Cathy Hamilton: Celebrity sightings gone wild

The hubby and I returned this week from a much-needed vacation in California. We started and ended our journey in the Los Angeles area, where I hoped to spot a major movie star.

I'm not one of those People magazine-reading, TMZ.com-addicted, ga-ga celebrity hounds.

I've seen plenty of stars without makeup and understand that celebrities are just people - like you and me - except for the millions of dollars in their 401(k)s.

For me, star sighting isn't about actually spotting well-known personalities. It's all about bragging rights.

There was a time when I had the best celebrity encounter tale of anyone I knew:

It was summer 1976. I was waiting tables at a resort in Brainerd, Minn. On an early breakfast shift in July, the maitre' d approached me and, declared, "God help me, I've determined you're the most mature waitress I've got. I'm seating Paul Newman at your station."

My knees began to buckle. The breath caught in my windpipe. This was Butch Cassidy we were talking about!! Cool Hand Luke!! My palms started to sweat but, outwardly, I remained cool as a cantaloupe.

Minutes later, the biggest movie star in my lifetime strolled in, sat at the corner table with his pit crew (he was racing at the Brainerd Speedway) and ordered.

My hand trembled as I poured his java. He smiled and pretended not to notice. It was as close to an out-of-body experience as I've had to date.

Best celebrity story ever, right? That's what I thought, until my husband called me from a business trip to L.A. in the summer of 2000.

"How's it going out there in Lala-land?" I asked. "Working hard?"

"Not really," he answered. "We finished up early so I've been hanging out by the pool here at the Sunset Marquis. They upgraded us to the villas because the boss is a good customer. I've got a grand piano in my room, and a private pool."

"A grand piano? Wow! Did you have the pool to yourself?"

"Just me ... and some woman sunbathing," he replied, nonchalantly.

"Was she a celebrity? Who was she?" My curiosity was piqued.

"Just a woman, sunbathing topless," he replied, as blase as you please.

"And how far away from you WAS this topless woman?" I queried.

"I dunno. Three or four lounge chairs maybe?"

Strange as it seems, I wasn't upset. This was my husband's first trip to Hollywood. I trusted him, and I was glad that he would come home with a good story.

Later that night, he called again.

"Still having fun?" I asked.

"Yep," he answered. "We just got back from the Whisky. It's a famous bar in the hotel. Billy Bob Thornton was there, giving a TV interview. Sat right next to me. He's staying here, too. I hear we're the only guests staying in the villas."

It took me all of five seconds to put two and two together.

"Honey, listen to me," I whispered. "This is critical. Is Billy Bob with anyone?"

"His wife, or girlfriend or whatever. Name's Elvira Joleen, or something like that. I think they're staying above me."

"OH. MY. GOD!!!" I shrieked. "That was Angelina Jolie you saw by the pool! She won the Oscar for 'Girl Interrupted!' She and Billy Bob are a hot item. She's gorgeous!"

"Never heard of her," he replied, unconcerned and completely unaware that his topless-soon-to-be-über-star-sighting would become legendary, making him a hero among all the men we know.

Does my hubby's celebrity encounter trump mine? I guess that depends on your point of view.

But, for my money, Paul's pair (of eyes) will forever triumph.

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