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Guest Viewpoints

Star Tripping – Thank You, Bette, and Yes, Cary Grant

January 23, 2023
By Penelope Karageorge

Dazzled by ‘The Front Page’ and dreaming of journalistic adventures, I was thrilled to snag a $50 a week position as a researcher at Newsweek magazine. It was barely survival money, but I anticipated other benefits. When hired, the head of researchers warned me that it was unlikely that I would move beyond that job to become a Newsweek writer. She was correct. Fellow novitiates including Nora Ephron did not advance in the ranks until they left for greener journalistic pastures.

Researchers fulfilled an almost familial role – somewhere between the comforting mom [the writer can do no wrong in her eyes] and the bratty younger sister, always pushing to be heard.

Although a lowly job (there were no hugs, kisses, and gold stars handed out) – there were thrills to be had.

In the Newsmakers department, weekly we turned out a page of short, clever items. My boss and editor Bill Roeder assured me that ours was the best-read department in the magazine. He also told me not to get too friendly with the gals around me who worked in public affairs and looked down on our frivolous pursuits. That was not a problem. I was star struck by celebrity.

Editor Roeder and I practiced our tricks of the trade. Bill was the firm believer in calling the story subject after 5 PM – the cocktail hour – when tongues were loosened. With sufficient determination, one could reach almost anyone. There were a few notable exceptions. Katherine Hepburn was unreachable, although she maintained an apartment in the 50’s in Manhattan. Frank Sinatra was also unreachable. Hepburn and Sinatra employed powerful PR firms to keep the press away. I actually did meet Sinatra, but that is another story.

I learned the art of persistence, and earned the distinction of causing author John Steinbeck to change his phone number. Steinbeck, Nobel Prize winner, set out to see America with his companion, a poodle named ABC Dog. Roeder and I thought this would be a wonderful item for Newsmakers, but we wanted more info. What was ABC’s full name? Steinbeck yielded the information after many phone calls. Able Baker Charley Dog, familiarly known by him as Charley. A friend of Steinbeck’s, also a Newsweek writer, informed us that as a result of our bugging him, Steinbeck changed his phone number. We had no mercy in pursuit of the star and the anecdote, and I did encounter some amazing personalities.

It was a thrill to meet Bette Davis. At that time, Davis did not fly, and had taken the train from Los Angeles to New York to accept an award. Her publicist had gotten the word out to New York reporters about the time and place of her arrival, and we waited by the tracks at Penn Station to greet the star, holding an enormous paper flower to present to Davis. A crowd was expected, but I, the Newsweek reporter, was the only one to show up. At that point in her life, the great actress was largely ignored to the point that she had in 1962 taken a full page ad out in the Hollywood Reporter: “Mother of three – 30 years’ experience as an actress – seeks steady employment in Hollywood.” She had finished filming ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ but had no idea that it would be so successful.

Her hair in a sleek blond pageboy, smartly dressed for the occasion, she pointed out to me that she was not receiving an important award but one given by a fan magazine, Photoplay. At that point in her career, Davis was happy to accept it.

After my five questions – carefully prepared and now forgotten – we proceeded to talk.

Davis told me that although renowned for her work in black and white dramas, she wished she had appeared in Technicolor films, because nobody was aware of her blue eyes. Blond and blue-eyed, she had excelled as our black and white drama queen. At the end of the interview, Davis shook my hand and said: “Thank you, Miss Karageorge,” the rare star who said thank you and actually used my name, a classy lady of genuine charm.

And yes, I did meet Cary Grant. Editor Roeder had heard that Grant was scheduled to appear at a party at the Plaza Hotel and had alerted his own wife, who took the train in from Long Island to meet the star, or at least see him in person. As it turned out, Grant was stunning, even better looking in real life than on the screen. He no sooner stepped into the room than two women appeared, one to hang on each arm, ready to devour him and unwilling to let go. Grant did not push the ladies away. He was handsome indeed, and he manifested all the Grant gestures. What he lacked were the witty Cary Grant lines, something he would frequently allude to in his lifetime, saying that he wished he was Cary Grant.

It was beautiful to bask in the presence of this charming and beautiful man, with or without the clever asides. As Bette Davis said in the film ‘Now Voyager’: “Don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

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