Friday, April 29, 2011

Some Notable People I Have Met

I already talked about my Olympic-medal winning friend Putzi Crotty, but I’ve also met a number of other notable people.

Jill St. John was the first celebrity I ever saw in person (I had seen President Johnson drive by in a limousine).  It was in Aspen, Colorado in 1971.  This was just after she had finished filming Diamonds Are Forever, a James Bond movie.  She would have been about 31.

Jill St. John
She was on the sundeck at a mid-mountain restaurant, I think it was called Bonnie’s.  I was with Jim Brenneman and some friends of his from Ohio State.  Several people pointed St. John out to me, otherwise I don’t think that I’d have recognized her.  I was about 15 or 20 feet away from her and I remember thinking that she really wasn’t that pretty.  She was wearing quite a bit of zinc oxide (a white cream which stops ultraviolet rays) and it was somewhat blotchy. There were lots of other young women there who I would have said were more attractive.  Shows you how photographic lighting and makeup affects perceptions.

Anyhow, there were a lot of people there and no one was paying any attention to her.  Aspen has a kind of snobby atmosphere and I suspect that no one wanted anyone else to think they were impressed by a movie star’s presence.

I was hungry and got in line to buy some food.  As I was waiting, someone said, “Excuse me.” as they wanted to get by the spot where I was standing.  I moved aside to let the person pass -- it was St. John.  That was the extent of our acquaintanceship.


In 1988 I was teaching skiing at NorthStar near Lake Tahoe.
William Katt
One student that I had for several days was the wife of William Katt, an actor most well known for The Greatest American Hero TV show.

I spoke briefly to him several times when his wife and I crossed his path.  He was very friendly and talkative, although I can’t remember anything that we discussed.


Bill Hewlett, of Hewlett-Packard fame, had a “cabin” in the Sierras near Donner Pass.  It was in an area known as “The Cedars” which is about due south of Sugar Bowl ski area.  This is a collection of very nice summer cabins (it is almost impossible to get into the place in the winter), most of which are owned by pretty well-to-do families from the Bay Area.

An example of the wealth of these families -- there is a large meadow in “The Cedars” which we were using a base to land a helicopter in to shuttle firemen into a small, inaccessible fire nearby.  There were a number of pre-teen boys watching our operations and I said to one, “Kind of exciting watching a helicopter land in your front yard, isn’t it?”

He replied, “Yeah, it’s neat.  I always like it when my Dad’s helicopter lands at our house to take him somewhere.”

Bill Hewlett
Anyhow, in 1992 they became concerned about their vulnerability to a forest fire and asked the Forest Service to help them devise a plan to minimize the potential for damage.  I worked with them to develop some plans to control the vegetation around the community, minimize the potential for fire starts and develop some sort of fire response plan.

Bill came to many of the meetings we held and was very interested and involved in the process.  I got to know him pretty well and found him very affable with a gentle sense of humor.  He did not in any way try to be the "leader," he seemed happy just to be one of the participants.


In the spring of 1974 I was living in New Mexico and some of my Ohio friends came out to visit me.  We went on a ski trip up to Colorado.  One night after skiing in Vail we went to a restaurant, the Blue Gnu, which had been one of my friends favorite places when he lived in Vail a few years before.  It wasn't really my kind of place, kind of noisy and dimly lit, and I was only there to be with my friends.  I was quickly bored and would have been ready to leave at anytime.

I had noticed one young lady sitting in a booth near the dance floor.  I thought she looked very fit and was pretty with very long, dark hair.

We hadn't been in the place for long when, on my way to the restroom, the young woman I had noticed earlier was standing along the railing overlooking the dance floor. As I passed her she suddenly stepped back and knocked into me.  She spilled some of her drink and I caught her to prevent her from losing her balance.  She smiled at me after I let go of her.  We exchanged short pleasantries and I went on my way.  She thanked me in English, but she had a strong French accent.
Fabienne Serrat

As I returned from the restroom I saw her from across the room.  A guy was talking to her and she shook her head at him several times.  By the time I got near her he had left.  She looked towards me as I approached and I impulsively asked her to dance (very unusual for me).  She agreed and we danced to a couple of tunes, probably less than five minutes.  We hardly spoke, as it was quite loud.  I'm pretty sure that my friends never even noticed this - I didn't mention it and they never commented about it.

Then I returned to my friends and she went back and sat in a booth.  I noticed that an occupant of the booth was the guy she had been talking with just before I asked her to dance.

A little later, my friend Jim, who was a big fan of ski racing, pointed to her and asked me if I knew who she was.  I did not.  He told me that it was Fabienne Serrat, a French racer who had won two gold medals at the World Ski Championship in St. Moritz, Switzerland just a few weeks earlier.

Jim also added that the guy she was sitting with was Piero Gros, an Italian racer who would win the overall World Cup skiing championship that season.


In April of 1974 I started working for the Forest Service.  I was assigned to fire prevention and visitor information services.  My duty station was at the top station of the Sandia Peak Tramway, just outside of Albuquerque.

Our job was to greet each tram as it arrived and explain to the riders the very high fire danger in the area, urge them to be fire-safe while visiting and then to answer any questions that they might have about the area.
One time when the tram arrived Lou Rawls, a well-known singer and sometime actor, was aboard.  I recognized him immediately as I prepared to give my little fire danger spiel.

Lou Rawls
After he exited the tram, it was obvious that he under the influence of something, but he asked a couple of question about what was visible from our vantage point near the top of the mountain.  I think this was more out of courtesy than curiosity. Two attractive young ladies accompanied him, but they both treated him more like they were nurses or caretakers than girlfriends.

The thing that I most remember about Rawls is that he was the actor who said the memorable line, “Ain't a horse that can't be rode; ain't a man that can't be throwed.”  This was on the TV show The Big Valley when he had a guest starring role as a hired hand.  I also remember that he was a talented singer with a very silky voice.


In May of 1983 I attended a US Ski Coaches seminar at Mount Bachelor, Oregon.  We stayed at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain lodge in Bend.  The US Ski Team was training there at the same time and during the course of the 10 days we were there I met a number of famous skiers, although some of them weren’t known at all yet.

Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson was the first American male skier to win an Olympic Gold medal – for the downhill in 1984 at Sarajevo, less than a year after I met him.  He was at the camp and I rode the lift with him a couple of times.  He told me that he didn’t expect to ever win the overall World Cup as he planned to specialize in downhill only and not really train for slalom or GS.  He said, “I just like to go fast, I don’t want to turn.”


Kim Reichhelm really isn’t that famous.  She’s a very good skier, who raced for the University of Colorado and then had a couple of seasons on the US Ski Team. I don’t think that she ever had any top results in international competition.  She was one of the people I met at Mount Bachelor.

I ran into her again a few years later in Colorado and skied about a half day with her.  She now runs a private company which specializes in taking women to various exotic ski destinations.

Kim Reichhelm
 She briefly attained some notoriety back in 1989 when she participated in a skiing film called, License to Thrill.  During one “extreme skiing run” that was filmed for the movie, she took a horrendous, spectacular fall, every moment of which was caught on film.

Although she wasn’t badly hurt, the film clip was so fascinating and eye-catching that it was aired on numerous TV programs and she got a guest spot on the David Letterman Show.


Phil & Steve Mahre are twin brothers from Washington who were very successful American racers in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Phil won the overall World Cup several times and they both won Olympic and World Championship medals.  Until Bode Miller came along, I think Phil was the most successful American skier ever.

Phil and Steve were both at the camp, but they also had their wives with them and Steve had at least one child, so they weren’t hanging out with the coaches like some of the other athletes were.  I did talk to both of them quite a bit during the week, including playing a couple of games of basketball against them.  They were both about my height, 5-9, but they were maybe 30 pounds heavier and all muscle.  Trying to guard them was like guarding a moving rock.  They were both really muscularly built.
Phil & Steve Mahre
They were quick players with excellent reflexes and good shots.  Some of the other coaches (many of who were excellent athletes in their own rights) were probably better basketball players, but the Mahre’s were very, very good.


Also staying at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain lodge were the cast and crew of a movie which was being filmed in the area at the same time.  The "Stars" were all staying in houses they had rented so we never saw any of them, but most of the other cast members were at our lodge and we saw them often.  The movie was called Up the Creek and was about a college rafting race.  It was a goofy youth comedy like Animal House or Nerds.
Jeana Tomasino
I, and several of my fellow coaches, met one of these "lower-billed" actors, Jeana Tomasino, one afternoon.  She was quite pretty.  I don't remember much of the conversation, which the other guys dominated, but I remember that she seemed very shy, and I think that she told us that she was scared of skiing.

She didn’t have much of a movie career, but became pretty well known as the “star” of a series of music videos by the band ZZ Top.


In 1985 I had gone down to LA with some friends for a Bruce Springsteen Concert.  The following night the sister of my friend Jim, and a bunch of her friends, all of who had gone to college nearby, wanted to go to a restaurant/bar in Santa Monica, called the Oar House, which they had frequented during their college years.  I’m sure this was October 1, 1985, because I know the concert was September 30.  Bill Schofield was also with us.

The restaurant had a small dance floor, and wasn’t crowded.  Our party made up more than half the people.  After eating we went over by the dance floor as the women we were with all wanted to dance.  We hadn’t been there very long when a group of very attractive, and obviously very fit, young women came in.

Paula Abdul
There were probably about twice as many women as men in the place, so the ladies kept us guys steadily occupied as dance partners.  The women who had just come in were incredible dancers.  I noticed one in particular, who was a bit shorter and a little stockier than the rest of her group, but whose movements were somehow more fluid, dynamic and eye-catching than the others.  I spoke with her and found out that her name was Paula.  As the evening went on we got to know all of them and found out that about half their group were Laker Girls, the cheerleaders for the LA Lakers NBA team.

A few years later, in 1987, an album by a new young singer became popular, Forever Your Girl.  It was the woman we had met back in 1985 - Paula Abdul.

Bill and Jim also both danced with her, but Bill (who imbibed more than one adult beverage that night) doesn't remember this.  Haven't spoken to Jim about it.


In the winter of 1986 I was teaching skiing in Mammoth.  One of my co-workers, his first name was Chris, introduced us to his neighbor, who, he told us, had acted in a few TV shows and movies.

Her name was Dona Speir and she was early in a career as a “B” movie actress.  I don’t think that she ever became well-known, but she was in movies and TV for about 10 years or so.

Dona Speir
 I should add that, like Jill St. John, she looked a lot better on the screen than in real life.  She was attractive, but I would not call her a "head-turner."


I’ve known Eva Twardokens, a US Ski Team member who participated in the Olympics and won a medal at the 1985 World Championship, since she was a little girl.  Her Dad, George, was a ski instructor who was one of the Far West Ski Instructors Association specialists on ski teaching.  I knew him through this and later worked with him at Alpine Meadows.  I also occasionally ran into him on the U of Nevada campus where he was a Kinesiology  professor.

Eva Twardokens
When he traveled around California helping instructors he would sometimes bring Eva so I skied with her a few times when she was small.  All the instructors were like big brothers to her and would all take turns keeping an eye on her.  When I knew her then she was more into trick skiing or freestyle, but she later got serious about racing competition.

She was also at the Mount Bachelor session in 1983 for a day or two.


Tamara McKinney
When I moved to Truckee in 1986 I seemed to see Tamara McKinney, another US Ski Team member every time I went out to eat.  She won the overall World Cup a couple of times and also won World Championship medals and participated in the Olympics.  I only knew her to say hello, but our paths did cross a lot.


For other notable people I have met, click this link.


My “Famous” Friend

I've met a few celebrities, but the only one I would call a friend is Putzi Crotty.  Putzi (a nickname, her real name is Josefina) was a famous Austrian ski racer who won Olympic and World Championship medals in the 1950’s (her maiden name is Frandl).  Visiting her home was quite interesting as there were ski trophies and medals strewn around the house.

Putzi and I became friends because we were co-workers on the Ski School at Copper Mountain ski resort in 1984-85.  It was the first season working there for both of us and we ended up talking and discovered that we had mutual friends.  Putzi had also taught at Mad River Mountain (Valley High) near Bellefontaine, Ohio, which is where I had learned to ski and first became a ski instructor. Later that ski season some of our Mad River friends visited us at Copper.

Putzi told me that after retiring from racing she worked as a ski instructor in Austria. In one of her classes she met US Air Force officer Patrick Crotty. They eventually married and had three children, Monica, Patrick Jr. and Joseph.  I got to know the boys pretty well as they often came up to Copper to ski.

Patrick's Air Force career took them to many places, and whenever there was a ski resort close enough Putzi would teach skiing.  I only worked that one season at Copper, but Putzi worked there from 1984 until the 2008-2009 season after which she decided to concentrate on her "second love", tennis during 2009-2010. She lives in Centennial, Colorado now.

Here’s a bit about her competition history and some stories she told me.  In the 1956 Winter Olympics she won the silver medal in the giant slalom event. In the slalom competition she finished fifth and had a 13th place finish in the downhill contest.

Putzi told me an interesting thing about the winner of the GS, Ossi Reichert.  Reichert had seriously injured an ankle in 1954, and was not expected to do well at these games. She also drew the #1 start position for the one-run event. Putzi told me that, "Ossi was disappointed to draw #1 as that was usually not a good position. The first racer down the course usually has to scrape off a bit of snow, which slows you down. But Ossi had a great run and overcame that difficulty."

Four years later, at Squaw Valley, California 1960 Winter Olympics, Putzi finished 16th in the slalom event, 21st in the giant slalom competition, and 39th in the downhill contest.

Putzi told me that she was pretty disappointed in her results in Squaw.  She felt that she had been skiing very well in the events leading up to the Olympics and expected to do well. There was very little snow in the Sierras until just before the Olympics. Finally the area received a good snowfall, just in time to keep the events from being cancelled or postponed.

Putzi and some of her friends and teammates went out to ski the fresh powder snow. Unfortunately, while coming down one run, the tip of one of her skis went under a log hidden just beneath the newly fallen snow. Her shin hit the log hard, scraping it and straining her leg. She told me that she believed that the injury possibly prevented her from winning another Olympic Medal.

Putzi also had excellent results at the 1958 World Championships, with a Silver in Slalom and Bronze in the Combined.


For other notable people I have met, click this link.