Like you, I have had many experiences not far from the 4 Corners in Oxford.
Back in the late ’70s when I was at Lafayette High, I was driving my dad’s old 1960s Land Rover when the brakes went out going down University Avenue. That was harrowing to handle as a 16-year-old. While that was hectic, it was not as humbling as my encounter with a Hollywood actress on University Avenue.
It was 1988. I was just three years out of Ole Miss and a sports anchor out in Bakersfield, California, home of the late Buck Owens who we used to watch on Hee Haw. I had come to Oxford to visit family and upon arrival was excitedly told that a movie was being filmed there. It was called “Heart of Dixie” and my stepmother Annette had met the cast and crew at a social outing put together for some town folks. “Treat Williams was very nice,” she told me about the leading man. I smiled and wondered how someone got a name like Treat.
I was then told that Ally Sheedy was in the movie. I had liked her work not only in “The Breakfast Club,” which was a big deal, but in “St. Elmo’s Fire.”
“Phoebe Cates is also in the movie,” I was told as my jaw dropped. Being a 26-year-old single man, I about had a heart attack like Fred Sanford did on Sanford and Son. Phoebe Cates was in Oxford, Mississippi. She was “purrrrrty” as Andy Griffith used to say. Alas, I was only going to be in town for a few days, but miracles did happen. We had all watched the 1980 Miracle on Ice from Lake Placid on ABC, so we believed in miracles. Maybe, just maybe, our paths would meet.
A couple of days later I was eating with my friend Billy Petty at the Pizza Hut on University Avenue. Back then there was a workout place next to it, which before it was a workout place used to be a dance bar back in the early ’80s. I think it was called Gatsby’s, but I am 56 now and not sure. Well, Billy and I were sitting in a window at a booth at Pizza Hut when it was like the sound of angels. I looked out and there were Phoebe Cates and Ally Sheedy walking from the Square to the workout place. Apparently, they were staying somewhere off the Square during filming.
I immediately knew what I must do. I must meet Phoebe as destiny surely was meant to bring us together to fall in love at first sight. We would get married, shop for groceries at Jitney Jungle off the Square, and shoot pool at Purvis’ pool hall. I told Billy I was going to go over to that workout place and … and, well, I did not have a plan after getting there. Billy warned me that the odds were highly in favor of a very unfavorable experience happening, but I waved him off and walked that way.
They had gone in and it didn’t take me 45 seconds to get there. I walked in that door thinking that they would have moved more into the place but there they were right slap in the lobby! They had workout clothes on and gym bags. I was in street clothes and might as well have been wearing a sign that read “I am from Oxford and here to swoon at Phoebe Cates.” Phoebe picked up on that right away and gave me a death stare that would have killed all the kudzu to Sardis and beyond. Ally Sheedy, bless her heart, was kind and gave me a warm smile.
“Uh,” I said, “my name is Charlie and I, uh, saw y’all goin’ in and I wanted to say hi.”
The death stare continued from Phoebe. It was like she was saying, “Depart and run into traffic on University Avenue.”
“Hi there,” said Ally. “So what do you do?”
This is where it got worse. I told them I was a sports anchor in Bakersfield. At that time Bakersfield was the butt of jokes from L.A. folks (although I never agreed with them and always liked Bakersfield) so me telling them I worked and lived there was probably NOT going to encourage Phoebe to pursue me as the man of her dreams.
Ally made a little more small talk and I grunted something and backed out of the lobby and mosied on over to the Pizza Hut. Billy was still sitting there in the booth.
“Boy,” he said. “Eat your pizza before it gets cold.”
I was slumped over, a combination of defeat and feeling like an apprentice stalker for going over there like that.
“How did it go?” he asked me, as if he didn’t know.
“Not good,” I said.
“Told you,” he said. He never even looked up at me.
We sat there and ate our pizza.
Phoebe went on to marry actor Kevin Kline in 1989. He has won Tony Awards on Broadway and an Academy Award. I did win Best Sportscaster, Small Market Division Class C in southern/central California for my work in Bakersfield. I suppose when you put them against each other, his work was superior to mine.
I don’t think I ever saw the movie “Heart of Dixie.” Folks told me it was okay. I suppose I should try to find it and rent it sometime, but every time I am in Oxford and driving up or down University Avenue near where that old fitness center used to be I remember walking in there, and how I should have listened to my friend Billy.
Charlie Adams was born in Oxford in 1962. He was a 1980 graduate of Lafayette High School and a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss. Following a television news career, Charlie has focused on delivering inspirational keynotes, seminars and writings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.