where the writers are
"Shirley, Leslie, you jest"
Nielsen with gun for Paramount

For a while there I had entree to the Paramount Pictures studio lot on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, through a casting director I knew, but then got cut off (classic Hollywood! – in today, out tomorrow). So I began to sneak in. Not bad at it, successful a couple times. I knew a guard who'd look the other way if there weren't any big cheeses around, and then there were other maneuvers that worked. No idea why I wanted in. Just liked to hang out and watch scenes being shot on the sound stages. I was doing nothing else of any particular value at the time and it beat spending all my money on Pink's foot-long hot dogs down on La Brea.

Anyway, on a particular slip-in, as I was making my way around the outside corner of a sound stage building, I nearly collided with a tall guy, his blond hair prematurely turning to a lead gray.

He smiled and said, "What're you up to, Kid? Sneaking in?" "Gonna turn me in?" I said, nailed. "Hell, no, I'm on thin ice here anyway. They want me to play a boring handsome guy and while it's true I'm handsome, I don't think I'm boring. Want to do comedy but can't seem to convince the bigwigs, though. Need to give them some more hotfoots I guess."

"Oh, yeah, I know you. You're Leslie...Nelson?" "No, but close,"he said frowning. "Bill Nielsen?" "Hey, are you playing games with me?" he said. "No," I said, "and don't call me Hey." "Hey, that's a good line," he said. "I think I'll use some variation of it if I ever get a comedy role."

Anyway, the part of that story that's true is that I bumped into Leslie Nielsen at Paramount. Rather, walked by him, whistling, because I didn't want to get caught, and if you whistle people think you are innocent. We all know that. Anyway, we did nearly collide.

I wish I'd said something to Nielsen. He was wearing a gray suit, sharp, and carrying a manuscript, no doubt a screenplay. At the time he was doing serious straight parts. And he looked serious, worried perhaps, and in a bit of a hurry. Which is probably why we nearly collided – he's in a hurry for an important meeting, I'm sneaking in, similar stress levels so makes sense.

Still, I've always wondered why I remember the incident, because Nielsen was hardly a prominent figure then and there were famous people everywhere on that lot. Maybe it's because he looked stressed. You couldn't miss it. Was he trying to sell himself in a comedy to Paramount?

Or maybe I remembered the incident, or it came more into focus, after seeing him in Airplane! and The Naked Gun. There's something about good-looking people who are funny. Sometimes they seem extra funny, or funny in a different way. Like Nielsen. Like Chevy Chase. Joan Rivers. Dean Martin. We expect them to be attractive, funny is a bonus.

Some proof of this is all the attention Nielsen's death is getting. You know if he hadn't done comedy the last two or three decades, his obituary would have been brief because the straight roles were not memorable. But to make people laugh is a true gift, and he had it.

I would love to know what that script was he was carrying that day. Maybe it was an early version of Airplane! or The Naked Gun, which were both produced by Paramount. If we'd actually run into each other maybe he'd have dropped the script and I'd have gotten a look. Just before they would have thrown me out.