Fame is weird.
My mother, in that summer before Nantucket, was recognizably famous.
Walking around, every block or so, people would stop her on the street —mostly Dark Shadows fans, mostly high school kids, for a while it was actually difficult to get anywhere by foot— and ask her for her autograph.
When we were in public, and somebody recognized her, the conversation was always the same. One by one they would hit each beat: surprise, recognition, compliment, proof of depth of knowledge about her, Dark Shadows or something else she’d done, expectation of certain behavior back, and then, with that achieved, the request for the autograph.
Mom was, most of the time, very nice—though not all of the time. The thing was, we understood that we had to let people go through every beat; the fact that the beats were always the same didn’t mitigate their importance to the person hitting them. All of this required patience, and patience was not a flower that grew in Mom’s garden. But her empathy would usually outstrip her impatience, most of the time, and she’d sign the autograph, and be gracious, and move on.
Once, somewhere between ’72 and ’75, after she signed for a perfectly pleasant young man, I waited until he was out of hearing and I said, mostly out of frustration: what’s he going to do with that, now that he has it? And she smiled and said: That and thirty-five cents will get him on the subway.
Anyway. Carlsbad, New Mexico, Gargoyles MOW shoot, summer 1972. The motel where the cast and crew stayed had a bell on the glass front door that jangled whenever it was opened or closed. One evening, Matt Gaynes, my mother and I, and various actors and film crew members were waiting for the drivers to get us all to the set, and as it happened one of mom’s TV shows—her episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery—was on the motel lobby television set. So we’re all watching Mom emote scarily away on the screen, and every time the door jangles we all look up, expecting the driver. And at some point the door jangles, and we all look up, and a normal American family, mom and dad and buddy and sis, walk into the motel lobby. And the man points to the TV and says: Look—Grayson Hall. And his wife says: From Dark Shadows. And the husband says: Right. And they watch for a moment, and then go about their business, and they never realized the woman was right there in the room with them, watching herself on TV.
We were dumbfounded. All of us. Too dumbfounded for my mother to jump up in front of all those actors, embrace the sheer weird Marshall Mcluhanness of the moment, and introduce herself. Nope. We were all too dumbfounded to pull that off.
And all these years later, I still am.