They say experience is the best teacher, right? So recently my friend Harriett Bronson and I decided to attend the Regis Philbin book signing event at Barnes & Noble in Glendale for his new book How I Got This Way. Harriett is a former talk radio host and the author of the memoir Charlie & Me about her 16-year marriage to the late Hollywood actor, Charles Bronson. We figured the experience of seeing what a major celebrity book-signing felt like would help Harriett prepare for her own book-signing event (on a smaller scale, of course) coming up on Friday January 6th at 7 pm at Book Soup on Sunset in Hollywood. Y’all come down!
First a little back-story: Harriett and I have been friends since the mid-80s when we met on a writing project. She and Bronson were already divorced by this time. She was working on her memoir, and over the years I tried to help her shop it to New York agents and publishers but they weren’t interested, feeling that Bronson, even though still alive, wasn’t popular enough anymore to warrant such a book. We shelved the project. When Bronson died in 2003, we tried again. No luck. Then, when the whole Internet/digital/self-publishing revolution burst forth on the publishing scene, we jumped on the bandwagon. I became a publishing company (Timberlake Press) and published Harriett’s book, Charlie & Me, in early 2011. This “indie” book publishing experience has been quite an adventure for both of us–scary and exciting at the same time.
One more detail: Harriett has known Regis Philbin since the ’70s. She even pays tribute to him in her book: “He’s the first person to utter the words ‘talk radio‘ to me. I’d never heard of talk radio. Regis suggested I check it out. I did. I loved it. And I ended up being a talk radio host for 9 years–all thanks to Regis. He has been a friend ever since and even plugged my book on his TV show causing Amazon sales to spike for a day! I wanted to attend his book-signing to say hi and thank him in person for plugging my book.” As Harriett’s publisher, my agenda was to take mental notes on book-signings and get a good photo of Harriett and Regis together for Harriett’s Charlie & Me Facebook page.
So how hard could this plan be? We figured we’d just zip over Barnes and Noble, pop in, wave hi to Regis, soak up some “famous author vibes” at a cellular level, snap a couple of digital pictures — and then dash out for lunch. Half an hour tops, wouldn’t you think?
Well, Lesson #1: Everything takes longer and is harder than you think. Why haven’t I learned this by now? As celebrities go, Regis is huge and he drew a huge crowd. You can’t just pop in and say hi to a huge celebrity doing a book signing even if you do know him. Lesson #2: Don’t arrive on time. Like the airport, arrive an hour early. The line was already around the block and up two long escalators and down a long hall. The hired Security Guards, who came off like Secret Service, were everywhere. You’d have thought a presidential candidate was signing. And there was another line at the register just to buy the book. We stood in that line first and Harriett got her little orange wrist-band (“This is a wristband event” it stated on the B&N website) proving she’d bought the book. Lesson #3: Buy the book in advance so you can skip this line.
Halfway up the second escalator, Harriett, still recovering from a broken toe, was experiencing some pain. Lesson #4: Wear comfortable shoes. I got out of the line and went over to a Security Guard, explained about Harriett’s physical discomfort, and asked if we could jump ahead to where there were seats. The Security Guard kept repeating the same phrase: “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’ll have to step back in line.” I repeated my request, hoping he’d offer some kind of solution. He hit REPLAY again: “Sorry, Ma’am, you’ll have to step back in line.”
Another Security Guard joined in. Then a third: “We’re sorry, Ma’am, you’ll have to step back in line.” I pointed to Harriett, explained that she was in some discomfort and couldn’t stand in a line for another hour or two–of course hoping they’d volunteer to let us jump ahead. No such luck. Instead, we got the same answer, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’ll have to get back in line — ” then it came — “or we’ll have to have you removed from the store.” I was incredulous. “You’d actually have us thrown out of Barnes & Noble?” One of the Security Guards repeated the threat in case I didn’t get it the first time: “If you don’t step back in line, we’ll have Security remove you from the premises.” I could just picture it — being dragged out liked members of Occupy Barnes & Noble.
I walked back over to Harriett and we had a little parley: Should we dare play the “Regis is a friend of mine” card? — but we quickly ruled that out when someone else tried it and got slapped down: “Four hundred people here say they’re friends of Regis. Please step back in the line.” These boys play rough! So instead we decided to throw ourselves out of Barnes & Noble, go eat lunch somewhere nice and come back later when the crowd had thinned out (which looked as it might be dinnertime) and the “soup nazies” (as we were now calling them) were completely worn out and much less vigilant from dealing with other “out of line” characters just like us.
So we picked a restaurant across the walkway from Barnes and Noble and sat at an outside table. The place was nearly empty. (Everybody must have been at the book-signing!) We had a perfect view of the book store and could see the people as they walked by the window on the third floor with their books for Regis to sign.
After a leisurely salad, we looked up into the Barnes & Noble window again and saw that the crowd had started to thin out. We paid and went back into the store, up the two escalators, past the Security Guards (who were glaring at us — “Watch those two!”) until we finally got near the throne room. Then we were there — facing the signing table.
When Regis saw Harriett he said “Harriett!” and stood up and came over to her and gave her a hug. (We so hoped the Security Guards were all watching!) Harriett re-introduced Regis to me (I’d been on his show once decades ago pushing my first book), they had a brief chat, and when Regis saw my camera he put his arm around Harriett and flashed a big Regis smile so I could get my photo of them together — and then guess what? My digital camera froze: “Memory card full.” I knew I’d have to delete a picture in order to make room for a new photo, but what photo should I delete? “Take the picture!” Harriett was saying to me between clenched teeth. I started reviewing photos I could delete. “Hurry up, Sylvia!” Regis was saying, his smile fading. He was exhausted from hours of signing. His hand probably hurt. His “people” were pulling at him. “Hurry up!” By now I was so rattled I couldn’t remember how my camera worked. Finally, I deleted something — blindly — I don’t even want to know what I picked. Then Snap/Flash! I got the Facebook picture. “Whew!” I said in a loud voice. When a nice B&N staffer offered to use my camera to take another picture of Regis and Harriet and me, I said no. I couldn’t go through that photo deleting thing again. Lesson #5: Follow this advice I got from my daughter, Jessica, a collector of soap star autographs: “Always make sure you have a working pen and film in your camera. Celebrities don’t like to wait.”
By the time Harriett and I left Barnes & Noble we were exhausted. “It’ll be just our luck,” I said to Harriett as we headed for the parking garage. “We’ll become famous authors but they’ll never let us in Barnes & Noble again.”
Now, more than a week later, and fully recovered, we’re starting to make plans for Harriett’s Book Soup signing on Friday night January 6, 2012 at 7 pm, 8818 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood. We promise you, no long lines, no “soup nazies,” just come and listen to Harriett talk about being “Mrs. Famous” by being married to Charlie Bronson, find out what he was “really like,” look at photos from the Bronson family album, have some refreshments, ask questions about Harriett’s book, or her radio career, or about the adventure of “indie” publishing, and all that good stuff. It’ll be fun. 310.659.3110. Free parking behind the store via Nellas St. It’ll be an experience!