Written in my off hours whilst working from home during the COVID-19 zombie apocalypse. The following is the fifth in a series of stories about the baroness. These stories are true as she remembers them.
By the time she was six, Baroness Alba vonBeavis was famous enough to attract many fans (to this day she still gets fan letters and autograph requests–an autographed photo of her on eBay ranges from a few bucks to hundreds, depending on the show and scene) … and a few obsessed creeps. She feels that the usual wardrobe dress was too short for a six year old.
“Two girls in my neighborhood asked me to go with them to a man’s house. They said he had candy,” she said. “When I got there and went inside, they both left me there by myself and closed the door behind them. I was in there alone with a middle-aged man.”
The scene as described by the baroness is reminiscent of character Buffalo Bill’s house in “Silence of the Lambs;” shades drawn, dimly lit, musty and dank-smelling. There was a man in the front room with bowls of candy awaiting the next Gretel. Her deflectors had already gone up before he asked her to remove her clothing.
“As he walked toward me, I opened the front door and ran away. I told my mother about what had happened, and she called the police,” she said. “The LAPD checked it out and took him in. They said he was a known child molester.”
A few years later, as her brother became popular through teenie magazines such as “Tiger Beat,” the siblings added a German Shepherd to the family for protection following death threats. One of the kooks wasn’t just writing letters in the days before the internet; he stalked them until the LAPD pulled him over to find rope, duct tape and other kidnapping accessories in the trunk of his car.
The date of the following is unclear, but it was in the early 1970s: the baroness went on an audition at the old Twentieth Century Fox Studios in Century City, Los Angeles, while her brother waited outside. Her mom was with her, inside an office on the second floor, when a single-engine airplane crashed into the building, hitting the floor below them. A fire ensued. “The pilot had suffered a massive heart attack and died,” the baroness recalls. The crash happened when most of the employees in the building were at lunch, and the pilot was the only fatality. Her brother (from this point on I’ll refer to her infamous brother as the Earl) witnessed the crash and freaked out, thinking his mother and sister were on the first floor. It could’ve been a tragic story instead of a near miss.
I’ve never been one to gush over celebrities, and I’ve met a few over the years. One I did meet, do respect and had a brief conversation with in Honolulu is Edward James Olmos. I respect him for his theatrical chops and civic-minded philanthropic works in Los Angeles. Olmos was in town for Hawaii’s first sci-fi autograph show. He’d recently done a season of “Agents of Shield” after the successful run of “Battlestar Galactica.” I volunteered to work the event and got to meet a few of the stars, including offering dining suggestions to Gates “Dr. Crusher” McFadden, whom Olmos good-naturedly razzed while she was on stage. After controlling the line of fans for Olmos, Erin “Wilma Deering” Gray of “Buck Rogers” and Avenger Samuel Thomas “Falcon” Wilson, Olmos took a selfie with me–I don’t do selfies, but he took my phone and grinned as we both shook out our long hair. The only other selfie ever taken of yours truly was by a dental hygienist in Sindelfingen, Germany.
Celebrities frequented our small tourist city. Regulars included Barbara Streisand, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. To their credit, they just act like every other tourist and the locals don’t bother them much. If I was asked a question, I’d answer it, but I never asked for autographs or photos. I just treat them like everyone else.
One I didn’t gush over, not because of any dislike of him or his work, is Billy Zane. Around 1999, the baroness and I were standing in the concession line at our island’s only theater, a handsome, round, 1930s art deco building with a big Page organ that plays before the movie on Fridays, Saturdays and for the annual silent film festival. The baroness was getting her popcorn fix (I literally smell the burnt microwave popcorn nuked by the baroness as I write this. She belongs in Popcorn Anonymous) when the following took place:
“You see him?” whispered the baroness, nodding at a man about five customers in front of us. “That’s Billy Zane.”
I glanced up the line and didn’t place him. I’d have recognized the late character actor Burt Mustin before Billy Zane, who was at the peak of his career then. Despite his many credits, his name was unfamiliar to me. If she’d said he was the traveling actor in “Tombstone” or the bad guy in “Titanic,” I would’ve recognized him.
“Who?” I whispered back, still searching.
“Billy Zane,” she repeated a little louder. I didn’t see anyone I recognized. He’d shaved his head and was wearing a tweed ivy cap. He was blending.
“Who?” I asked again.
“Billy Zane.” She was now loud enough for the line to hear.
“Who?” I was sounding like an owl and it annoyed the baroness enough to raise her voice to repeat his name a fourth time. By now he was watching us, bemused. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Billy Zane! Billy Zane!” she shouted, pointing at him. “He was only in the top grossing movie of all time!” When the baroness uses what we soldiers call a command voice, everyone stands-to.
“I’ve never heard of the dude!” I shouted back.
Zane stared at us a moment as other’s from our small town recognized him. He pulled his cap a little lower and turned back for his movie snacks. After the film, which I think was “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,” Zane made a point of coming up to me to ask directions back to his hotel. He didn’t need to. It’s quite hard to get lost in a town as small as ours, plus his hotel had his last name for its first name (no relation, but he probably chose it for that reason). I was mildly embarrassed and politely gave him directions, and that was the end of our encounter.
As her child stardom fades farther back in the mists of time, the baroness is occasionally asked to appear on television. She was flying to London for an A&E documentary, but forgot her passport and called me in desperation from Munich International (a very nice airport that doesn’t rip off travelers, by the way) to race at warp speed through the snow from our home in the Bavarian Alps. I arrived in my slippers after putting petal to the metal on the Autobahn. It was only due to her flight being delayed by bad weather that she made it to Heathrow in time for the interview.
She did another interview about her stardom on Waikiki Beach around 2014. WGN Chicago was visiting Hawaii and somehow tracked her down. It certainly wasn’t her agent on Oahu, who has earned 15 percent of zilch for her efforts, although the baroness auditioned for “Lost” a time or two. It was one of her most relaxed interviews, done without a hint of danger beyond the gnarly traffic of the H-1. A diligent search of YouTube will reveal it.
There’s one more interview of note that the baroness declined. Out of the blue in 2005, she received a call at work from Fox “News” to be interviewed on Bill O’Reilly’s show. She paused before asking “How did you get my number?”
Her number had been passed to Billo’s producers by former child star Paul Petersen, best known as a pre-Tiger Beat heartthrob and as character Jeff Stone on “The Donna Reed Show.”
“Hell, no! I can’t stand that guy,” she declared, then she slammed down the phone.
Automobile adventures with Alba and the baroness talks politics with Howard Stern and Susan “Cindy Brady” Olsen–yeah, that Brady Buncher–in the next installment. Plus she talks about Hollywood friends Allison “Nellie” Arngrim and Melissa “Laura” Gilbert from “Little House on the Prairie” and a day out with Brooke Shields.