Ramona on Corona: My Brush With Fame

A humor series on navigating this difficult time

Today, I’m sharing another installment of a humor series from my friend Pam Goldman, centering on a woman named Ramona, who tries to help… in her own way.

If you’re new to this series: Here’s the previous installment. Read on.

I’m told I have a few followers. I’m told some of them have missed me these last few horrific weeks. I’ve missed them, too. I have never had followers before (a few or many), so I’m adjusting. If I had to describe myself pre-pandemic I would say I was a follower rather than someone who was being followed.

Of course, one can be both. But I like being followed more. It’s soothing. It makes me feel known. Known by strangers. I’ve wondered if this might carry over into actual fame. How does one know exactly when one crosses over from civilian to supernova? Not that I’m suggesting I might be at that level of fame (…yet) but in this world of social media who decides how many followers you need to be famous? One hundred thousand? Two million? Twenty million?

As of this writing I believe I have 48. I also believe it’s not where you start but where you finish. And that is not plagiarism —because I am admitting right here and now that I stole that from the 1973 Broadway show Seesaw starring Ken Howard and Michelle Lee. They were famous, at least for awhile.

Doesn’t everyone want to be famous? Or is that a myth I made up and bought into? The first famous person I saw in the flesh was Gene Rayburn. Remember him?

He hosted the popular TV show The Match Game from 1962–1969. I was taking acting class every Saturday in New York City trying to be famous. I went (read: snuck into) NBC and found myself standing behind the audience as The Match Game was being broadcast live. I had an out of body experience when the real Gene Rayburn made his entrance without a television screen framing him on four sides. The applause sign suddenly blinked hot white light, and the audience (and I) clapped enthusiastically on cue.

The next celebrity I saw in the flesh was Johnny Carson. I made a dash from acting school to the stage door at NBC, knowing he would have to come out some time. I had no shame and accosted him the moment he emerged. “Hi Mr. Carson. My name is Ramona and I go to drama school and I’m going to be a famous actress.” He made no eye contact and flatlined, “Well, you’re a very pretty girl and I wish you a lot of luck.”

Next was Carol Burnett. I caught her coming out of Sardi’s restaurant. “Hi Miss Burnett. My name is Ramona and I go to drama school and I’m going to be a famous actress.” She made no eye contact and flatlined, “Well, you’re a very pretty girl and I wish you a lot of luck.”

I went to the stage door after a matinee in which Anthony Newley performed in the Broadway show Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. “Mr. Newley blah blah blah.” He made eye contact and seemed genuinely interested. “Well, you’re a very pretty girl and would you like to see my dressing room?” I ran to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and took the first bus home to New Jersey.

I don’t know why famous people so floored me. I couldn’t believe they ate cereal, just like me. Or had bad hair days or owed the IRS. They seemed super human to me. Like they wouldn’t need deodorant.

After majoring in theater in college I did pursue a professional acting career throughout my 20s and 30s. When an agent signed me to do TV commercials, I jumped at the chance to pursue my craft. I auditioned and before I could say “residuals,” the checks came flying in. I was usually cast as the young mom, one or two children in tow. If I wasn’t mopping (Miracle Mop), shopping (JCPenny), deodorizing (Ban Roll-On), cooking (Cream of Wheat) or eating (McDonald’s), I was the know-it-all spokeswoman trying to convince young women to “Rely on Rely” (the tampon later associated with toxic shock syndrome).

I went on calls for plays, tv soap operas, repertory theater. The highlight of my auditioning career was meeting my favorite famous person, Katherine Hepburn.

She was doing a new play called A Matter of Gravity, bound for Broadway. The director was looking for an ingénue to play the love interest of the young male lead, Christopher Reeve in his Broadway debut.

As I entered the small theater at the Neighborhood Playhouse Acting School on East 54th Street, I saw Miss Hepburn seated in the third row, one foot casually propped up on the seat in front of her. She wore a navy blue captain’s hat with a white scarf around it, tied under the chin, shelter for her signature fly-away bun underneath.

She extended a steady hand as the noted director, Jose Quintero introduced me by name. My tremulous hand found its way to hers, upon which she gripped mine like a truck driver. I then gingerly ascended the three stairs to the stage, where I found the stage manager poised to read the audition scene opposite me.

The end of the story is I was called back three times but did not get the part. I was completely crushed (in the way that only a wide-eyed 20-year-old, hungry for overnight success, can be). I did see the play in previews, however, and wrote my critique to Miss Hepburn which I sent c/o the Broadhurst Theater. “This may sound like sour grapes but I assure you that is not the case. In my opinion, the actress Wanda B., who you chose to play the ingénue, had not one genuinely honest moment in her entire performance.”

Two weeks later I received an envelope in the mail (sturdy ivory stock) with an address in Fenwick, Connecticut engraved in claret red ink on the back flap. “Dear Miss R., One important part of being an actor is good sportsmanship.” Signed Katherine Hepburn.

I was mortified. “Ramona you have upset an icon!” I admonished myself.

I never did become a famous actress, in case you haven’t heard. Now that I think of it, neither did Wanda B.

Pam Goldman is a writer, therapist, wife, mother and (young) grandmother. Her work has been published in The New York Times and VIVA Magazine. She is completing her first book, titled LEFT.

This originally appeared on Medium