When You Meet Don Ameche, Heaven Can Wait
Sometimes I feel like your crazy Aunt Janet with the stories, like oh my God here she goes with another one. But yes, here I go.
Today’s is about Don Ameche—elegant, sexy, with that deep, resonant voice you can feel right down to the tips of your pumps, and a wonderful sense of the just plain goofy. There was nothing, from the wayward husband in Heaven Can Wait to the lovestruck cab driver in Midnight, that he couldn’t do. (And if you’re looking for a good sleeper film, check out So Goes My Love, in which he drives the genteel Myrna Loy cheerfully insane.)
I was extraordinarily lucky to meet him when I was working for a nonprofit PR firm right out of college and he came to New York to work on behalf of the Diabetes Association. Our company had to set up a meeting with him concerning his appearance at a fundraising dinner, and I volunteered to be the one to go. (Okay fine I bound and gagged all my colleagues in the coat closet and bolted the door. Let’s not nitpick.)
He showed up at the hotel restaurant in a gorgeous, perfectly rumpled white linen suit, setting off his gently tanned face, which highlighted his beautiful, still mischievous eyes. He was absolutely swoon-inducing, in his 80s. When he asked if I had any questions, I almost blurted out, “Yes. WILL YOU MARRY ME?!? REALLY, WE CAN MAKE THIS WORK!!”
First we talked about his movies, because really, he wasn’t getting away without doing that. After we went over the classic ones, and his Oscar for a brilliant turn in Cocoon, I mentioned that I always found Lillian Russell unintentionally hilarious, since his character, a frail composer, is suffering from a weak heart and Alice Faye is constantly plying him with buttermilk. We learn he’s finally succumbed to dairy overload when we hear him plunk his head on the piano keys offscreen. At the memory of this, he let loose that wonderful, rolling laugh and had that twinkle in his eyes, and I felt that “whoosh” you feel when a rollercoaster takes a sharp, heady plunge. I could feel my heart go baBUMP, baBUMP, and then flutterflutter.
But at some point, alas, I vaguely remembered that this was the boring old 1990s, not the 1940s, and I had an actual job to do, so we talked about the fundraiser for a while. I dragged out the meeting as long as humanly possible (“What color do you think the tablecloths should be? How about the napkins? Where do you stand on centerpieces?”), but eventually his assistant cast a rheumy eye over me and said they had to go. As he was leaving, I said, “Thank you so much, Mr. Ameche! I think I have everything I need.” And he turned and said, incredibly elegantly, “You certainly do.” Oh my God. I staggered back to the office dreaming I was Alice Faye. But without the lethal buttermilk.