Continued from Part 2…
So, It’s February 03, 2000, and I’m being led backstage, by a member of MGM Grand Security for an audience with Dame Shirley Bassey (to which she’d personally invited me) following the opening night of her two-week run in the Hollywood Theater. As we walked backstage, we were intercepted by another green-jacketed Security person who was leading the copper-coiffed prop-comedian, Carrot Top (on crutches), whom I’d met only a few months earlier, at Jackie 60 in New York. Together, we were shown to the Green Room, which was just beginning to fill-up with some of the biggest names in Las Vegas entertainment, who’d all come to heap praise upon Bassey.
Robert Goulet was there with his Thierry Mugler-clad wife, Vera, laughing it up with Rich Little. Next to him stood Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, chatting with Phyllis McGuire, who was dressed like a Russian Grand Duchess in a mink-lined hat and matching mink-lined knee-high boots. At this point, everyone turned as Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn entered, with Lynette Chappell (who portrayed the Evil Queen in their stage spectacular) serving as a buffer for the two, who, in the vernacular of Friends, were “on a break,” at the time. I didn’t really know them, well, but made a point of complimenting Chappell on her sensational Issey Miyake gown. “How could you tell it was Miyake?” she asked me, with her eyes twinkling, to which I laughingly replied, “Because you’re wearing more pleats than an accordion, and I have eyes!” *
Just then, a man came, stood at the door, cleared his throat, and said “Ladies and Gentlemen, Dame Shirley Bassey.” Now, I’ve been to my share of meets-and-greets and have been introduced to everyone from heads-of-state to legends of stage and screen (not to mention interviewing more Oscar- and Grammy-winners than I can count); and while I have never (before or since) witnessed someone being announced at their own dressing room; I just loved the pomp and circumstance of it all. Bassey then entered the room, clad in a black cashmere Chanel twin set, black slacks, and a pair of Burberry nova check slingbacks.
Bassey made her way around the room, hugging and kissing old friends (“Darling, you look wonderful!”), catching up on mutual acquaintances (“Kitty sends her love…”), and eventually made her way to where I was standing with Justice Howard—the photographer hired by producer Joey Battig to capture the evening on film—when Justice asked if she could pose us for a photo. Upon getting the high-sign from Bassey (which consisted of her bending towards me while tapping her cheek with her finger), I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, as Justice snapped away.
Then, and I don’t know what possessed me to do so, I asked if Bassey would say hello to my friend, Armen (who’d designed the cocktail ring I was wearing that had so enchanted her), on my cell phone. When she said yes, I dialed, told Armen that I had somebody who wanted to speak with him, and handed Bassey the phone. “Hello, Aaaaaarrrrrrmin!” she purred into my phone. I could hear some screaming on the other end, but that faded when, without any warning, Shirley Bassey turned on her heel and left the green room, chatting away with Armen. And, while she was simply trying to get someplace where she could speak without yelling, one of the security guards and I looked at each other, shrugged, and went after her to retrieve it.
It turns out that Armen had been with our dear friend, Patricia Field, accompanying her to the opening of the new Bulgari boutique on Fifth Avenue. Apparently, when he heard Bassey’s voice on the line, he screamed, jumped, and banged his head on the roof of Pat’s vintage baby-blue AMC Pacer.
Meanwhile, my tale continues, because as I was leaving, Joey Battig (the producer) came over, gave me his card, and told me that he and Bassey had so enjoyed seeing a young fan at her show—and granted, save for Carrot Top, I was a good two or three decades younger than anyone in that room—and that if I’d like to come back, the following week, with a friend or two, he would love to have us join him in his booth. Well, quicker than you could say “Men are mere mortals who are not worth going to your grave for,” Armen and our friend Billy Erb were on the phone booking their respective flights from New York and Los Angeles. ** Needless to say, the show the following week was something none of us is likely to forget, and Battig was a charmingly convivial host (though there was no meet-and-greet, that night).
And normally, that would be that; except for one thing… That photo that Justice Howard took of me kissing DSB on the cheek. I didn’t really think much of it, at the time. Mind you, this was five years before Facebook and ten before Instagram. Fast-forward to 2017, and after tracking down Battig in Florida (where he’d retired) I got in touch with Justice, who informed me, ruefully, that she’d been spending a fortune keeping her negatives in temperature-controlled storage units, and as a cost-saving measure had recently taken most of the many thousands of rolls of films that she didn’t feel obliged to keep and burned them.
And that is the story of how I met Dame Shirley Bassey, was photographed kissing her, and how nobody will ever see the photo. I know the kids on the ‘Gram talk about “Pics, or it didn’t happen,” but I’m here to tell you that that’s simply not always the case. As Bassey sings in “This Is My Life (La Vita)” (her signature song): “Guess I’ll just add up the score, and count the things I’m grateful for, in my life!”
Dame Shirley Bassey
Hollywood Theater | MGM Grand
February 03, 2000
Get into it!
[Editor’s Note: * This story was brought to mind, once again, following the recent deaths of Phyllis McGuire (December 29, 2020) and Siegfried Fischbacher (January 13, 2021), Las Vegas legends of the highest order, both // ** Lyrics from “Diamonds Are Forever”]