March 27, 2012
Hundreds of anxious fans lined the sidewalk in front of Suffolk University’s Ford Hall. Behind the theater, there was just one. Searching for a stage entrance I walked up an alley-sized street in the shadow of the State House. Up ahead, a skinny young brunette in a pencil skirt peeked nervously from behind an unmarked door. Her attention was directed toward the far end of the road and didn’t notice my approach. I asked her if she was expecting him soon.
He was one of my comedy idols. He was Bill Murray.
“Uh, yes,” she said hesitantly. She righted herself. “Who are you? What are you doing back here?”
“Just passing through,” I told her before reaching the end of the street and ducking around a corner. There I found another collector who had been staked out with a copy of Quick Change on Laserdisc.
A man of many moods, a meeting with Murray was by no means predictable. What was certain was his well-known reputation as a rough signer. Even with our small numbers, the odds were long. With a half-hour to go before the panel discussion he was in town to moderate, we watched a trio of police officers arrive at our corner which only made me feel worse. It was one thing to sidestep a college stage manager. It was quite another to circumvent the cops.
Just before 6 p.m. a white Lexus sedan rolled to the corner. The rear passenger window rolled down and Murray’s index finger poked out at us.
“Get these guys out of here! I don’t want to see these guys!” he yelled to the cops.
My shoulders shrugged. My heart sank. My hope vanished.
“No, see he’s joking,” the other collector said, ensuring the officers could hear. “He’s got a smile on his face.”
With only a sliver of confidence restored, we approached the car which had pulled up to the unmarked door. The street was only slightly wider than the vehicle and had no sidewalk. We called out to Murray from several yards beyond the trunk as he unfolded himself from the backseat. With one step he’d be inside the building. He chatted excitedly with the welcoming committee and hovered near the stage door which was opened toward us. Our pleas went unheard or ignored. He momentarily dropped out of view then reemerged. Time was running out. I had heard him mention in a Howard Stern interview that he didn’t mind signing autographs for fans but didn’t appreciate the “professionals”. In one last ditch effort I tried to communicate that I wasn’t the latter.
“Mr. Murray, I’m a huge fan—you can personalize it!”
Breaking away from the pack, he took two steps toward me then stopped. His eyes rolled. “Oh, blow me with the personalization!”
He grabbed my Sharpie and scribbled his name across my 8×10. I asked him again to personalize but he ignored my request and proceeded to sign the Laserdisc. I fumbled the camera out of my pocket. Murray pointed to the cops, “You want to hit some guys tonight? Ask these guys, they know where everyone is in this town.” He turned back toward the door, his arm extended behind him to hand back my pen.
I urgently requested a picture with him and was again ignored. Juggling the signed photo and camera I reached for the Sharpie and watched helplessly as it bounced off my fingers and fell to the pavement.
“Oops,” Murray said flatly.
Then he was gone. He was exactly as expected. Enigmatic. Schizophrenic. One part Frank Cross, one part Ernie McCracken and, thankfully, one part Bob Wiley.