Billy Hork Galleries, circa 1980, Beverly Hills, CA.
The grandfather and his grandson poised outside the gallery window catching my eye-- I recognize Paul Henreid as the older gentleman in the beret, ascot, and dark glasses.
Instinctively I smile broadly.
The grandson is possibly 10 years old. He's dignified and moves with a rather impressive, posture--he enters the gallery speaking to me with a sort of Etonion diction.
"My grandfather wishes to inquire about the object d'art in your window display."
"You're grandfather is the magnificent Warner Bros. actor Paul Henreid. I instantly recognized him. He's most welcome to inquire..."
The grandson's expression flickered like a lantern flame when an errant gust of air wafts past. He excused himself and exited.
I observe the silent conversation on the sidewalk outside.
The old man's posture stiffens and he becomes perhaps an inch taller.
His chin elevates as the head tilts at a remarkably attractive angle.
The gallery door opens and in glides what--for all practical purposes--is the embodiment of Golden Hollywood magnificence.
For a moment, I feel as though I must curtsey or kiss a ring--so regal and majestic is the presentation of this person by his young ward.
This old fellow's career has been over for at least a decade. His fame hath withered and no bright klieg lights stab the sky with glory at a world premiere any longer. Could it be possible nobody recognizes him at all?
Does he crave just one scintilla of admiration--perhaps?
Actor Paul Henreid has the impeccable bearing of a man reared in palaces and palatial estates by Aristocratic forebears. His blood surely is royal blue!
I decided at that moment to do something one never does around celebrities in California because it marks you as a yokel.
I became modestly effusive, reciting a few of his more remarkable career highlights. (I have that kind of nerd's brain which commands factoids by the bushel basketful.)
"Paul Georg Julius Freiherr von Hernreid Ritter von Wasel-Waldingau, Warner Studios' remarkable top-tier leading man, and immortal actor of stage, screen, and television."
I proceeded to lay it on with a trowel in serious admiration--not mockery.
His cheeks flushed.
He extended his hand in an odd way--not for shaking so much as for benediction. I half-clasped it.
He then took two steps forward in what I took to be a gesture of intimacy or even conspiratorial camaraderie.
His head leaned forward as he was about a couple of inches shorter than I and he was going to say something meant only for my ears--so, I lean down just a fraction and listened.
The entire encounter was quite brief yet immortalized in memory for me.
If I'm objective with myself and shake off the sentimental aspect of our encounter, I'd have to say the man appeared for all practical purposes like the stereotype of an Old World has-been clinging to self-importance with pretensions and out of style tweed with patches on his elbows. The ascot and dark glasses and beret?
Oh my, yes.
This was a true aristocrat! A man out of his time. A time traveler on the final leg of an awesome journey toward immortality.
Paul Henreid had been toppled from his perch by Senator Joe McCarthy and his Communist witch hunt in the 1950's. He made the famous blacklist. His plummet to small roles in less significant pictures took the shine off the golden boy.
His dignity was preserved intact.
Obviously, it was what once was termed, "good breeding."
Manners, dignity, and just a whiff of pretentious apotheosis which comes from Hollywood stardom is certain his to own.
When I tell this story, I have always elected to withhold the words Paul Henreid whispered to me in the gallery. It more or less works against the event and snaps the reader out of the moment.
He asked me a question. It surprised me.
He had listened as I spoke to him --ABOUT him-- for those few seconds, troweling on the fan-drool impassively reddening with modesty...perhaps. Then, he'd leaned in and asked me:
"Do you have a privée (toilet) I could use?"
Ahhh--truly unforgettable memory!
Actor Henreid died about 12 years later at the age of 84. He had 2 Hollywood Walk of Fame plaques; one for movies, and the other for TV.
His movies include:
Now, Voyager and Casablanca