| State Journal-Register
Kevin Eckhoff of Jacksonville and a couple of friends were in New York City several years at a Broadway theatre waiting for James Earl Jones to emerge for a possible quick photo and autograph.
One of Eckhoff’s friends, Jay Todd, started chatting up a security officer, mentioning that he lived in St. Louis.
That piqued the officer’s interest, who ducked inside and emerged a couple of minutes later, asking if they wanted to go backstage to meet the actor.
“So we’re in this tiny Broadway dressing room where we’re almost elbow to elbow,” Eckhoff recalled with a laugh. “Apparently, James Earl Jones had grown up for a period of time in St. Louis and went to school and used to walk through Forest Park from school to home and for whatever reason it struck a nerve with him.”
Eckhoff, a communications consultant at Passavant Area Hospital, has had more than 3,000 celebrity encounters over the years.
There’s a story to every one of them.
Like the time Eckhoff and Mark Medley, also from Jacksonville, were waiting for Keanu Reeves, who was then touring with his band Dogstar, outside a small club in St. Louis.
The band pulled up in a van and thought Eckhoff and Medley were part of the crew to unload the equipment.
“We played along and helped them unload,” Eckhoff said. “I distinctly remember carrying in speakers and guitar cases.
“(Reeves) was nice, very shy, kind of assuming. He took a picture with us and signed a couple of items.”
Eckhoff said that 85 to 90 percent of the celebrity encounters are positive and good.
Matthew Broderick, who was starring in “The Producers,” rescued Eckhoff and Medley from the Chicago biting cold by inviting the two inside the theatre for a brief chat, a picture and an autograph.
Eckhoff and Medley caught Matt Damon in Springfield and Decatur while filming “The Informant!”
In New York, Damon had just walked off the movie set and was walking up the street to his trailer when he stopped for the two.
“He still had the makeup on where he had been in a fight,” Eckhoff said. “He had bruises and blood and stuff. That was the best.”
Jay Leno, Billy Bob Thornton, B.B. King and Jason Alexander have all been nice and accommodating, Eckhoff said.
Sometimes, Eckhoff has to work for a picture or an autograph.
To get a photo with Harrison Ford at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Eckhoff and Medley had to get to the grounds early. It was eventually closed down to the public, but the two made themselves blend in with the partygoers and got the picture.
Patience paid off with Yoko Ono.
Entering an event at the Hard Rock Cafe where she had donated some of John Lennon’s artifacts, Ono told Eckhoff and Medley that she was going to be several hours and there was no need for them to wait for her.
“We held our ground and she comes out six or seven hours later and said, ‘You guys are still waiting. You really waited for me,'” Eckhoff recalled. “She remembered us. But, of course, by that time, we were the only ones there. She took a picture with us.”
Eckhoff said the fascination with autographs started when he was a grade-schooler, writing to baseball players.
“That was back in the day,” Eckhoff said, “when they would actually respond to their fan mail. It was kind of a thrill to get an autographed picture from Hank Aaron or Lou Brock. It was nice when they personalized it.”
Eckhoff said “the fun part” is the investigative work it takes for them to get in front of the celebrities. Over the years, that has become more difficult, with heightened security around celebrities, and the fact that there are more autograph-seekers.
“You would go to a Broadway play in 2004 and there would be maybe six to eight people (looking for autographs),” Eckhoff pointed out. “You’d go to David Letterman and maybe the same amount. You go to a show like that now, there’s maybe 40, 50, 60 people and it makes it so much more difficult to do anything.
“It’s changed over the years.”
The autographs, he contended, aren’t for sale. Photos with celebrities mean more to him.
Eckhoff still uses a point and shoot camera. He’s done it so many times that Eckhoff said he can pop his arm out and do the selfie and “95 percent of the time get ourselves in the center (of the frame),” he said. If he and Medley are together, though, they will trade off taking pictures.
There have been more obstinate celebrities. An encounter with Julie Andrews at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, Eckhoff said, yielded neither a picture nor an autograph.
Robert Redford “actually ran from Mark and me. He got out of the car and literally ran into the hotel,” Eckhoff recalled.
Sometimes, “it’s a 9 or 10 for difficulty on the selfie scale,” Eckhoff admitted.
A Glenn Close encounter was at a ticketed, fundraiser event in St. Louis.
“We wore suits and walked in like we knew where we were going and belonged,” Eckhoff recalled. “She almost always refuses to do selfies elsewhere.”
With Stevie Wonder, “you have to work with his assistant and then it’s not always a guarantee,” Eckhoff said. He got “a lucky shot” with the singer at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.
Closer to home, Eckhoff has had brushes with Christine Ebersole, Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg.
Eckhoff, 53, said he hopes one day to compile the photos in a coffee-table book.
Eckhoff’s celebrity postings on Facebook have even lightheartedly spawned a game at Passavant.
“They call it six degrees of Kevin Eckhoff,” he said.
Contact Steven Spearie: 622-1788, email@example.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.
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