Katherine Hep-burned

I was stocking the shelves at “Three Boys Market” in my hometown of Bend, Oregon—a city whose population at the time practically could have fit onto the Cathlamet and Issaquah ferries (although there wouldn’t have been enough beer to go around.)

A man walked up behind me and said in a movie voice, “Hey, kid. Where can I find the buttermilk?” I wheeled around and immediately knew why it sounded like a movie—Kirk Douglas was standing there. He was easy to recognize—that distinctive chin dimple could have held a full quart of buttermilk.
Afterwards, I couldn’t wait to race home so I could tell my parents that I’d shown Kirk Douglas where the buttermilk was. It was my first brush with greatness.

Douglas was in town to shoot a western—The Way West—along with another big time actor, Robert Mitchum. I never saw Mitchum though. He didn’t seem like the buttermilk type.

During the next few weeks I didn’t spot any other actors—except for one: Sally Field. It was her first movie. I don’t remember why or how, but my dad made me stand in a photo with her. The photo (I still have it somewhere) is a watery looking Polaroid. It shows Ms. Field smiling politely alongside a clumsy-looking doofus—me. I look as nervous as a lion tamer wearing a meat suit.

Following the photo I told her, “Look, if you ever wind up winning an Oscar you should accept the award by saying, ‘You like me! You really like me!” She looked hard at me and replied, “You’re sure a clumsy-looking doofus.” (As you guessed, I made that last story up.)

But she really did wind up winning an Oscar—in fact two of them. That’s pretty good for a woman who started her career on TV in Gidget and The Flying Nun. I attended catholic school—but never saw a nun that could fly—although Sister Mildred Marie did have X-ray vision, using it often to look into students’ souls.
But Sally Fields’ two Academy Awards are only half as many as Katherine Hepburn received. Hepburn’s four Oscars are still a record—even better than Meryl Streep (one of the most ‘over-rated actresses in Hollywood’ says one Mar Lago resident.)

Hepburn once came to my hometown too. She had been cast in a western (Bend was only a good locale for westerns—it’s scenery less suitable for musicals, Tarzan movies and Shakespeare.) Hepburn was on hand to shoot a movie called Rooster Cogburn—co-starring John Wayne. It was a sequel to his Oscar-winning turn in True Grit—his only award, poor guy.

During the filming, Wayne was spotted around town occasionally. I remember seeing him come out of a smoke shop one day—his slightly tippy gait gave him away. I read someplace that he walked that way because for a big man, he had tiny feet—and was just trying not to fall over. I don’t know if that’s true, but his footprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are hard to tell from Lassie’s.

My dad had an insurance office directly across the street from a fancy gift shop named Clauson’s Gifts. The owner of the shop—which contained a number of expensive glass figurines and other precious objects—was one of the city’s best-known misanthropes, Mr. Clauson. He was perhaps 60 years old—and awoke every morning on the wrong side of the planet. He seemingly not only hated people—but every other living thing from animals to house plants. (He tolerated Venus Flytraps a bit better because they ate other things alive.)

His small shop seemed designed to keep customers away. He posted handwritten placards everywhere: DON’T PICK UP ANYTHING! LOOK DON’T TOUCH!—and IF YOU BREAK IT, YOU OWN IT!

If a kid walked in, Clausen didn’t hesitate. “Get out of here—now!” he would bellow. He would even chase kids away for standing on the sidewalk, two blocks away from his place.

My dad happened to look out his insurance office one day to see the great Katherine Hepburn strolling along. She opened the door of Clausen’s Gifts and stepped inside.

Within moments, according to my dad, she came barreling right back out—red-faced and fuming—with Mr. Clausen right behind her shaking his fist.

Later, Dad ran into Clausen at the bank. “I saw you chasing a woman out of your shop the other day,” Dad said. “Did you know that was Katherine Hepburn?” Clausen bristled. “I don’t care who the hell she was!” he retorted. “I told her not to touch the stuff—and she kept touching the stuff! So I threw her out!”

In one of my dreams, I imagine John Wayne showing up at the gift shop the next day and punching Clausen in the nose. “That’s for Kate!” the Duke bellows in my dream.

But as Wayne leaves the shop, Clausen—his nose bleeding—stumbles out and yells after him, “Hey, jerk! Anybody ever tell you that you walk funny?!”