Kate Smith, the great radio and television singer and recording artist for nearly five decades starting in the 1920s, was back in the news with the release of her own 44-cent stamp from the Postal Service (shown here).
Her unique relationship as a Philadelphia Flyers good-luck charm was fodder for a number of television and other media feeds, including the information that the Flyers have played at something close to .800 hockey when her rendition of “God Bless America” is played prior to the start of Philadelphia home games.
Seeing Kate in the news reminded me of an encounter I had with her nearly 40 years ago when I was the assistant manager at the nicest restaurant in Plattsburgh, N.Y., the Royal Savage Inn, overlooking Lake Champlain.
This was while I was in college, but I was still working 60-plus hours a week and living at the restaurant. Anyway, one beautiful summer evening, I think in 1973 but it could have been 1974 or even 1975, it got about as busy as it ever could get at the elegant restaurant with seating of way more than 200.
I was seating everyone as frantically as I could when Kate Smith showed up. She had a home in nearby Lake Placid (her final resting place), and would come to the Royal Savage with some regularity in those days. Typically, the owner, a wonderful guy named Don Benjamin, would be there to fuss over dignitaries, but for whatever reason he wasn’t there that night.
So in the middle of perhaps the worst crunch we had ever had, her manager starts, uh, urging me to get her a table pronto. Normally, that wouldn’t have been much of an issue, since I’d had lots of opportunities to learn how to make the powerful and wealthy feel catered to, but this particular night was just so nutty that such niceties just couldn’t be part of the program.
I’ll tell you what, I was so busy I wasn’t even worried at the time – or after it was over – about the consequences of not providing the level of attention to the great singer that we normally would have.
As I recall it, Kate had to wait – probably not as long as everybody else, but easily a good deal longer than she might have been accustomed to.
And in fairness to the legendary crooner, I should point out that she didn’t badger me at all; that was handled by her manager or personal assistant or whatever the title was in those days. He was aghast that I wasn’t able to make the seas magically part and a suitable table would open up for the great star, and he let me know it in no uncertain terms.
And in case anybody’s wondering, I wasn’t quite the crotchety old buzzard at 25 that I am today. I was as duly awed by genuine celebrity as anybody else – and Kate Smith certainly was that, though not technically to my particular generation – but just not that particular day.
God Bless Don Benjamin for not firing his assistant manager because he had seemingly dissed an important customer.