Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thanks for the memories...

Andy Griffith died this past week. It’s difficult to think of him without a smile. That classic scene that played every week with Andy, Opie and their fishing poles. Who can hear that music and not remember the wonderful characters, and the simple story lines that almost always made us laugh. Remembering Andy got me thinking about the various celebrities who came into the Empress Hotel while I worked there, much earlier in my career.

 Andy Griffith was one of them. At that time the entrance to the hotel was off to the side facing the Museum. Andy wandered in there one day and asked the head porter if he would arrange a taxi to take him around on a sightseeing tour. He was alone, and while he waited for a car and driver he wandered around the lobby, looking at the interior; quiet and undemanding. After he left for his tour we wondered if we’d dreamed his presence.

We always knew when John Wayne was there, of course. Now there was a larger-than-life presence. Wayne owned a converted minesweeper in which he often came up the coast to go fishing. There was a particular shop in the lobby of the Empress, the Hand Loom, where he liked to shop. The minesweeper would be anchored in the harbour and he would row the short distance to the docks, often alone, and would stride up the sidewalk on those long legs and walk up the steps leading into the lobby. It was almost more fun watching the tourists fumbling for their cameras that it was watching him.

George H.W. Bush came to the Empress when he was Vice President. What a kerfluffle! Not as bad as when the Queen would come, but almost. Secret Service men everywhere, their cold eyes watching everyone. Manhole covers bolted down, post Office boxes was like being under siege.

Bob Hope was a regular guest at the hotel. An ardent golfer, he played with the Hotel Manager at one of the exclusive golf courses overlooking the ocean. In the evenings, he liked to go to the movies. He’d walk out the employees’ entrance and wander up to the six-theatre complex a few blocks away, where the manager would meet him and take him in the back way. He was always discreetly accompanied by a driver, but he preferred to walk. He always left a token of his appreciation with the Hotel Manager, the last of which was a set of Manhattan glasses with a gold cartoon design showing him in profile, an exaggerated ski-slope nose, and the words “Thanks for the Memory”.

James Garner came to the hotel while shooting a movie entitled The Glitter Dome. As I recall, they used the sub-basement to build a series of wooden vats, in which bean sprouts were being cultivated. Something like that; it was messy and smelly, that’s all I recall. Mr. Garner was handsome and charming to everyone he met. A true gentleman.

Famous Canadian ballerina Karen Kain stayed often. I saw very little of her, but I do recall that as her fame grew, she didn’t change a bit. She still came down for her own mail, chatted with the front office staff and was generally one of the sweetest ‘celebrity’ guests we had.

One morning I arrived at work just as the night audit staff was leaving. Early morning was the best time to get a feel for check-ins and check-outs. This was before the days of computer controlled reservations, and it was best to be prepared. On this particular morning I was trying to concentrate but it was difficult. A man kept walking back and forth in front of the front desk area, singing. I can still hear him. He was singing “I write the songs”, a Barry Manilow tune. He was doing a good job, too, but it was making it difficult for me to concentrate. A few minutes later, the cashier came over to me to authorize a cheque; evidently the man was checking out. It was Gordon Macrae. I had grown up on Oklahoma and Carousel and here I’d been ignoring a private concert by one of my early heroes.  By the way, he had beautiful penmanship.

Thank you Andy Griffith for bringing back these memories.



  1. Interesting recollection of these famous men. I've always like James Garner, and of course, John Wayne.

  2. What fun memories! You brought back a piece of my childhood with those people. Thank you.

  3. How very cool, Mona, that you got the chance to see so many celebrities. I wonder if there was anyone who wasn't quite what you expected?

    1. Those would be the unpleasant ones, or the ones who misbehaved, much like the characters we write about. Isn't that always the way?