MEETING AN IDOL

“May I ask you for a favor…?” 
The Welshman said 
on the phone…

***

…and I wasn’t alone! They all were worshipping their tin-gods…

 
MEETING AN IDOL
Lightheaded, uplifted by the spirits of the occasion, overwhelmed by happiness, while getting married in Chobe, a very generous Elizabeth Taylor pledged her diamond engagement ring to pay for the building of a church in Botswana.
Only a week prior to their third wedding – getting married to each other once more, once again – Richard Burton selected this same ring in the privacy of his hotel suite for her. Being an admirer of the world’s most famous couple in their days, my meeting him is unforgettable.

It all starts in the last week of September 1975. The place Die Landdrost Hotel at the corner of Plein and Twist in Johannesburg. Working in the hotel and restaurant industry for over a decade now, there is no reason for me to be nervous. My guts tremble like strings on a cello played by a beginner. My heart beat is at the rate of bongo drums. My hand is shaking as I put the phone down.
“…I shall need your help with an important transaction! …may I ask you for a favor… ?” The Welshman said on the phone. I didn’t know what to say but answered with “Yes Sir!… Yes Mr. Burton!… Certainly Sir!…”

And now I am on my way up to his suite. The back of the house elevator is slow. Like always, when I am in a hurry, it stops on every floor. It is just past midday. The elevator is used by a swarm of busy maids on their way to clean and ready rooms and naturally my room service waiters, delivering and collecting trays. Nine stops to the sixteenth floor, I could have run up the steps faster. There! Finally the elevator door opens. Three security guards to whom I am no stranger greet me with a friendly “How do you do?” “You are going to see the actor?” “Yes! Mr. Burton!”
“Wait a minute let me check with him!” “Is he in his suite?” “The others are gone!” “She, the actress is getting her hair done?” “Isn’t she?” These security guards they take themselves too serious, acting overly important and always make me wait. I shall remember next time when they order a meal from my room service department. My mind wonders off. These days security is everywhere, more than for any head of state. And we had had a few at the Landdrost.

Hundreds of Non-Whites are waiting to see their idols, they are kept outside the hotel, kept in a save distance from the hotel entrance. This is one of the instances where apartheid becomes clearly visible to the rest of the world. Out there in front of the hotel Policemen with dogs control the non white crowds.
I had watched them earlier from the pool area on the second floor. I am still appalled by the cruel use of dogs. The dog handlers secure the open area in front of the hotel. They guard a circle of more or less sixty meters in diameter. Any person stepping closer gets into the reach of the dogs. I saw sufficient proof of those animal’s fierceness, within less than 10 minutes I witnessed an older black women being bitten, a colored man being carried away, another man leaving a trail of blood behind. On and off the dog handlers were letting their animals loose. The German shepherds barked at the crowds. On command of their masters they herded the onlookers back behind some imaginary line, not without biting a few who didn’t or could not jump fast enough backwards. On this street the front row is not where I would want to be, however that’s supposed to be the best place from where to watch the celebrities come and go.
Downstairs in the lobby about a hundred white fans are waiting too. They too want to get a glimpse of their favorite stars. Part of the foyer is cordoned off. Several floors are off limits to non-hotel guests. The number of security persons is high.
Security guards are in the garage and on every floor occupied by any of the entrants to the 1975 South African Celebrity Tennis Tournament.
I am smiling, thinking of this well proportioned, tall woman , the one with the braided red hair. I guess she is in her mid-thirties, give or take a few years. She had undoubtedly the longest, fullest mane I had ever seen. With her hair undone her body was framed in waves of copper and red. Her golden locks reached past her knees. She, Linda, is waiting for me and for Liz’s autograph. Caught in the white water’s rapid currents heading downstream the wild raging river of love I had promised Linda to get her the autograph.

The elevator door opens. The guards greet the housekeeper. She arrives with more tan a handful maids. They are allowed to pass without any fuzz. The maids push two carts with linen, towels, soaps, fragrances and cleaners.

Yes, this Linda, she had asked me every little detail. I told her how Liz looks, what she eats, if she has her own bed, what clothing she wears… ! I had even told her the suite numbers and the security arrangements. The policy is that nobody beside the Burton Taylor couple and their people is allowed to leave the elevator and to enter their off-limits to all guest and hotel-visitors floor.The guard who had gone to check if I was indeed asked by Mr. Burton to see him, is coming back. But ignoring me, he follows the group of maids.
He is a young bloke and feasting his eyes on the pretty rear ends and especially one woman, the last one, the one pushing the second cart. She is fully aware of him following and rotates her ass just like a show horse, while she hands her housekeeping cart to another woman, who heads down the hallway.
On second thought. That’s much like Linda hoofed from her bed to the bathroom, at four this morning, when I had to leave her, to go to work. I waited and when she returned she promised that she would spend many more nights with me if I only get her Elizabeth Taylor’s signature. Last night, she made me promise to get her an autograph of her idol. I could not guarantee anything but surely I did not tell her such. I know, Linda is waiting for me, relying on my ability to get her Liz Taylor’s autograph.
I grin as I see the guard following the maid into Madame Glatz’s room. I know there is nobody in the room. Madame Glatz is doing some sightseeing today, that’s what she had told me earlier. The door to Madame Glatz’s room falls shut, the sign on the doorknob is being turned from MAID SERVICE PLEASE to DO NOT DISTURB.
The maids’ overseer, clipboard in hand, is heading down the steps to the floor below to carry on with her room-checks.

Last night Linda confessed, she had spent the better part of two days already waiting in the hotel’s lobby to see Elizabeth Taylor, without any luck. Someone at the frontdesk had mentioned to her that I was the only employee who saw the famous couple on a regular basis. This someone had told her also that I am the one who serves them all their meals. The redhead therefor had taken a room, yesterday afternoon, and ordered sandwiches and drinks from room service. She had asked the waiters many questions about our famous in house guests, especially her idol Liz and her room service waiter.
Late last night she popped the question: “What do I have to order to get Helmut to wait on me?” I happened to answer the phone. I asked for the spelling of her name, I checked the room occupancy list. I looked at the company who paid for her stay, or anything indicating PRESS, knowing that giving an interview would cost me my job. The info’s conclusion: She was a walk- in, had paid in cash for one night, one person only, and she owned a Beauty shop in Port Elizabeth. Satisfied by the housekeeping info, but curios why she was asking for me, I had said “Mrs. Linda if you want me to wait on you, just ask for me with your next order.”
After this initial conversation I checked all the dockets and found her previous orders. Asking the waiters, who had seen her, I received unexpected answers. The men showed their overall admiration for Mrs. Linda by describing her as, “…hair like copper!” “…an Italian movie star, who speaks Afrikaans.” “…plenty more balcony and rear yard than Miss Johns.”
Then she called again. She asked me to bring her a bottle of Champagne and two glasses. I did. She was wearing a hotel-bathrobe made of soft but heavy terry cloth. I was ready for anything but taken by surprise when she asked,
“May I be direct?” so I said “Yes!”
“You wait on Liz Taylor every day?” “Ja?”
“I’m no miss.i.s! I am a miss.” “Ja?”
“Call me Linda.” “Yes, yes Linda!”
“I need you, to do me a favor!” “Ja?”
“Can you get me Liz Taylor’s autograph?” I was thinking, but as her robe opened up, stunned first, I said knowing nothing better to say, “Yes I can try!”
“Sit down here, have a glass of champagne!” Here I had to decline, but I postponed it by saying, “Not this minute, but I can be back within the hour!”

Every time we have top VIP’s, I am living in the hotel, twenty-four hours on call. Just the same this time. I go to my room, shower and chang socks and underwear. Within half an hour I knock at Linda’s door, which by coincidence happens to be the room next to the one I had been given by housekeeping. And yes, Linda smelled fresh and clean. Her lips were silky soft. I found out that Linda had made up her mind. She was not going to leave Die Landdrost without an autograph from Liz Taylor. After having gone so far and come so close to her idol she was not going to give up, she had to succeed. True the chances that Liz would ever return to South Africa were too slim.

Still next to the elevator, I am waiting for the guard to come back. His two friends are talking about humping lonely older women. One says he is jealous that he did not get to do any earlier, when he could have as well, for everybody else got to. The other fellow, a chainsmoker, reasons that, as he had just come back from for the the Angolan border, he had needed it much more. “This morning… , … a first in over three months.” He grins and blows rings of smoke into the air.
” … still you have to know where the switch is!” They notice that I listen. I smile, they smile back.

I say to myself, “Women, what else is there for two lonely security guards guy to talk about!” Yes, Linda had done her research. She was convinced that I was indeed the person who could get from her heroine what she wanted and she wanted it really badly. Linda knew exactly how to motivate me.

I look out the window onto the swimming pool below on the second floor.
This morning, despite little sleep, I was in a very good mood. Breakfast service was smooth till around eight o’clock. That’s when the reporters showed up. I had journalists coming into the Room Service Department all morning long. They were asking questions like, “What do the celebrities eat?” “How do you feel about meeting these famous personalities?”
I know newspapers need information for the readers but their demeanor made it impossible to keep on working. I felt being bothered by all the questions. I complained to the General Manager. Security was finally tightened up and anybody but the employees were kept out of the second floor Room Service area. I had been, just before Mr. Burton’s phone call, down in the lobby. There was little space to move. In the hotel’s entrance area people had been pushy trying to get signatures from the stars. Dino Martin, Ringo Star and Peter Lawford mingled with the crowds in the lobby. Vera Johns, Miss South Africa, was on hand too. These days she is representing the country and the hotel’s owner, Sol Kerzner. And he Sol is not only eyeing her. She was there today like every day throughout the week. Outside on the streets as many as a thousand people are waiting for just a glimpse at one of the stars. The likelihood for an autograph is very remote for any non-white, the star’s signatures are FOR WHITES ONLY.
These last few days, I had been taking a deep breath every time the white Rolls Royce led by police on motorcycles had left the hotel. I knew with the Burton-Taylor couple gone it would be less hectic, they were drawing most of the idol-gazing masses attention. It was quiet and peaceful for the duration of the stars’ excursion to Ellis Park where the star line ups had been taking place.

I stand there waiting for the go ahead from the security guard on the sixteenth floor, daydreaming. The hotel-housekeeper who had gone to check on her maids on other floors is back. She is walking by me, her keys are jingling on the large jailer’s ring.

Yes, Linda, I too had noticed her in the lobby, a day earlier, who would not have? She wore then an elegant two-tone jade green, paisley print, summer dress. Linda stood taller than the people next to her and the lights had been playing with the fiery colors of her hair.

I am brought back to the now by the head housekeeper’s voice. She is telling this one security guard off, chasing him down the floor, accusing him of getting a shade to close to her girls, one in particular. I hear her cussing at him and at the same time chewing Anna out, I guess that’s the maid. I watch the spectacle and laugh. He is walking fast and buttoning his shirt at the same time.
The other guards are laughing loudly while this one is getting his sermon from the head housekeeper who does not put up with any nonsense. Limping wearing only one shoe and with a bruised ego, the guard sees me. After initially staring at me, realizing he had totally forgotten that I was waiting, he says: “Go on, he is in his suite. Down the hall to the right. You know!”

Yes, I know my way around the hotel. I stop in front of his suite’s door. He the famous actor “…needs me to do him a favor…” What can I possibly do for him, what Gavin de Baker the couple’s secretary couldn’t do as well? I knock and wait for the “Come in!” before entering the stage and movie actor’s suite. I do have a pass-key for all the suites. But I would have never dared to open the door to his suite with my key without being explicitly asked to do so. I hear his voice, from the living room, calling me in. The door is not locked. There he is! Richard Burton is sitting on the floral patterned yellow couch. I watch him looking at his picture in a newspaper which he obviously can’t read. I have seen a few Englishmen before looking through the daily newspapers, trying to pass the time in a pre-television South African five star hotel’s suite. There are two issues of the newspaper, one is in English. Yes! The paper he is looking at is the Afrikaans edition. He looks older than in his movies. A handsome face, impressive, with a boyish smile, an aura of authority surrounds him. He has been here three days already. I had brought to either one, his and her suite, lunch and dinner orders.

Usually I was let in by a security guard or Gavin, the secretary. My daily routine was to leave the trolley with their meal in the suite’s living room. I had not been getting to see much of either one of the two famous personalities. I too had brought breakfast, sandwiches and dinners to the accompanying people, to Madame Glatz and Gavin de Baker.

Now I get to meet my idol, one on one. Richard has his legs crossed, the gray cotton pants show wrinkles. The lavender color silk shirt’s opened three top buttons allow the air to play with his graying curly chest hair. He tosses the Afrikaans newspaper onto the floor with a “Gibberish!”
He turns to me and I hear a friendly full voice. “Come closer! You are our waiter! What’s your name?” I am drawn to him. I want to ask for an autograph, not for Linda but for myself. The twenty feet, across the carpet of the luxury hotel’s suite, are a long distance.
Richard Burton looks different from the man on the movie-screen. My mind compares the personalities he plays in the movies with the man sitting in front of me. I feel myself blushing. He must be a mind reader. With a “You like Shakespeare?” not waiting for an answer, at home in many bodies, the world his stage, he stands up and recites, “And all the faith, the virtue of my heart, the object and pleasure of mine eye, is only she …Elizabeth.”
I smile and tell him my name. He, clicking the heels of his shoes together in attention, changes his play to one of a German officer with a “Jawohl Herr Hauptmann!” before slipping into the role of an Italian hero. Richard Burton has a clear full voice, a gift for pronunciations. He walks light footed like a dancer. His gray blue eyes look past me staring at an invisible audience. He stops only to remove the wavy medium blond hair from his eyes. He has fine features, an elongated forehead. I find his nose a shade too big for a Roman warrior. His light brown eyebrows are neither too long nor too short. His breath has cloud to it. Alcohol invades my airspace as he says “Take a seat my friend!”
This man in front of me has it made. Starting from nothing, the son of a Welsh coal-miner, he has been allowed to be the partner of the world’s most beautiful actress. Not to forget, he himself has talent, a very gifted actor he is indeed. I do not understand the relationship between the two. He has his suite here and she has hers down at the end of the floor. Madame Glatz, Gavin the secretary and the rest of their entourage have the suites in between. My mind stops thinking.
“I need you to do me a personal favor!” Do I hear right? “Yes Sir!” I hear myself saying. He explains, “I’m going to get married again. I wish to surprise Elizabeth with an engagement ring. A big diamond! South Africa is famous for diamonds?” “Yes! Yes Sir!”
“My dear friend, I trust you to find me a diamond dealer who wants to do business with me, without my leaving the hotel.” “Yes, ja, certainly.”
“How soon can I expect an answer, Helmut?” He asked. I don’t know where to start. What about the jeweler behind the hotel? I had stared through the windows at some of his displayed diamonds several times. The shop belongs to a Mr. Schwartz.
I answer with an, “Allow me, Sir, to make a few phone calls first and I will let you know in less than half an hour.” He thanks me with a “That’s sufficient!” I’m dismissed. And as I leave I hear his version of Ariel’s song: “Where the bee sucks, there suck I. In a cowslip’s bell I lie. There I couch where owls do cry. On a bats back I do fly. After summer merrily: Merrily, merrily, merrily I marry thy …”

Forgotten is Linda. I have to provide the service as requested by him the famous actor. And it is not more than two hours later that I return with Mr. Schwartz, one of South Africa’s leading jewelers, to Richard Burton’s suite. The actor’s handshake is sweaty, his speech slightly slurred and he excuses himself for having been celebrating the good news of his upcoming third wedding to his former wife Elizabeth. I am certainly impressed by the suitcase filled with exquisite settings and expensive stones. Millions of dollars worth of jewels are carried into Richard Burton’s suite, in one simple black suitcase. There is no guard. Mr. Schwartz asks me to stay while Richard Burton picks the most expensive stone and setting.
Mr. Schwartz wants a photograph with Richard Burton for his store. Richard Burton insists on a photo with me. The photos are taken. Leaving the suite, I run into Gavin de Baker. He asks and I tell him about the diamond. He laughs and says: “There was no need to buy more diamonds!”

I take the opportunity to ask Gavin if he would be able to get me an autographed picture from Elizabeth Taylor for a woman named Linda from Port Elizabeth. He smiles at me and asks me to wait. Within less than five minutes I am on my way to the third floor. I do not take the back of the house elevator this time. I run down the stairs taking three steps at a time.
Holding the for Linda so precious autograph rolled up in my left hand I am looking forward to give it to her. I am in seventh heaven. Thanks to the Burton-Taylor circus I got to meet this overall most ideal gorgeous woman. My views regarding my most favorite person have greatly shifted. Before meeting Linda, it had been Richard Burton. Suddenly I understand why the Romans had several gods, I too am worshiping the little tin god up in his suite on the sixteenth floor while rushing down toward the third floor with my offerings to please my Aphrodite. Last night when we talked we found we had much in common. True, she is a head taller than I, thanks to her long perfect legs. True, she is at least ten years older than I. She is so incredible sexy. My walk gets impaired recalling her skin so white, so soft, so appetizing. I admired every inch of her shapely body, I adored every word she said. I am in lust. Thinking back my nose detected a hint of lemon in the bitter tasting sweet smelling Spanish eau de cologne of hers. It was not overpowering but fresh and tempting. Linda walked gracefully and light, like a gazelle. I was thinking South African Springbok and called her lovingly my Spring- goat. I had her laughing about my attempts to shower her with compliments, about my lack for words.
Breathing hard, all wound up, I arrive at her door. I don’t know what to say to her. There is so much I want to tell her. I am in love and she must be too, for she did make love to me like no other woman ever had, …except a few, …she is right up there at the top.
Linda had promised me, last night and again this morning, that she would do anything, absolutely anything, if I brought her an Elizabeth Taylor autograph.
“Now what I am going to ask her for?” Talking to myself, I dry my hands’ sweaty palms on my striped trousers. Looking at the “For Linda with love, Elizabeth Taylor” autographed picture, I knock.
Nothing! Nobody is answering the door. I knock again. No answer. I am disappointed. Linda must have gone downstairs into the lobby, where everybody else is waiting, to see her favorite stars. Using my pass-key I let myself in and look for a place to put the signed photo, so Linda would find it on her return. The curtains are still shut, only one bedside lamp is on. The air is stale. However there is a corridor of light coming from the bathroom. Only one pillow is left on the bed. The other pillows are on the floor with the rest of the bedding and her bath robe. I call her name. I don’t expect an answer. I smell sweat, smoke and bathroom odors. Used bath- and toilet-towels add to the disorderly picture. I pick up a wet wash cloth from the dresser and deposit it in the left upper inner corner of the open bathroom door. I call “Goal!” as it hits the tiled floor.
South African women usually have servants to pick up after them. At twenty Rand a month, who would not want to have a servant. I wonder if all white South African women are as messy as this Linda obviously is. I put the photo in the middle of the bed on top of the pillow and shut the door as I leave her room. The room’s smell was familiar, it reminded me of something, I could not say what it was.

A little later, I listen to the assistant housekeeper, who looking at another overbooked night, again 110% occupancy, tells me her problems: “1011, 319 and 617 women who had their period and messed up our new mattresses, 717, 406 pigs who pissed on their mattresses, 707 an overflown toilet and a soaked carpet and can you imagine, next to your room, some bitch was shedding half meter long strands of red hair all over the bed, the floor and the chair’s upholstery, enough to clog-up the vacuum cleaner…”

I interrupt, she tells me, “Yes, that Linda checked out!” “Really?” “What did this woman do all night? The bed sheets…”
I don’t listen, I am rightfully shocked that she had left without saying “Good bye!” The housekeeper, looking at me with a knowing smile and a measuring look, from toe to head, says “I put the autographed picture in an envelope and addressed it to your Linda’s Port Elizabeth address.”
I am getting to stay in room 707, the one with the wet carpet. The housekeeper needs my room for paying hotel guests. I always get the out-of-order rooms, I am by now used to it.

Two days later, I am doing my daily duty checking and restocking the liquor in each suite’s bar on the sixteenth floor. The famous couple has left for the day. Two guards, one tall the other stocky, follow me around for they having nothing to do. They talk about getting many autographs. One mentions autograph hunters and I ask if they had heard anything about two young women who had tried to access Ringo’s suite the previous night. No they had not. So I tell them that I had seen them being escorted off property around four-thirty this morning. Both were crying, one had a ripped blouse. They could not have been older than sixteen or eighteen the most. I was told they had hitchhiked all the way from Cape Town just to get to see one of the famous drummer. Both young women went first to the wrong floor. Here they were welcomed to join festivities for a winning rugby team.

It was much later that they went to Ringo Starky’s floor. Unsure which door they knocked on everybody’s door. Here they got caught. The two were pretty high, not just intoxicated.
I was also told they were non whites. Yet they looked white to me. The fellow who had told me said he was they were colored girls. Maybe?

No! These two fellows following me around have no idea about two Cape Coloreds hunting for autographs. They do tell me that they would gladly have interrogated both individually or together. And laughter is filling the air. However it turns out that these guards they had had one woman hunting for autographs too. They describe this recent and unusual incident in full color. Nothing was average about this woman. A couple of days ago in the early morning, just before six, near the end of their shift, this woman stepped from the the servant’s elevator. “And all she wanted was to touch the carpet where the famous Liz-Taylor walked every day.”

I watch one fellows face lighting up telling me about this fanatic Liz Taylor fan, “The one in the short outfit.”
One mentions her wearing a red satin slip. The other starts on a full description of her mane, bundled and tied with a red bow, hair dropping like a horse’s tail. “Soft all right, red too, the real thing, everywhere!” “Hair every place you are right!” “Not short, fuzzy stuff, but long it was everywhere.” The first one sums her behavior up with “She was quite pushy!”
They talk about Linda. Looking at the two brainless big hunks I know these guards were an easy prey for anybody half as experienced as Linda. They too jumped on to the opportunity. Just like I did.

The taller of the two had shown Linda along the empty corridor of the sixteenth floor. Unable to wait around and waste time, thereafter he accompanied Linda back to the third floor, nearly an hour before his actual shift change. His partner stayed on the job but joined him after handing over to the day shift. In her room, constantly reminded by Linda’s provoking voice and actions, promising more of the same and some new naughty treats, they conspired to get her to meet Liz Taylor. They say, around ten in the morning, Linda had been given the permission to see her star for a minute. Just the word of a possible seeing her idol in person had elated Linda’s spirits to a high.

During the meeting Linda was however quiet and shy, she later confessed that she had had the shakes and her knees were filled with nothing but jelly. By eleven these two, standing next to me, were visiting Linda’s room one last time. They were ready to go home. That was when their friend, who had helped to arrange the meeting, brought Linda an autograph from the actress. Believing the guards’ description of events, at this time, Linda was completely losing it.
“This was a young guy, who had just gotten back from doing his reserve duties at the border.” one says, “he spent nearly an hour delivering the picture.”

I think these two fellows stretch the truth in their description of Linda being nothing but a raving sex maniac, the way only men do.
Yet, maybe they don’t exaggerate. For she was unusual, that’s why I came back looking for more of the same.The stocky fellow suddenly stops talking. Nudging his friend he lowers his voice, “This Anna, the maid, just went down the hall… ”

Linda had made me feel good about myself. I am thinking back at the chain of the events and I know what the smell was in Linda’s room, just like at Frauentor Graben in Nuremberg and the Herbert Strasse in Hamburg, it smelled like Puff.

Two days later THE ARGUS reports — “The room service manager HELMET SCHONWALDER, impeccable as always: It’s not as though the Burtons eat extravagant things like caviar every day. I spoke to Madame Glatz, their personal maid, who cooks for them in Switzerland…” and …”they like to eat simple homemade meals, but well prepared, she told me… , …they are normal, terrible nice people, not like some of the stars we’ve had here who insist on VIP treatment 24 hours a day…” and I must have said “Richard was very angry about the Press on Sunday. He had no idea he was supposed to meet the State President at the tennis, nor did he know anything about the rugby lunch he also missed.”
— hidden in their full page article titled The crumbs of the Burton bun fight and on the next page they had VERA JOHNS – A PIECE OF CAKE. Naturally I read the Vera Johns article. I do not see my name or the short quotation until Mr. Burton points these out to me. I feel small, reduced to a little ashamed person. I am reduced to my real size, a nothing compared to him the world famous celebrity. How could I dare to criticize my tin god. True I had no harm in mind when I said what I said. I was lightheaded from having so little sleep and Linda was on my mind then to. I do not even know that I said what the newspaper says. I look again and point out that my name is misspelled too, “Some other facts might have been mixed up and wrongly reported too!” He, my idol, believes me and I am restored to my original size. As soon as I have a few minutes, I am rushing downstairs and buy an armful of newspapers to show everybody who wants to know that I am in it.

This night the Burtons leave it up to me to chose their dinner, it has to be meat, a big juicy steak or something similar. I get the room service trolley ready, serve appetizers and salad before bringing their main course steaks au poivre from Annabels the finest French restaurant in the country. I do not want to leave anything up to chance, I cook the steak in front of the famous couple, trying to make up for any wrong doing by saying to the press something, which I should not have done. Now I am on stage, the actors watch my act. The steak is sizzling in the pan. The room is filled with the aroma of burned pepper. Whoosh, a large flame ignites the cloud of South African brandy. I know it is cooked to perfection and proud of my achievement I serve their main courses. As I remove the flambé trolley, I notice Mrs. Burton has difficulties cutting her steak. I am leaving the room but called back by Richard Burton I take the two plates – holding what I think are beautiful looking pepper steak – with me.
I am still saying “Sorry Mr. Burton, sorry Mrs. Burton, sorry, I am so sorry. Sorry!” as I am in the elevator on my way back to the kitchen! Richard Burton handed me both dinner plates with a: “These are the most sorry looking, toughest, undigestable flaps of cow meat I have ever been served!”
I am devastated, the chef is devastated, the duty manager is devastated. The question “Are we going to lose our jobs now?” They don’t have another main course. I don’t get fired. The meat is perfect to my understanding. However in later years once I got to taste American beef I started to understand what Richard Burton meant. What I had been used to serve in Hamburg and in Johannesburg was tough and dry compared to the American corn feed juicy beef. Back then, not knowing better, I put it as just another moody action of an eccentric actor. I knew why he had not gone to meet the South African State President and it had nothing to do with politics like some people think. Asked by the press at several occasions I did not disclose anything negative about my idol and his habit to take occasional trips with John Barleycorn. And I never understood his drinking problem until I too faced the cruel reality of alcoholism.

Who knows what happened to the ring, did it become one of many pieces of jewelry in some other celebrity’s collection or is it back in a jeweler’s showcase? From what I know Elizabeth Taylor did only wear it once. She did not keep the ring, neither did the couples third marriage.

And about Linda; I looked her up in Port Elizabeth, she did not even recognize me.

by helmut schonwalder