“You either have grace or you don’t.” — Gail Strickland

July 18, 2009

GRETCHEN WYLER

GRETCHEN WYLER

When Gretchen Wyler was appearing on Broadway in Larry Gelbart’s “Sly Fox,” we met her after a matinee for a lunch date. During the performance, we noticed two men sitting in the front row who clearly were there to see Gretchen. The cast included Vincent Gardenia and Jack Gilford, but we could see by their body language that the fellows up front were paying little mind to two fine actors. Even when Gardenia or Gilford was speaking, those fans were watching Gretchen.

I can’t say I blame them for their attention to a woman whom I and many others admired. However, I couldn’t help thinking, while I watched them, of John Lahr’s novel “The Autograph Hound,” which describes people who carry their fascination with celebrities beyond the borders of rational thought and into the realm of obsession.

MANNY RAMIREZ

MANNY RAMIREZ

We waited for Gretchen outside the theater. Those two men were waiting, too. When Gretchen came out, they approached her and she spent several minutes with them. When she joined us, she said, “I must have given those men my autograph a hundred times by now. I don’t know how many times they’ve seen this show.” She said she encountered the men on virtually every performance day, that they handed her index cards for her signature and inquired about the health of her Great Dane, which they mentioned by name, and made other small talk.

At no time, either during her conversation with the two fans or during her explanation to us, did Gretchen display any impatience. She was a person of grace, a person who understood her symbiotic  relationship with the public and, not incidentally, with the press. I don’t know what statistics Manny Ramirez will amass during the balance of his baseball career, but no one will ever attribute to him the quality that distinguished Gretchen Wyler.

You can read about Manny’s version of grace at this link:

http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-plaschke-manny-ramirez17-2009jul17,0,3496566.column

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