As a jaded adult living in Los Angeles I like to think I’ve cultivated an ability to retain a reasonable amount of my dignity whenever I see a celebrity for whom I have affection or admiration. Part of that is just being a resident here—there’s an unspoken code that requires you to act like you don’t notice or, better yet, don’t care— ho-hum, not Tom Hanks again. I was blissfully unaware of this code in 1982 when I first visited the city. I got tickets for opening night of One from the Heart at the Plitt Century Plaza Cinemas (which no longer exists—it used to be right across from the Schubert Theater in the same outdoor mall immortalized in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). And for some reason Francis Coppola, the entire cast of the movie, and dozens of Hollywood celebrities,, from Marilu Henner to Bette Midler to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Steven Spielberg were all in attendance and could be (were) spotted in the lobby. Seeing all those people in the same theater lobby was indeed exciting, but I really went all jelly-legged when I turned around and saw Shelley Duvall. I spent a good five minutes trying to decide whether or not to walk up and say hi, but I eventually chickened out and have regretted to this day that I didn’t take the time to tell her that she was, at the time, my favorite actress.
I actually did speak, albeit very briefly and in a public forum, to the only other actress I can think of capable of turning my admittedly already addled brain into high-octane Cream of Wheat. In 1998, Michelle Yeoh appeared at a Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention at the Shrine Auditorium shortly after the release of Tomorrow Never Dies. I was in the midst of a pretty dark time in my life, but the opportunity to see this woman, who I’d admired ever since seeing Police Story III: Supercop at the Kuo Hwa Theater in San Gabriel about five years earlier, was enough to momentarily shake me out of my stupor. She was every bit as glamorous and funny as I’d hoped, a perfect combination of toughness, dignity, beauty and brains, and one of the only movie stars I’ve met who actually lived up to the larger-than-life persona they project on the screen. I asked her some dumb question about the growing acceptance of Asian actors and films and whether the possibility existed that she would someday work with John Woo. Then she signed a picture for me that still decorates the wall in my office, and as she did so she said to me, “This is a pretty wild scene. Do you come here often?” To which I replied, “Nope, it’s my first time. You’re the only reason I would!” That got me a smile, some very nice direct eye contact-- gifts even better than the autograph-- and a memory of the actress than I’ll always cherish. And to this day, if I saw Michelle Yeoh on the street or in some crowded theater lobby I’d still go all hot-instant-cereal, to be sure. Though I wish she was getting better roles—being the best thing in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor isn’t quite worthy of the woman whole almost stole Supercop right out from underneath Jackie Chan, and who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon her own-- just knowing she's still out there making an impression in a world full of spineless cookie-cutter ingenues is its own comfort. Today is Michelle Yeoh’s 46th birthday, and if there was ever evidence of age and intelligence and screen presence and acting ability enhancing beauty, she’s making it with each new breath. Happy birthday, Michelle!