Hudson Native Robert Richard Tells of his Mingling with the StarsNovember 8, 2013
by Tom Tollefson
For many of us, meeting a celebrity is a brief and rare moment. Not for 75-year old Robert Richard. The Hudson native has met and socialized with some of America’s most notable names.
Richard’s career in showbiz during the 1950s and 60s allowed him to rub elbows with these rich and famous faces. The seeds for his love for the showbiz world go back to his days of selling candy at plays put on by the Hudson Players, the only theater group in the area at the time. He was only about 12, but remembers becoming engrossed in theater after seeing plays put on by Hudson Players such as “Ghost Train” and “See How They Run.”
“I just wanted to act. I probably just wanted to be someone other than myself,” Richard said.
Later on from eighth to 12th grade, Richard’s passion for theater continued to grow at Alvirne High School. Richard’s time in the school theater group afforded him opportunities to make connections with the stars as well as immerse himself in the entertainment world and hone his acting skills.
One of these opportunities Richard remembers well is a trip he and three other Alvirne Drama Club members took to the Shubert Theatre in Boston to see Carol Channing perform in the play “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” On another trip to Boston, Richard had a chance to chat with notable Boston drama critic Elliott Norton.
After graduation, Richard then moved to Chicago to attend Goodman Theater School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he had many more celebrity run-ins. One such celebrity was Gloria Foster, who played the Oracle in the Matrix series. Richard met Foster when he performed a soliloquy for her class and appeared in a play with her at Goodman Theater.
“I performed a soliloquy for her class and she praised me with greater enthusiasm than she did years later when she presented Bill Cosby with The Entertainer of the Year award on national television,” Richard said.
During his time in college, Richard met many more celebrities, including Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945. At the time, his land lady, Jene Kendle, was friends with Jan Bark, who was known as the Mad Hatter of Chicago. Kendle then brought Richard to one of Bark’s parties where he first met Myerson.
Around the same time, Richard was in a play at the Chicago Theater on the Lake when he attended the cast party and met another soon to be celebrity. “Standing beside the bar was a guy in his early thirties smoking a pipe. I went over and introduced myself to him and he said his name was Hugh something. He proceeded to fix me with a tall scotch and soda while in my twenty-year-old cocky way asked him what was his claim to fame. He said he was a writer and publisher. I found him rather boring and was relieved when other members of the cast arrived,” Richard said, remembering his encounter with Hugh Hefner, the infamously controversial adult magazine owner. “It wasn’t until years later that I realized who he was.”
Soon after these encounters, Richard left Chicago for the lure of the theater life in New York City.
“That’s the place where theater is and where television was and I just wanted to be in the golden age of television,” he said.
Myerson, who had her own show titled The Big Payoff, helped Richard get a job for CBS Television as an usher.
“I worked on shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, where I seated Cecil B. DeMille, saw many, many celebrities and when directing the audience out the side door of the theater telling them to watch their step. I told Wilt Chamberlain to watch his head,” Richard said.
Richard also worked on Myerson’s show The Big Payoff as a lead usher and had to fire future People’s Court interviewer Doug Llewelyn for “goofing off and sleeping in the balcony.”
During his time at CBS, Richard also assisted journalist Walter Cronkite during the five hour national coverage of an off-year election. Richard could be seen on national television continuously over the course of the five hour national telecast, as he brought the ticker tape results to Cronkite. Richard referred to this as his “15 minutes of fame.”
“I got letters from friends and relatives all over the country who saw me on national news,” Richard said. “Thirty-five years later, my Chicago landlady sent me a picture of me with Walter Cronkite which her boyfriend had taken off their television set.”
Richard also worked CBS as an assistant production manager and then worked in the accounting department. His celebrity run-ins continued with frequently saying “hi” to Carol Burnett and engaging in some brief small talk with the comedy icon.
“She is the most down to earth person I’ve ever met. She was a real person. She didn’t put on any airs as far as being snobby or anything,” Richard said about Burnett.
In later years, Richard received an apology from actress Judy Garland (famous for her starring role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz) at a Boston Club. Garland came into the club and a crowd followed her as a result. She then apologized to Richard for bringing in such an uproar of fans and extended her cheek for him to kiss.
“I think she thought I was the owner. I always stood around like I owned the place,” Richard said.
Richard’s celebrity sightings and encounters also included Mike Wallace, Edward Murrow, Gordon McCray, Diana Ross, Jack Dempsey, and Jerry Herman among many others.
Today, Richard resides in Hudson. It’s not just a town he grew up in, but the same town where he found his lifelong love for theater and entertainment. It was the pursuit of this field that led him to have encounters with stars that few of us have had or will ever have in the future.