Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First impressions

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If that’s the case, I’m sure I’ve gone down in history as making a complete fool of myself upon meeting one of my favorite actors.


If you had a chance to meet a famous film star, one whose career spanned your entire adult life, who earned an Academy Award for Best Actor and a nomination for another, who won several Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor, what would your first words be? Probably not, “Dreyfuss, you outbid me!”

Well, I met Richard Dreyfuss and, oh my, did I ever blow it! When I should have said, “Mr. Dreyfuss, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I’ve enjoyed following your career. I’m really looking forward to your presentation this evening,” instead I gave him crap - for outbidding me by 15 bucks on a batch of Lincoln books as a silent auction was about to end.

I’m lucky, I guess. That - or Dreyfuss is a good sport.

Instead of saying, “Who do you think you are, and what makes you think you can treat me so disrespectfully?” he struck up a conversation with me about another book on the silent auction block, a biography of poet Edgar Lee Masters, who once was Clarence Darrow’s law partner, and about a print of an early Illinois governor, John Peter Altgeld.

Dreyfuss really just seemed to be enjoying hanging out, being a regular person, looking at the same type of auction items you might see at any central Illinois fundraiser, except perhaps that the Lincoln and Illinois history themes were a bit more prevalent.

Lincoln Seen and Heard – and Dreyfuss honored
I met Dreyfuss at the March 27th silent auction and banquet for the Illinois State Historical Society’s 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois, 1830-1861,” at Illinois College in Jacksonville (Ill.).

Dreyfuss was there to do a dramatic reading of “Lincoln Seen and Heard” with Lincoln scholar and U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial co-chair, Harold Holzer.

The production is a powerful work, created by Holzer. It uses images of Lincoln taken before his significant speeches and Lincoln’s words, with Holzer’s narrative to cement the two. Dreyfuss was powerful as he read Lincoln’s speeches, while Holzer’s soft-spoken narrative was as comforting as a favorite teacher lovingly reading a classic children’s book to a room full of fourth-graders in an old brick elementary school.

The evening began with a magnificent concert about which I’ll be sure to tell you later (when I find the program) and ended with Dreyfuss being awarded an honorary doctorate from Illinois College.

I’ve been a proud observer of such moments before – especially, when watching my daughters receive their diplomas - yet watching the excitement Dreyfuss felt as he received his robe, mortarboard and stole was pretty cool, too.

And getting my photo taken with him and Holzer was even cooler. Most of the other people were getting their photos taken with just Dreyfuss, but as I explained to the actor, I’m a Holzer groupie, too. After all, Holzer’s the quintessential Lincoln buff, and one who always inspires me to learn and share more about Lincoln, too.

A fond farewell
My final words to Dreyfuss may have seemed as silly as my first. As I got ready to walk away, I gave him a hug and said, “I’m proud of you.”

Why? Because I know what it feels like to wear that mortar board and toss that tassel late in life. I got my first degree when I was 41 and I’ll never forget looking up as I walked back from the stage and saw the pride in my parents’ faces.

Proud of someone for an honorary degree, you wonder? You bet!

Richard Dreyfuss has spent decades entertaining generations of Americans and today he’s spearheading an organization dedicated to making civics curriculum a mainstay* for American students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I put a lot of hard work into earning my diploma. His path is different, but his distinction is clear. He’s a star student in my book – however you turn the pages.

* I’ll be writing about this effort in a future blog post. But first, I have to get the information from Dreyfuss. With the enthusiasm he feels for this, I don’t think the task will be too difficult.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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