Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Stars I Saw
AJ Robinson

The Island of Martha's Vineyard first truly gained notoriety when the movie Jaws was filmed there. Yet, that really didn't do much in the way of boosting its popularity with tourists. After all, it was a movie about a shark attacking tourists; not the sort of thing you want to remind people of. The next big boost came from President Clinton; he came to visit the island several times. In fact, my brother rented his house to the doctors that travel with the president - they always have to be on-call and ready for any emergency.

Yet, for many years, the Island was always a place for celebrities to come; members of the "Jet Set" came there - even before that term existed. Way back in the mid 1800's, President Ulysses S. Grant came for a visit, and even stayed in the Campgrounds - in one of the gingerbread cottages. It's said the place he stayed in even set up a bowling alley so he could try the game. He threw a strike on his very first ball, and then never played again; he decided to quit while he was ahead.

More recently, all manner of Hollywood stars have stayed or lived on the Island. Part of the appeal is the laid-back attitude of the Islanders; their live and let live view of life. So long as the stars didn't make a big show of things, they were unbothered, treated as regular people. My father often told me about some of these stars, but the names didn't mean anything to me; they were old stars, and at that age, under ten, I hadn't seen many old movies.

The one star I did remember was Jimmy Cagney; I'd seen him in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and he had a boat in Tashmoo Pond. This was the same place that my Dad often kept his boat - I don't remember why. Sometimes, we'd see Cagney on his boat, and just give him a wave. He'd tip his hat back, but that was all. My Dad said that was the rule, a friendly gesture, nothing more! If you tried to talk to him, he'd walk away. We always respected his privacy.

Of course, the Kennedys often came to the Island; there had been that little "incident" over on Chappaquiddick with Ted. Many people tended not to like them, and they really didn't like it when Jackie O tried to close off her beach! She owned some land down on the south end of the Island, and she didn't like people walking on her beach. It had always been an old Massachusetts law that the beach was open to all. Jackie, with her deep pockets, had her lawyers find an ancient state law that said the property line went down to the water. You could only be on the beach if you were fishing or falconing, to use the old term. People who dared to venture onto her beach had to either carry a fishing pole or wear a thick glove. Yet, it didn't matter, it still soured people's attitude toward her!

Then there were the singers. Billy Joel bought Carly Simon's old place out in Menemsha - the house used in the Harrison Ford remake of "Sabrina." Years before, she even put on a concert down at the docks. Then there were the comedians. Sadly, John Belushi would end up buried out in Chilmark, and fans from off-island would make too much trouble; so he was moved to a more remote area of the cemetery. His friend and partner, Dan Aykroyd continued to visit with his wife. At the time, I was in college, and worked summers on the Island. A couple years, I was a dishwasher at the Brass Bass Restaurant; and they came in a couple times to eat. Often times, the owner, Primo, would let them come in before the place officially opened, so they could eat in peace. Here again, it was a strict rule that we did not bother them! Oh, it was pure torture for my nephew Nick - the aspiring actor - he so wanted to go over to them and say hello. As it turned out, Mr. Aykroyd was friends with the man who owned a curiosity shop on Circuit Ave, a place called, Take it Easy, Baby. In fact, the friend even made a few cameo appearances in some of Aykroyd's movies. If you ever see Ghostbusters, the scene where they're all in jail, the bald fellow is Aykroyd's friend.

For myself, my chief interaction with stars was when I worked at Our Market, the convenience store down on the docks in Oak Bluffs. It was there that I met Paul Benedict, probably best known for his role as Mr. Bentley, on "The Jeffersons." What was funny was that the character was English, but he was American - through and through. He was born in Silver City, New Mexico, and then raised in Arlington, Massachusetts - my hometown! So, we had a number of nice chats. I was very saddened to hear of his passing last year (December of '08). Yes, he passed away in his home on Martha's Vineyard. Finally, there was dear Patricia Neal. By this time and in college, I'd seen enough movies to know who she was. She came into the store a couple times to buy a few simple items, and we talked. The years had been kind, and she was always so sweet and polite.

These days, what with the media making "stars" out of total "non-entities," I have to say that true star quality is often shockingly lacking in some of the celebrities of today! These people I met, yeah, they were true stars.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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