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Lindsay Lohan, Meryl Streep, and Garrison Keillor

Lindsay Lohan, Meryl Streep, and Garrison Keillor

The other day I mentioned to a guy I know that some Buddhist monks in Nepal are fans of my song “Slow Days of Summer,” according to their ESL teacher Jennifer who stopped me on the street to tell me, and I said (which is the truth) that I felt enormously honored, whereupon the guy said that he had once met the Dalai Lama, a huge name-drop that trumped my little anecdote and I suppose I could’ve mentioned having met Dolly Parton or Molly Mason, but those names are light dings compared to the bwanggg of a World Spiritual Leader. I was stunned.

I gave a luncheon speech in 2009 and to my surprise Michelle Obama was there and it shook me up. I thought, “Why am I telling this silly story about wrestling Julie Christensen when I was 11 to the First Lady of the United States?”

I suppose that the D.L. himself doesn’t go around dropping names, being a religious man who believes that in God’s eyes we are all sparrows. He hangs with the pope and presidents and potentates and spreads his kindly light to one and all, but I’m no lama and in the presence of greatness I grow faint. I gave a luncheon speech in 2009 and to my surprise Michelle Obama was there and it shook me up. I thought, “Why am I telling this silly story about wrestling Julie Christensen when I was 11 to the First Lady of the United States?” I looked at her and she was looking at the door.

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My favorite celebrity moment was backstage at Carnegie Hall for the CBS special honoring the 100th birthday of Irving Berlin in 1988. Mr. Berlin wasn’t there but everyone else was. Walter Cronkite, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Shirley MacLaine, Willie Nelson (singing “Blue Skies”), Bob Hope, Tommy Tune (tap-dancing “Puttin’ On The Ritz”), Natalie Cole, Leonard Bernstein, Marilyn Horne (“God Bless America”), Rosemary Clooney, and me. (I knew the producer Don Mischer and he snuck me in to recite “All Alone.”) The Carnegie backstage is small and tight and so all the famous were jammed in together and they were all so stunned by the company they were in, they acted like ordinary people and stood quietly and tried to be cool. Bernstein was the only gregarious one, and Ray Charles; Frank Sinatra didn’t say a word.

I’ve been waiting for thirty years to mention that night and never had the nerve to, it was so over the top, and when Carnegie Hall was mentioned in casual conversation, it would’ve been crude and unseemly to pull Leonard Bernstein and Frank Sinatra out of my back pocket, so I haven’t until now, and now I feel ashamed of myself for mentioning it to you. I am not on the same plateau as Bernstein and Sinatra, I was there because I knew Don Mischer. I had an in, which is the real story of my life.

I met a guy at a party once who knew the guy who was Robert Altman’s lawyer and so one day I went to Mr. Altman’s office and pitched a movie and the great director (M*A*S*H, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Player), unbeknownst to me was seriously ill at 78 and big studios were leery of investing in him but he intended to keep working until he dropped and I had an important in, some motivated investors, so we made the movie in 2005, the year before he died, and Meryl Streep was in it because she’d never worked with him before and knew it was her last chance, and the movie came out and got decent reviews — the guy in Rolling Stone said it was better than he’d expected it to be — but the crowning moment for me — have I told you about this before? Sorry if I have — was eating lunch with friends at the Café Luxembourg on 70th, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues, when, as I brought a forkful of salad to my mouth, a woman kissed me on the cheek and the whole café saw and took a deep breath. It was Miss Streep, who’d been eating lunch thirty feet away. Nobody in the café knew me from a bale of hay except the two friends and they were astonished beyond words and still are, fifteen years later.

GARRISON KEILLOR

You people would undoubtedly be cool about being kissed by a major film star, but I’m not. I’m from Anoka, Minnesota, my grandpa was a farmer, so it’s a big deal to me, and I never would’ve mentioned it to you except for the guy who met the Dalai Lama. I’m tempted to tell you about the time I met Bruce Springsteen but there’s no way to get from the Dalai Lama to that, so I’ll save it for another time.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions