It was inevitable I would run into a celebrity or two working as a volunteer usher at various theatres in Chicago, both in the Loop and Off-Loop. I was working as an usher at the Goodman Theatre, which is one of the oldest theaters in Chicago. My celebrity encounter took place in the spring of 1988. At the time this theatre’s location was behind the famous Art Institute. The Goodman was one of my favorite theatres to usher, because it was easy to get to and extremely undemanding work. Inside it was huge with an enormous coat room, bar and information desk. Much of the time the ushers were left on their own. This was nice in some ways. On this particular night, however, it was unlike anything I had experienced before or since. I was about to have my first real encounter with an A-List actor in a working capacity.
Robert De Niro, One of the Greatest Actors in His Generation
The celebrity in question was none other than the Oscar-winning actor, Robert De Niro. What made this encounter very special was the fact during the 70s and 80s he was known to be highly reclusive. In other words he did not grant any interviews whatsoever, was rarely spotted in celebrity type magazines or TV shows and wasn’t the most approachable person from the little bit I read on him. One thing that’s undeniable is his acting talent. In his role as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull he underwent a complete transformation that would later become known as “doing a De Niro.’ A native New Yorker he burst onto the movie screen, thanks to his encounter with fellow Little Italy neighborhood acquaintance Martin Scorsese. In the early 70s he starred in Scorsese’s Mean Streets. From there De Niro has starred in countless films that have been nominated for Academy Awards and has received two Oscars himself. One of his best known films is Taxi Driver. Its the one that inspired John Hinckley to try and assassinate President Reagan for his love of Jodie Foster, who also starred in Taxi Driver. De Niro utters the famous quote “You talkin’ to me?“
My Encounter with DeNiro & Friends at the Goodman
This was on a weekday night; I think it was on a Wednesday. There was a play titled Big Time in the Remains Theatre. This was in the secondary theatre at the Goodman. The main stage had another production going on that night. I was the only one working the smaller theatre. I got my Playbills in hand to give to the patrons as I tore their ticket stubs and handed them a program booklet. I then waited around for more patrons to come through. All of a sudden three men descend down the lobby stairs and proceeded my way. There was no denying who the one in the middle was. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was none other than Robert De Niro. The previous year he had been in the film The Untouchables as Al Capone. I certainly knew this was the one and only Robert De Niro. Along with him were the comedic actors, Bill Murray and his brother Peter Boyle Murray. I remembered reading somewhere De Niro is good friends with Bill Murray. Anyways, I assumed they were attending the play in the main stage. It never occurred to me they were going to see Big Time. There was only one door to go in and out, so I knew the patrons that were already inside, because I took all their tickets.
Anyways, it was getting close to show time. All of a sudden I see Robert De Niro, Bill Murray and Peter Boyle Murray walking towards me. They kept walking by and were about to go inside the theater until I assertively said something. De Niro was the first to go in, so I asked very nicely, but sternly, “can I see your tickets please?” I remembered the look on all of their faces that someone was actually talking to them. In a way I think I caught them off guard. Robert graciously showed me all three of the tickets, which had been torn by someone else, mostly likely the house manager, stage manager or the artistic director, Robert Falls. Gee, I wish someone had told me this before. I then added, “Oh OK they’ve been torn it’s alright.” They immediately went inside. Another thing that I will never forget was the look on DeNiro’s face when he was about to show me the tickets it was like “You talkin’ to me?”, but without the intensity.
The Aftermath & Cast Party
After the show there was a get together with some of the cast from Big Time along with De Niro and the Murray brothers. I remember approaching the actor from the play informing him who was in the house. He knew they were going to be there. It was something to do with De Niro wanting to cast one of the actresses from Remains Theatre. I stayed for a brief time at the party located at the bar inside the lobby. No one seemed to approach DeNiro the time I was there. One thing I noticed about Robert De Niro is his quiet nature at the party. He never once uttered any word to me in my brief encounter. In fact he was actually very cordial. You hear of uppity actors all the time with service people. Of course I was over the moon when I got home. I had to stop by my friend’s to tell her the news since I couldn’t sleep a wink that night. It really was some enchanted evening.
Goodman Theatre: Chicago’s award-winning regional theatre, Goodman Theatre
The Internet Movie Database, Robert De Niro, IMDb
Yahoo! Movies, Robert De Niro Biography, Yahoo!
Lucia Bozzola, Robert De Niro Biography, Moviefone