He also went on to admire some way chiller actors.
You've heard the phrase "Never meet your heroes," and you've scoffed at the cliche as you clenched your Comic-Con ticket, totally ready to meet Jason Momoa. Surely you'll be so charming that he'll want to take you to ax-throwing camp, or whatever it is Aquaman does for fun. But what if it's true? What if meeting your hero is an irreparable mistake? Don't take it from us; take it from the disappointed lips of some of the biggest celebrities ever.
Marlon Brando, Godfather and eventual human pizza grinder, was one of the most celebrated actors in Hollywood, but even he wasn't beyond fan worship. When you're at "blowing off the Oscars" level, there isn't much room to look up. But there was Charlie Chaplin, who Brando called the most talented man film ever produced.
So in 1967, Brando received an offer he couldn't refuse: the leading role in A Countess From Hong Kong. Brando took the job the moment he heard it was directed by Chaplin. And the excited actor met a penny-pinching control freak with a perfectionist streak. For perspective, Chaplin once made a woman do 342 takes for a three-minute sequence. Meanwhile, Brando loved improvising, seldom took direction, and viewed scripts as optional. He made the mistake of thinking Chaplin was the same as his screen persona, but the man's directing style consisted of micromanaging everything while driving the cast to madness.
Brando stayed onboard, but not without having his Chaplin love ruined. He later said that Chaplin was probably the most sadistic man he ever met, and recalled him calling his son Sydney stupid during filming because he wasn't turning a doorknob correctly. As for Brando, when he was 15 minutes late to the set, Chaplin called him "a disgrace to the acting profession" in front of the whole crew. Somehow his career managed to recover.
He also went on to admire some way chiller actors.
Vincent van Gogh had an idea for a communal space where artists could live and work together, sort of like a precursor to hippies, but with painting instead of drugs and sex. He wanted his first guest to be Paul Gauguin, most famous for painting the natives of Tahiti (and giving many of the very young locals syphilis in what he creeptastically dubbed his "House of Orgasm"). Van Gogh was a huge fan of Gaugin, and after months of cajoling letters, Gauguin agreed to live with him, in what was surely the setup for a very pretentious sitcom. What followed was nine weeks from Hell.
The partnership was initially productive, but van Gogh was frustrated that Gauguin viewed him as an underling instead of an equal, while Gauguin was put off by van Gogh's tempestuous mood swings (now recognized as probable bipolar disorder). They argued constantly, with van Gogh worried that Gauguin was going to desert him and Gauguin concerned that van Gogh and his brother were taking advantage of his money. Gauguin claimed that this culminated in van Gogh charging him with a razor, and there's a theory amongst contrarian historians that it was actually Gauguin who cut off van Gogh's ear, after which they made a pact of silence to keep the law out.
The (fringe and uncorroborated, but morbidly fun) theory goes like this: Gauguin says he wants out, and the two argue. Van Gogh fails to convince with words, so he tries violence. Gauguin, a pro at violence, unsheathes his sword and fences van Gogh's ear off. Van Gogh screams in pain. Gauguin picks up the ear and whispers into it, "I said I'm leaving. Hear me OK now?"
Vincent van Gogh, via Wikimedia Commons
What we do know for certain is that while in the hospital, van Gogh repeatedly asked to see Gauguin, who instead got the hell out of town, claiming that "the sight of me might prove fatal for him." They continued to exchange letters, but never saw each other again. So remember to always thoroughly vet your roommates, even if they are destined to be one of the most famous artists in history.
Muhammad Ali is as famous for his trash talk as his boxing prowess. We're talking about a guy who once called a heavyweight title defender "too ugly to be champion" before beating the crap out of him. But he loved Sugar Ray Robinson, seeing him as the king of boxing and his personal idol. And back in 1960, the U.S. Olympic boxing team made a stop in New York to meet the legend. It started with Sugar Ray showing up wildly late, and got worse from there.
When Robinson finally showed up, he got out of his Cadillac, muttered something vague to Ali, denied him an autograph, and left. Some accounts say that Robinson told Ali he didn't have time for him, this here book says that Ali barely got more than a nod, and others say that Robinson was even ruder than that. Whatever happened, that was the day Ali promised himself that if he ever got famous, he'd treat people differently.
Namely, he'd diss them with the eloquence of a poet laureate before punching 15 years off their life expectancy.
Robison would later reject Ali again when Ali asked him to be his manager, leaving the score at 2-0 in favor of broken dreams. But Ali committed to his promise, so you'd be hard-pressed to find a person who asked Ali for an autograph and didn't get it. If he was alive today you could probably Postmate his signature. It could be argued Ali became a better person after meeting Robinson, but it must have also played absolute havoc on his wrists.
According to George Lopez, he had the chance to meet Erik Estrada when the latter was at the peak of his fame for his starring role on CHiPS, a TV comedy about the adventures of two California Highway Patrol officers set to a disco soundtrack. It felt dated the moment it stopped airing, but the point is that Estrada embodied what a Latino could achieve in America. So Lopez went for a handshake ... and was promptly ignored. Supposedly he went back to his friend's car and vowed "If I ever make it, that dude is going to pay."
Precisely how much of that is true and how much is Lopez giving himself an origin story is unclear (Estrada says he doesn't remember the encounter), but what we do know is that the two men loathe each other. Long story short, Lopez went on to become one of the biggest comedians in America, and he's used his fame and fortune to constantly crap on Estrada.
Lopez feels he's owed an apology, while Estrada has invited Lopez to physically duke it out. Lopez tried to settle the matter by inviting Estrada to do a cameo on his show, but Estrada, probably thinking that no one would ever want to interview him again if the feud ended, turned the offer down to instead appear on According To Jim. And that is a low, low blow. They're still sniping at each other after 37 years of vitriol, because spite is a hell of a motivator, despite what your yoga teacher says.
In 1965, the Beatles met Elvis Presley at his Bel Air home. Their managers arranged things so that it would be secretive, with no press or fans. They failed. Reporters and groupies gathered at Elvis' gate, making first contact uncomfortable. When the Beatles got through that gauntlet, Elvis was waiting in the living room, watching TV with the sound off. It only grew increasingly awkward from there, as one of the most epic meetings in music history made the average middle school dance look laidback in comparison.
John Lennon tried to break the ice by asking why Elvis had pivoted from rock to mushy ballads, which is like starting off a first date by asking "Why are you so much fatter than in your profile pic?" They exchanged some touring stories, but the conversation stalled and the group was left to nervously stare at each other. Most accounts say that some instruments were then brought in so they could instead communicate through the language of music, and that sort of worked. There was no drum kit, so Ringo solemnly improvised on the furniture before realizing that he was cementing his reputation as the Beatles' mascot and snuck out to play pool with the roadies.
With Ringo away and Harrison wandering off to search for a joint, Elvis' manager arranged for the Beatles to be given gift bags of swag and shown the door. As a final surreal capper, Lennon said his goodbyes in a mock German accent, for reasons known only to him and the cloud of weed smoke that followed him around, Pigpen-style. The Beatles invited Elvis to a party the next day, but he declined and they never saw each other again.
No one's entirely sure why the meeting was so awkward. Lennon later said they were terrified of meeting a man they worshiped, Elvis was probably anxious about meeting a band that was rendering him irrelevant, everyone was much more shy than their public personas let on, and god knows how many drugs were in play. Years later, a declining Elvis would call the Beatles "anti-American" and "filthy" to American sweethearts Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, so there was, if nothing else, a clear generational and ideological gap. But this is why you should always have some activities planned when you invite new friends over.
John Steinbeck, the scourge of high school students across America, became a household name when he won the Pulitzer for The Grapes Of Wrath. His newfound swag brought him the opportunity to rub elbows with his literary idols, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, only for him to learn that one was an douche and the other an awkward snob.
Hemingway and Faulkner had their own feud going on, but like all good villains, they were able to put their differences aside to focus on a greater enemy. Steinbeck met Hemingway first, in 1944. In the same way that many bad hookups come to be, the meeting was suggested by a mutual friend after Steinbeck couldn't shut up about how great he thought Hemingway was. They met at a bar, because it's always a good idea to meet with an alcoholic at a watering hole, and Steinbeck brought his wife, along with two more human shields: journalist Jon Hersey and fellow novelist John O'Hara.
Hemingway dominated the conversation from the start, but soon decided that being heard wasn't enough and waged $50 that he could break O'Hara's blackthorn cane with his bare hands. He then did precisely that (over his head, no less) before tossing the pieces aside with disdain, claiming that the cane wasn't real blackthorn. What Hemingway didn't know is that the cane was a gift from Steinbeck, who was so upset, and so unimpressed with his need to generate publicity, that he began denying that he had ever read Hemingway. Instead he took to mocking Hemingway's dialogue (it's unclear how he squared this with his claim of not reading him) and once startled friends by blurting out "Hemingway, that shit!" in the middle of a totally unrelated conversation.
Steinbeck, a man fond of making the same mistake twice, then invited Faulkner to his home for drinks with Steinbeck's friends and second wife at the suggestion of a mutual friend (hopefully a different one). Faulkner arrived drunk out of his mind, walking erratically and refusing to talk, and spent most of the evening sitting in a corner and looking outside. When Steinbeck's wife tried to ease the awkwardness by asking him about his work, his only response was "Don't talk to me about my books." When she tried to talk about food, Faulkner said that he couldn't care less about the stuff, and ate whatever was put in front of him. The evening didn't improve from there.
Faulkner later apologized, saying that he hadn't wanted to go, and instead of being a responsible adult about it, he got roaringly drunk. The two men were then able to have amiable conversations, but Steinbeck hated Faulkner's public image as much as he hated Hemingway's, and even accused him of plagiarism. So if you want to keep the image of your heroes bright and pristine, separate the art from the artist by never stepping foot within 100 miles of them.
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