plentiful in those days, and really, the name switch began to seem too easy. Andy endeavored to make the game more and more challenging, and I began to play, as well. Now you can play, too.

For example, who among us does not yearn to run into lovely Beryl Streetman in a New York subway?

And who wouldn’t warn Brittania Speaks to cover up when she goes outside? New York is full of crazies; we don’t want to encourage them, do we?

Sightings of Doppelgängers of the Glee cast were rampant a couple of weeks ago. Here, we see Corbin Moncrieff, alongside Chord Overstreet, whose name already sounds as if it’s made up. Seriously, what are you going to do with that? Corky Overstrike? I don’t think so. Fortunately, not many people look like him, so there’s scant chance of running into his twin.

Be advised, however, that the Celebrity Doppelgänger Game can be played both ways. Several years ago, I was hanging out with a few college friends when a man approached us.

“Aren’t you John Kennedy, Jr.?” the man wanted to know.

“I get that a lot,” John replied ruefully — but honestly. (After all, he didn’t actually deny who he was.)* The man marveled at the uncanny resemblance, then wished us a good night and went on his way, little realizing that he had just taken part in another adventure in the capital city of fame and Xeroxes.

*NOTE: Christina Haag, whom I got to kiss in a play at Brown, has written a memoir of her time with John (whom I knew only slightly, I must add). You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

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