Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Date with Leslie Nielsen

Let me tell you about one of the most exciting evenings of my "political career," as John likes to call my many years on Parliament Hill.
Way back in 1982, I was hired in the office of Bill McKnight, Conservative Member of Parliament for Kindersley-Lloydminster, Saskatchewan and member of "Her Majesty's Official Loyal Opposition." (Bill eventually went on to become a Minister in Brian Mulroney's government -- that's a whole other story vis-a-vis my life on Parliament Hill).
In the office hierarchy, I was the low (wo)man on the totem pole, as it were.  Being a single mom, my first priority was to my young daughter so I wasn't much interested in taking on any serious responsibilities in my job.  I just needed to pay the bills.  However, being the political junkie that I was, working on Parliament Hill was right up my alley.
Anyway, by February 1983, Joe Clark, the then-leader of the Conservative Party, had announced that he was stepping down as leader to allow a leadership race to take place, and he was throwing his hat into the ring.  That meant that an interim leader had to be selected.
Well, there was a fairly tight group of MPs in Bill McKnight's circle of friends, all of whom became familiar with the staffs of each other's offices.
So it didn't take long for me to be on a first name basis with a lot of heavy hitters in the Conservative party (Erik Nielsen, Don Mazankowski, Charlie Mayer, Otto Jelinek, Elmer MacKay to name just a few -- they would all later become Ministers of the Crown in Brian Mulroney's government).
It just so happens that Erik Nielsen was chosen as Interim Leader of the party while Joe Clark tried to retake his place as leader (Brian Mulroney eventually won that race).
Now, I used to tease Bill that the only reason I took the job with him was because I figured that one day, I would meet my idol -- Erik Nielsen's brother Leslie Nielsen.  I mean really, surely the connection had to pay off eventually!  I had been in love with Leslie Nielsen since I was twelve years old when he was on Peyton Place (yes folks, he was on television's first evening soap opera!).
Well, like I said, I was a single mom of a young daughter (my little chickadee was only seven years old at the time) and my work day at that time ended at 3:00pm so I could get home to meet her after school.
One day, Bill called me into his office and told me that I "had" to attend the Conservative Party function that was happening that evening (I never attended them -- for obvious reasons). 
I explained to him that I had child-care issues and could not easily, on such short notice, make arrangements for my daughter.
He simply smiled and said that since I took the job with him for only one reason, I might want to find a babysitter -- and fast!
Now, my momma didn't raise no dummy and it took me about a nano-second to figure out what was up. (The event that evening was to celebrate Erik Nielsen's having been named Interim Leader of the Party.)
I raced back to my desk, heart pounding, and called my little chickadee's father.
"You HAVE to pick up your daughter tonight and stay with her until I get home because I'm gonna meet Leslie Nielsen tonight,"  I said.
He hemmed and hawed and insisted that he couldn't do it (this was something that simply never happened).
I argued and insisted that he had better come through -- a lot of people had made special arrangements so that this could happen for me.
So, child care arrangements taken care of, I hung around the office until the call of the curtain.
The deal was, Bill would take me over to Erik at the appropriate time, and Erik would escort me to Leslie to make the introduction.
So, as had been pre-arranged, at the appropriate time, Bill grabbed my arm and said, "This is it kid, make it count."
We walked over to Erik and all Bill said as he passed me to him was, "Your turn now."
And Erik Nielsen and I walked, hand in hand, over to my idol, who was watching us approach him.  All Erik said to his brother was, "Bonnie's been waiting a long time."
So Leslie and I talked.  In the photo above, we were discussing his role in Peyton Place (he couldn't believe anyone remembered him from that show -- it was a minor role, in the scheme of things).  I was explaining that nobody, but nobody, would believe me when I insisted that my crush on him went back that far!
To make the evening more memorable, a group of us went out for dinner after the formal gathering: Bill and his staff, Erik and his brother, Maz and a few other people (some MPs, I don't remember who but there were about sixteen people in all).
We got to the restaurant last and Erik et al were already seated.  By the time I got back from my pit stop (yes, even back then my bladder was already the size of a thimble!) the only chair left was way down at the far end of the table from where Erik and his brother were sitting.
One of the very gracious attendees grabbed the empty chair and brought it up to place it between Erik and his brother and told me to sit down. (You haven't had fun until you've dined between those two clowns, let me tell you!)
So you see, I had the pleasure of a night out with Leslie Nielsen (forget the fact that so many others were there -- he only had ears for me!).
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Now the tale kind of gets better still, I think.
There was a lovely photo taken that evening, of Leslie and me.
And the girls in the office had it enlarged, and sent it over to Erik's office so that he could in turn send it to his brother to have it suitably inscribed for me.  I knew nothing of this plan until the autographed photo was given to me some weeks later, already framed, ready for me to hang in a place of honour.
Shortly after receiving the framed, signed photo, I had an unexpected visitor to my office. There stood Erik Nielsen, carrying an envelope, which he handed to me saying, "I figure if you have an autographed photo of my brother, you should at least have one of the Interim Leader of the Official Opposition too." 
I thanked him for the photo, and laughingly agreed to always hang the two photos "side by each," but he would have to forgive me if the one with Leslie just happened to have a slightly more lofty position than his.
Oh, those were the days, my friends.


YLC said...

That was a fun story - one I'm sure I was told about at the time, but that was a long time ago, and I'm old now so I didn't really remember it all. I do remember the picture of Erik but don't know if I ever knew the reason for it.

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site bonnie-livingwithfibro.blogspot.com
Is this possible?

C. Bonnie Fowler said...

Exchange links -- what does that mean? Contact me by e-mail to discuss.