In Part 1 of this blog, I recounted vignettes of family meetings with well-known public figures. And now for two more of mine. The first took place many years ago at the Great River Country Club in Sayville, Long Island, New York. To give you a hint about just how long ago, I was sixteen at the time and today am less than a month from my 82nd birthday. My parents, who lived in “the City,” as we New Yorkers refer to Manhattan, belonged to the club. A golfer, I spent my summer weekends with them out on the links. Moreover, as a prep-school sophisticate, replete with a phoney draft card which I had joined the Photography Club to learn to make, I could be found in the evening at the club bar, drinking something upscale like scotch-on-the-rocks or Drambuie, which my teetotaling dad would dutifully pay for. On one such Saturday night, a middle-aged man with a face I thought I recognized joined me and engaged me in conversation. There I was, drinking illegally—the legal age at that time in New York State was 18—talking with New York City’s three-term mayor, Robert Wagner. What a concept!
The next close encounter took place around 2002 or 2003. I was living in a Honolulu suburb with my late wife and was commuting to St. Paul for my consulting job with a foundation so frequently that Northwest Airlines had promoted me to Frequent Flyers Gold. As a result, one morning I was flying back to Honolulu via L.A. in first class. A very familiar-looking man sat down next to me. Just before take-off a female flight attendant kneeled down next to him—he was on the aisle—and asked for his autograph. As we were taking off, it came to me. “Oh my God!” I thought. “I’m sitting next to Henry Winker, THE FONZ!!! Like many a comic actor, he was quite serious, owner as he was then of a Hollywood production company. Me: “How do you do, Mr. Winkler. My name is Reynold Feldman. It turns out we have three things in common.” Him: “Oh really?” Me: “Yes. We’re both Jewish. We’re both from New York City. And we both went to Yale.” [He’s an alum of the Yale Drama School, along with Paul Newman and Meryl Streep, among other notables.] Him: “That’s fascinating. So, what do you do, Feldman?” I told him. Then I asked him about his production company, and he gave me a brief description. After that I left him in peace since he was clearly busy reading a script. However, when our fancy first-class lunch came, I wished him good appetite. And then he did something very familiar. Moving his thumb toward me, he made a gesture I’m sure I’d seen him do a dozen times in character on TV. Then I thought, “The Fonz lives, and I’m sitting right next to him on a three-hour flight to L.A.!”
When we were standing in line to deplane, I asked him, “So tell me, Mr. Winkler: How to you manage to keep your balance in such a crazy business?” He was quiet and thoughtful for a good half-minute. Then he responded, “My family! My family keeps me sane.” As the doors opened to let us out, we wished each other all the best, and thus ended my close encounter with Henry Winkler, the well-loved and iconic Fonzie. In Part 3 of this blog, I’ll tell you about my close encounter with another famoso, Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, AKA Alan Alda. Till then, take care. The Ren