He was already in the poker room when I arrived.
The buzz that had been circulating for some time was still alive when I scanned my Lumiere Players Card and took my assigned seat at table two.
There was a celebrity in the house!
It was Steve Martin, the comedian, actor, playwright, author, musician and all-around entrepreneur. He was sitting at table 10 in seat six, dressed nattily in a spiffy, color-coordinated sports jacket with matching hat.
As the cards began to be dealt to me at my own table, I gradually eased into the flow of the game, always managing to keep an unwavering check on the procedings directly across the way.
After about 35 minutes, I noticed with heightened interest that the man in seat five, next to Martin, was standing up, collecting his chips, and preparing to leave.
I jumped at the sudden opportunity to switch tables, and after being granted permission to do so by the floor manager, approached Martin’s table with some trepidation, taking my place alongside the man whose films and writing I was so familiar with — the wild and crazy guy from “Saturday Night Live” whom I’d seen host the Oscars and watched in so many motion pictures!
Trying to play it cool and divest myself of appearing starstruck or in awe, like some backstage groupie hounding for an autograph, I calmly evaluated the cards dealt my way while inwardly contemplating whatever opening might arise to enable me to engage in conversation with the famous man on my left.
It presented itself within a few short minutes, when I casually remarked in between hands that my favorite Steve Martin film was “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” — the old black and white spoof of the detective genre. He seemed amused and became even more so by my follow-up quip that although I thought the picture to be deliriously funny, my wife had chosen to get up and exit the theater before its conclusion!
This initial flurry of small talk seemed to break the ice and initiate further in-between-hands commentary throughout the afternoon. Other players at the table sensed a camaraderie of sorts developing, and strained to pick up bits and pieces they could salvage from our sporadic ramblings.
He told me he had performed in St. Louis the previous evening with his musical group (he’s a banjo player) and was killing a few hours before his flight departure back to Los Angeles. He spoke of a play he was working on, and inquired as to whether I had read his recently published memoirs entitled “Born Standing Up.”
I spoke of some of his films and of the many articles he had written for The New Yorker magazine over the years, some of which I had been privileged to read. Our intermittent conversation continued off and on, between hands of the fast-moving game we were both involved in.
Page 2 of 2 - His favorite starting bet seemed to be $10, and he was not reluctant to raising after the flop if he deemed his hand to be the strongest.
Once, when his initial bet was challenged by a substantial raise, he promptly folded his hand to the delight of the opposing player, who jumped to his feet, proclaiming to all within earshot, “I can’t believe it: I just bluffed Steve Martin!”
Everything was apparently overseen by a formidable figure in a well-tailored suit, who stood observing everything — from an appropriate distance away.
The three-and-a-half-hour session ended when Martin rose and extended his left hand toward me, commenting that his right hand had been recently injured.
I shook his hand and watched as he and his friend exited the room in a cordial manner, speaking to others along the way.
Our game continued, but the celebrity we had been favored to know and become acquainted with for a few hours in an up-close and personal way was now gone — back to a life of movie scripts, stage calls and writing deadlines — a life we could only imagine!