We’ve all done it. We’re in line at the grocery store when our eyes drift to the magazine rack. We scan the flashy print for news of the latest starlet tantrum or red carpet romance. We roll our eyes or have a little chuckle, but whatever the reaction, the rich and famous seem a constant source of curiosity for many. But that salacious and sensational soap opera that is Hollywood tends to feel like a place that’s very, very far removed from our own little neck of the woods. But the glitzy limelight of Hollywood might not shine that far from our neighborhood after all. Some of our neighbors actually knew these familiar faces before the big break, others have rubbed elbows with A-listers in their line of work, and still others just happened to encounter a star in passing — proving that, in the end, this is indeed a small world. Here are some of our neighborhood’s claims to fame — something we call East Dallas’ very own …
SIX DEGREES TO CELEBRITY
WHITE HOUSE CONNECTIONS
The residents of Highlands West remember that Karen Hughes, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State, lived in their neighborhood on Drumcliffe during her stint as a news reporter for NBC affiliate KXAS-TV Channel 5. She flew under the radar at the time, but that was before she helped run Bush’s campaigns, and became one of, in the president’s words, “my most trusted and closest advisers.”
BEFORE HE WAS MR. LINKS
Prior to winning the British Open in 1997, professional golfer Justin Leonard lived on Moss Trail and attended Lake Highlands High School. Neighbors say that like most high school kids, one of his favorite pastimes was frequenting Snuffers for — what else? — the cheese fries.
MAMAS, DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE …
When the practice field for ’s Team was located at Forest and LBJ, a large number of Dallas Cowboys lived in our neighborhood and jogged along our streets for exercise. So many, in fact, that at one time it was nicknamed “Cowboy Hill.” A few of them have stuck around — linebacker and three-time Pro Bowler Bob Breunig, fullback Robert Newhouse, running back and clutch receiver Preston Pearson, and former All-Pro strong safety Charlie Waters.
SHE DIDN’T WANT TO SEEM DESPERADO
A few neighbors claim that they’ve spotted Dallas resident Don Henley, famed Eagles drummer who co-wrote classics like “Desperado” and “Hotel California,” and one even bragged that they share the same yoga instructor. But Lake Highlands resident Mary Vann can say that she “knew him when.” They both grew up around Caddo Lake and their fathers were good friends. Henley’s father owned an auto parts store in Vann’s hometown and occasionally worked at the store. Though she was six years his junior, as a grade school student Vann and her sister would stop by the store to flirt with Henley, a cool highschooler who played in a band called The Four Speeds. “He wore a Nehru jacket and sort of a Beatles haircut,” she dreamily recalls.
THE NEO SOUL OF WHITE ROCK
She grew up in South Dallas, but it’s no secret that Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Erykah Badu now lives on the east shore of White Rock Lake overlooking the Bath House. Neighbors say that toys can often be spotted in her yard (she has a young daughter, Puma, and a son, Seven, whose father is André Benjamin of OutKast), and though Badu has a demanding schedule, when she’s home, she doesn’t make herself scarce — joggers and cyclists see her on their route, and when they wave, she kindly waves back.
FIVE DEGREES TO ELVIS
Neighbor Kate Mackley’s dental hygienist is the sister-in-law of singer Ryan Cabrera, who is dating Riley Keough, granddaughter of the King.
WILDCAT TURNED SEX KITTEN
Growing up her name was Patsy Ann McClenney, but after she graduated from Lake Highlands High School, she took a new name — Morgan Fairchild. The actress left Dallas to star in soaps, be nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and even shed her clothes for movie and Broadway scenes. In our neighborhood, she’s honored with an entire wall at the Medallion Center Applebee’s.
OPRAH COMES CALLING
Oprah Winfrey was looking for cluttered homes to reorganize, and Janet Gavitt knew hers fit that description. She filled out the online application on a Tuesday, and by the following Sunday Peter Walsh from TLC’s “Clean Sweep” and his entire team, plus a camera crew, had swarmed the Gavitts’ neighborhood home. The celebrity organizer spent the week practically living with the family. “He left, and I kind of missed him,” Gavitt says, but adds: “It’s still quite surreal.” The Monday afterward, Harpo Productions flew Gavitt and her husband, Charlton, and their four children to Chicago to tape the follow-up episode. Meeting one of the world’s most famous personas didn’t go exactly as Gavitt expected. “You watch someone on television for 20 years, and I felt like I knew [Oprah] and thought she was going to be my best friend,” she embellishes. “She was nice, but she was very businesslike. She was there to get her job done, to tape her show, and then she had other things to do.” The show aired in February, and the following day at the grocery store, people were asking Gavitt if they had seen her on television. “So for a day, I was famous, too,” she says.
When neighborhood resident Sarah Bertrand Briggs picked up the phone, the stylist for 7th Heaven star Jessica Biel was on the other line, looking for jewelry her client could wear to the 2005 MTV Awards. When Briggs asked how quickly she needed to send out a few pieces, the stylist replied, “Hold on,” then held the phone away from her mouth and asked: “Jessica, is that next Saturday?” Taken aback, Briggs recalls thinking, “OK, she’s sitting right next to her.” Biel didn’t end up wearing any of Briggs’ pieces to the MTV Awards — “I was glad because she got voted on the worst dressed list that night,” Briggs admits — but she did sport a pair of chandelier earrings with large marquis stones at the ESPY Awards, “which showed up in all the magazines,” says Briggs, and happened right before Biel was named “Sexiest Woman Alive” by Esquire magazine. After that, the former receptionist and nanny watched her jewelry line take off, expanding from five local shops to 200 stores around the world within the first year. “We got into the top New York high-end clothing and accessories show that people spend their whole lives trying to get into —Neiman Marcus, Barney’s, Anthropologie, where they all go to shop,” Briggs says. Soon afterward, she made a chance connection with a potential stylist for Paris Hilton. “That night Paris had had many stylists there with tables filled. She was browsing tables and putting things on and looking in the mirror, and she saw these,” Briggs says of her earrings, “and said, ‘Oh my God!’ and started freaking out.” Photos of Hilton wearing the earrings popped up everywhere, putting her jewelry in the spotlight yet again. More recently, Briggs has seen Eva Longoria wear one of her necklaces on Desperate Housewives and Anne Heche don some of her pieces on Men in Trees. “Somebody asked me in the beginning, ‘What would be the pinnacle of this for you?’ and I said if I was flipping through channels and saw celebrities wearing my stuff,” Briggs says. Though she’s never actually met any of the stars who wear her designs, Briggs does have a famous friend — Jon Heder, better known as Napoleon Dynamite from the same-named movie, who was one of her best friends during their college years at Brigham Young University. “When I moved to New York, I called him and told him I thought I was in love with him because I missed him so much, and he e-mailed and said, ‘I’ve been in love with you for two years, and I never told you.’” Then I met my husband the next day and never e-mailed him back,” Briggs says. The two are still friends, however; Heder recently sent Briggs photos of his new baby. And she does take some credit for his success. “He got the word ‘idiot’ from me — that’s my word,” she claims, then says it with perfect Napoleon Dynamite inflection. “I said it a lot in high school, too. My mom hated it.”
THEY BREAK THE HEARTS; HE PICKS UP THE PIECES
“There’s only one rose left.” It may be stating the obvious, but every time the phrase is uttered by Lake Highlands High School graduate Chris Harrison, host of ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, diehard fans of the show brace themselves for what’s next. It always means that someone is about to be rejected, perhaps even brokenhearted, and one of Harrison’s roles is to console. “The best part is I always get to play the nice guy,” Harrison told the Advocate in January 2003. His plan after attending Oklahoma City University on a sports scholarship was to return to Dallas and work as a sportscaster, but Harrison eventually landed a job as the host of a horse racing show in L.A., which snowballed into hosting HGTV’s Designer’s Challenge and later The Bachelor. The so-called “reality” show has been renewed for an 11th season, making it one the top 100 longest running shows in America once it airs, says Harrison’s mother, Mary Beth, a Realtor in our neighborhood. She jokes: “It’s one of those things where you say, ‘Honey, I’m really proud of you, but that doesn’t say a lot for America, does it?’”
VIEW FROM THE COCKPIT
Most of the time, when celebrities board neighborhood resident John Visser’s planes, he has no idea. “I usually hear about it after the fact. The flight attendants will come up and say, ‘Did you know such-and-such was on board?’” By the time I finish my checklist and get to the door, the only people I get to greet are coach passengers,” he explains. Still, in 20 years of flying, he’s occasionally caught a glimpse of fame on his flights. Actress and Dallas native Angie Harmon often flew his Dallas Love Field to New York route while she was dating her husband, former New York Giants football player Jason Sehorn. Visser also has flown country and western singers, including Dolly Parton, but says “I’m not a country and western fan, so I don’t know who many of them are.” His route from Los Angeles sometimes has included actors like Jerry Van Dyke, whom Visser describes as “a fairly quiet individual,” and Bernadette Peters, whom Visser’s wife, Anne, spotted while accompanying him on a flight. “[Peters] was in first class, but her assistant was in coach, so apparently they travel separately,” he says. Once, when Visser was flying as a first-class passenger from L.A., actor Gary Busey was entertaining the cabin during a mechanical delay. “Apparently, he’s a fairly animated kind of guy,” Visser says. “He was hamming it up with the crew.” His most memorable sighting was also the most disappointing — actor Val Kilmer on a flight to Toronto. “He looked kind of crusty and had a beard,” Visser recalls. “He wasn’t quite the image I remembered from the movies because to me, he was Iceman from Top Gun.”
When Annie Liebovitz’ “Photographs 1970-1990” was published, neighbor Michael Hopens was attending Texas A&M-Commerce and sat in on a videoconference featuring the American photographer, who is probably most famous for her Rolling Stones cover photo of a naked John Lennon kissing a fully clothed Yoko Ono, taken the morning before he was shot. During the videoconference, college students all over the country could ask Liebovitz questions, and one student hit her with a barrage of technical questions about her camera, a Mamiya model. “You could tell that she was uncomfortable,” Hopens recalls, saying that Liebovitz seemed suspicious of the seemingly irrelevant interrogation, and apparently wondered if the question-asker was a company plant because she mused: “Maybe Mamiya is watching.” The next day, when Hopens and his friends traveled to a downtown Dallas bookstore to get their copies signed, he was handed a card on which to write his name, so that Liebovitz could easily copy it down. Under his name, Hopens scribbled: “Mamiya is watching.” When he handed it to Liebovitz, “she looked at it and she just lost it — she just started laughing and said, ‘No way,’” Hopens recalls. “We got to spend five minutes with her. There was a guy behind us in line, and he was looking at us like, ‘Oh man, I wish I was them.’” Hopens and his friends invited her to a party they were throwing that weekend, but Liebovitz politely declined, saying that she would be out of town. She did, however, stop to take their picture.