By Mark Gauert
I was nervous about my dinner with Mr. Clooney.
He was a big star in this town, so well-known, so beloved. I was just a young editor, not long out of school, not known at all.
I guess he suspected that I would be nervous about meeting him, so he offered to drive into town to meet me. That was the first – and only – time a celebrity has gone out of his way for me. What a guy, I thought, so down-to-earth, so kind to try to put me at ease.
I can’t remember who picked the restaurant. I want to say that he did, because it was a nice but dimly lighted place in a downtown hotel, not far from my office. The kind of place a lot of out-of-towners used – the kind of place, I surmised, where people might not recognize him in the crowd.
I’d told him that my wife would be happy to meet him, too, of course; and I worked up the nerve to ask if it would be OK for her to join us at dinner. Well of course, he said, laughing – he looked forward to meeting us both.
What a guy, I thought again, just a regular person. I was a little stunned by that.
We got to the restaurant first that night. My wife and I took our seats at the reserved table, and, for awhile, we looked over the menu and around the opulent, candle-lit room on our own.
And then, out of the darkness, there he was by our table. That famous face, that wry smile, sticking his hand out to shake mine.
“Hi,” he said, “I’m Nick Clooney. It’s nice to finally meet you!”
“It’s so nice to finally meet you, too, Mr. Clooney,” I blurted, “I’m such a fan!”
“Please,” he said, “Call me Nick.”
“This is my wife, Cecile,” I said, introducing the biggest star in my life.
“And this is my wife, Nina,” Clooney said, turning to the former beauty queen beside him. “Mark is my editor at The [Cincinnati] Post.”
Nina’s eyes lit up – for a moment, the brightest objects in the room.
“He’s your editor?” she said, smiling, shaking my hand. “He’s so young! I have pantyhose older than him!”
We all laughed. And fortunately, since it was dim, no one could tell that his editor was blushing. (I think.)
I want to say that we talked for hours over dinner that night. About the work that had made him a star, first as a TV anchorman, then as the host of his own morning TV show, then as host of a network game show. We talked about how he and Nina had met, while he was covering her beauty contest. We talked about the fine and popular column he was writing three times a week for the newspaper – and what he hoped to accomplish with it.
Finally we talked a little about their son, George, who’d had some success as an actor out in California, but had most recently turned up in a movie called Return of the Killer Tomatoes. As parents, of course, they were proud of his success, but worried about him, a little – they hoped things would progress for him in his career. Just like regular parents, just like regular people.
Years later, in an interview with HGTV’s Guess Who Lived Here?, Nick pointed to the sofa in their home in Augusta, Ky., where he said George had given his first TV interview.
“He was just a kid, about 18, I guess,” Nick said, “and they were asking what it was like to be the son of a very famous anchorman. Well, [he said,] a few years from now, they’ll be saying that’s George Clooney’s father.”
I thought about George Clooney’s father again, as I read Elizabeth Rahe’s story about the “Clooney Effect” on the causes the Academy Award-winning actor champions throughout the world. The son, now an international star, “has put his own boots on the ground in his attempts to make a difference.”
What a guy, I thought; so down-to-earth, so kind. That famous face, that wry smile, now sticking his hand out to the rest of the world.
I thought back to my dinner with Nick and Nina Clooney, and it’s clear to me that George didn’t just turn out that way on his own. It was the way that he was raised.