Robert Duvall, I’m so sorry

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

Dear Robert,

Think back to late summer 1971 and you are hanging out in Pompano Beach, Florida spending time with your ailing father (or, at least, that was your story). My family is vacationing at the Lighthouse Cove Resort in Pompano, and I just joined them from spending three months as a foreign exchange student in Peru prior to my senior year in high school.

My mother, Gwen, is about 44 at this time, but still quite good looking. She was the lead baton-twirling majorette at her high school back in Iowa. Apparently, you struck up a conversation one late afternoon with her while in the restaurant at the resort, which also has a bar. You told her about your father and why you were hanging out there, and some of the stories about your acting career. This was probably close to the time you had just been cast to play the part of the consigliore, Tom Hagen, in Francis Ford Coppolas’ classic “The Godfather.”

My mother, besides her beauty, always had the uncanny ability to attract conversations from almost anyone anywhere. She was an open, bright spirit, with major(ette) social skills and an Iowa politeness and innocence. She could even summon great conversations from the usually non talkative. She somehow summoned a lot of conversation from you about your life, your father, and your acting, and later mentioned it to her son (“He’s an actor, Wayne, maybe he can help you with your scriptwriting.” “I doubt it, mom,” the obstinate teenager replied). She wasn’t quite sure who you were, even though we had no doubt seen you in countless television shows from the 60’s such as “The Outer Limits,” “Route 66,” “The Virginian,” and many more. But you weren’t a ‘movie star’ yet.

Cut to nearly 20 years later. I’m living in L.A. working as a screenwriter and my mom and dad, who have been married nearly 40 years at this point, come to visit. I want to take them to all the hip places. Dudley Moore and Tony Bill had recently opened a restaurant down the street from where I lived in Venice called “72 Market Street,” and all their movie star friends liked to hang out there, so I took my parents there to eat.

No sooner have we sat down, when my mom looks over to another table nearby and spots you. She gets very excited. She remembers the conversation you had all those years ago with her in Pompano Beach, but now you are a big movie star. I tell her she should go over and say hello. But my mom is way too shy. My dad is usually even shyer, but at some point he says he’ll go over and say something.

My dad steps over to your table, stands just behind and above you, and, very nervously and tensely starts to say, “You met my wife at a bar in Pompano Beach several years ago …”

And, at this point, it all suddenly dawns on me and I think, “Oh, shit.” Of course. You were an actor hanging out in a local hotel restaurant bar where tourists stay in a town while no doubt being bored in between visits with your father (if that story was true) and you were trying to pick up my mother. God, it was suddenly oh, so obvious.

And here was this six foot-tall stranger stepping up behind you towering over your seat and very tensely saying, “You met my wife in a bar several years ago ….” And I believe I saw your face turn a whiter shade of pale.

Was this guy about to clock you for having an affair with his wife? How could you have had a clue or known otherwise? That must have been one tense moment. I could see it in your expression and in the way you tensed up.

But then my father continued, adding something like, “… and I just wanted to thank you for having such a nice conversation with her that helped make her vacation so much more memorable.”

What????!

I guess at this point you were wondering just what the hell happened, but you’re being thanked by a strange man for having a ‘conversation’ with his wife. Still, you looked visibly relieved. You smiled politely. Looked over to where my mom and I were sitting and nodded politely, and that was it. You weren’t about to die.

But if that moment cost you a few more strands of hair, or a near stroke, or some possible indigestion, I apologize. It was all very innocent.

Unless of course you really WERE trying to pick up my mother that afternoon in Florida; in which case, the apology’s off.

— A. Wayne Carter

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