What is it about celebrities that fascinate us? We all know they are just people, people like us who happen to have a talent that has attracted the attention of "the media." Or, maybe it's something else, something intangible, indescribable, a special sparkle that glows from within these people. I just don't know. Somehow though, my life has been sprinkled with celebrities and icons since I was a young child, and even before that through liaisons of my mother. However, that is another story for another time.
One of my first loves was ballet. As a gawky, uncoordinated little person my parents sent me for ballet lessons at about five or six years old. I loved it, wasn't any good at it, but loved it just the same even though my toes bled when I went into toe shoes after about three years of lessons. Around this time my father moved to New York City from our home in Rhode Island. My parents were not divorcing, he just had to find work and that's where it was, in New York. On one of my visits to see him, he took me to the ballet at Carnegie Hall. It was "Swan Lake" and I was enthralled by the performance of The Firebird. The ballerina was an Osage woman by the name of Maria Tallchief. She was so graceful. I went home and fantasized, as only an 11-year-old can, that I could be as great a ballerina one day.
Over the years I met many celebrities because of my father who did find a job in New York City. He was a graphic artist at CBS News. He and his friend would go out for drinks or lunch with people like Yul Brynner, Walter Cronkite, Charles Collingwood, Don Hewitt and other prominent newsmen of the late 50s and early 60s. Many more famous people would come and go in his life and mine.
Once I began my career as a Native American craftsperson, artist and exuberant pow wow vendor, I was exposed to a whole new wonderful world of friends. Many of them introduced me to people I never would have met on my own - Skip Haywood, Russell Means, Mike Chiago, Floyd Westerman, N. Scott Momaday, Alan Houser, Robert Mirabal, Arvol Looking Horse and a story to go with each of them. There were others, some just brushes peripheral in nature, but just as memorable.
At a pow wow in Mashpee, Mass. in the early 90s, Cindy Lauper came to my booth (accompanied by a few large bodyguards) and bought a cookbook from me. She was cordial and petite. There was another event at Lincoln Center that was memorable. A dear friend was helping out the caterer by designing decor for the tables. I just went along to keep her company. It was a film festival for Native American artists, actors, directors and associates. Lots of prominent people in that field were in attendance, however, they all seemed to hush and murmur when Tantoo Cardinale entered the room. I thought she was much younger and prettier in person than on screen. She demanded attention without trying to draw attention to herself. That, to me, seemed to be "star quality." It certainly was class. Around that same time, I met Carlos Nakai at a special event held at the Cathedral of St. John the Devine in New York. It was a splendid evening of celebration with numerous glitterati in attendance.
Another elusive Native woman I have seen in person a couple of times but never met, is Buffy St. Marie. To me she's an icon. She joins the ranks of Wilma Mankiller and LaDonna Harris as women of accomplishment in their chosen fields. There are so many others I think very highly of, so many in fact, that I don't want to exclude them, but must watch my space here.
Now a fabulous younger generation is coming along. People like Joanne Shenandoah (whom I have met), Jana, Chin, Ulali, Walala, and I'm not even touching the tip of the iceberg. So, what is it that makes a celebrity? Some say it is talent plus luck-plus who you know. Will this star watching continue, will we ever tire of holding these people in esteem? Not me, I love it and will continue to admire certain celebrities (are you listening Graham Greene?) In many ways I feel like a female Forrest Gump, always meeting great people at prominent times in our lives. I thank the Creator every day for the many blessings in my life; one of them is this opportunity to share these things with you.
The Native Cooking column will return next week.