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Brushes with Fame

Trey Reely | February 2012


   Andy Warhol said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. I can’t say with absolute certainty that I’ve had mine (unless you count having a story in Reader’s Digest) but I have at least experienced it vicariously.

   I was an extra on the set of The Brady Bunch. In the summer 1972 The Brady Bunch had a three-part series filmed in Hawaii. Having just finished fourth grade, I was visiting my dad, who was on R&R from the Vietnam War. While my family was visiting Sea Life Park we saw Carol, Alice, and the Brady girls about to film a sequence where they looked through a viewing contraption at Rabbit Island. The directors of the film asked us to sit at picnic tables and act natural during the filming. My dad had our family look at a map as if it was the most interesting thing we had ever seen.
   Of course, I went home and told all of my friends that I would be on The Brady Bunch. Imagine my disappointment and loss of credibility when I was no where to be seen when the show eventually aired. However, they did include the scene of Carol, Alice and the three girls looking at Rabbit Island. At least I know where I was sitting when it happened. I have learned since that the directors of The Brady Bunch used such tactics to get the crowd under control with no intention of using them. Such is life in show business.
   Alabama governor George C. Wallace watched me play football. George C. Wallace, the once-controversial governor of Alabama, had a stepson named Jim Snively who was on my fourth-grade football team. In 1971 Governor Wallace came to one of our games and watched from his limousine. Jim was the center and I was the quarterback, so I know he saw me score two touchdowns. We won the game and I remember going over to the limo to see him after the game.

   I almost shook then-president Lyndon B. Johnson’s hand. My earliest brush with fame was in 1966 at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. My mother was actually holding my hand out for LBJ to shake but at the last second dropped it to shake his hand herself. Over the years I’ve recalled just missing his hand but it wasn’t until doing research for this article that the full truth of why I missed it was discovered. My mom feels better after her confession.

   I did shake President Gerald Ford’s hand. President Ford spoke at Harding University in 1981 (after his presidency). The Harding Band played before he spoke, so as a freshman trumpet player I was backstage with him. I managed to shake his hand without considering that I could have been put in a headlock by secret service agents. I guess I looked innocent enough, because they left me alone. 

   The Wayne Newton touched my sock. I wasn’t wearing the sock at the time, however. I took a small group of senior band members to see Wayne Newton in Branson, Missouri. During his act, he told the story of how whenever he sings this one particular song, ladies always throw various undergarments at him. As he sang the song, I threw one of my white socks onto the stage. (Hey, even I can let loose once in a while.) He picked it up after the song and showing a quick wit, said, “Whoever threw this needs to work their way up!” 

   I ate at a banquet with George W. Bush. I ate dinner with George W. Bush in 2010 at a quaint banquet for 700 people. I did not get to shake his hand but my daughter had a photo taken with him. I was not too embittered by this lost opportunity since I had unwittingly transferred half the topping of a Boston cream pie from the pie to my shirt sleeve to my pants leg.

   I went to college with Stephen Mark Brown. Who is Stephen Mark Brown, you ask? I guess fame is relative, but in opera he has made quite a splash. He first attracted national attention in 1992 as a winner of the Opera Company of Philadelphia/
Luciano Pavarotti Competition, following which he sang on Pavarotti Plus! Live from Lincoln Center. Pavarotti once said of Mark, “Bravo! This tenor reminds me of myself!” All modesty aside, that’s saying something. My Uncle Furman once said the same thing about me, but I didn’t take it as a compliment. Brown has performed at La Scala and other famous operatic venues. Unlike others on this list, Mark (notice how I used his first name) actually knows who I am. 
   I have quite an impressive list here, but before you despair at your comparatively dull and uneventful life, let me say that all musicians experience brushes with fame much more than they realize. Interestingly, our regular intimacy with music gives us this opportunity, albeit in a different way. Music begins and germinates in the mind of a composer and makes its way to the printed page where it waits to come to life again when we perform it. Name a composer – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, or Sousa – and you find someone with whom we can have an intimate connection despite the inexorable passage of time. That’s even better than having Wayne Newton hold up your sock.