Fresh from her stint on Once and Again, actress Sela Ward published a book in 2002. With Homesick: A Memoir in the bookstores, she was on all of the talk shows and did go on a book signing tour. I saw a blurb in the paper that she was appearing on Saturday morning, at the small Walden Books in the Northeast Mall in Hurst, Texas.
It surprised me because this was not a major location for celebrity book signings. She was appearing in Dallas on Friday evening at a far larger location. What I thought would be a non-occasion opened my eyes into the world of celebrities, their fans, and a level of fanaticism that amazed me.
With the celebrity book signing at 11 a.m., I wandered over to the mall around 10 a.m. to see the set-up. Much to my surprise, there was quite a line snaking about the store. I bought the book thinking I would read it, and then pass it on to my father (a fan) as a Christmas present. Standing in line, I glanced at the cover blurbs and perused the pictures inside.
I admit to being a fan of Sela Ward’s through the years. I enjoyed her portrayal of Teddy, the rebel, on the TV series Sisters. Her film performances were always decent, and she projected intelligence in her gorgeous appearance. Never a superstar, she would appear in well-chosen roles.
Her latest TV show (well-received, but ultimately cancelled), Once and Again, allowed her to play her age and handle current family issues with some dignity. I admit I was curious to see if she was really pretty in person.
My ears tuned in to the crowd in line. There were folks of all ages, with perfect strangers chatting amicably. I realized quickly that I was an interloper in the “Sela Ward fan line”. People had cameras or were asking folks to save a place in line to run down to the drugstore to buy an instant camera. Quite a few people were discussing the book signing in Dallas from the previous night. I have to say it would not occur to me to attend both.
People had flowers, teddy bears, and assorted gifts to present to Ms. Ward. Folks were discussing her and her life as if she was a sister coming in for a visit from out of state. Assuming their facts were correct, fans discussed her mother’s recent death, her children, her marriage, and other insane details of her life. As a celebrity, her private life was public fodder and it was amazing to hear the chatter.
Everyone was well behaved, but I still found some of the fan-talk a bit creepy or excessive when professing such obsession. One young man was practically in tears discussing her appearance from the night before. Another fellow had compiled a CD for her as a gift and could not wait to give it to her.
No wonder, celebrities need bodyguards or have to get restraining orders. For me, it was hard to fathom that all of this hoopla was for Sela Ward, an actress and celebrity, but certainly not one on the Julia Roberts stratosphere. Then again, who am I to judge?
A hush came over the crowd as a flurry of activity arose from the back of the bookstore. Applause broke out as Ms. Ward was ushered, along with her young daughter, to the book-signing table. After an introduction by the store manager, Sela Ward graciously thanked everyone for coming and for supporting her through the years.
From the back of the room, I could see she was nicely dressed, petite, and indeed very pretty. Her southern drawl poked through, and she charmed her audience. Apologizing for being a bit late, she promised everyone they would get to visit with her as she signed her book.
Indeed, she patiently signed her book, accepted gifts, posed for individual pictures, and appeared pleased with everyone’s attention. As a celebrity, she had handlers controlling the audience flow and watching her time. As I got closer to my “special” moment with her, I found myself a bit nervous, which was ridiculous.
Yet, I found I did not want to say something inane. I wanted to thank her for her time that day, and for her intelligent acting choices through the years. I was caught up in the celebrity glow. Gracious and beautiful in person, she gave a lovely smile as she signed the book for my father. I basked briefly in the limelight with her, and then headed for home.
The world of celebrities must be a challenge. To keep a perspective, and yet share a part of yourself with strangers, who love you and think they know you, has to be difficult. Whether it is an international event, or a local suburban book signing, a celebrity must maintain the persona his or her fans expect. Sela Ward did her job well that day.