Before She Was A Star

Joe Kennedy
Joe Kennedy

She was small, blonde and cold. And she needed a toothbrush — and a coat.

We met on the porch of the Inn at Wise in Southwest Virginia in the late 1970s. It was a blustery Saturday morning, one day after a chilling rain parked over the coalfields and delayed filming on the set of the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Eventually the cameras had rolled at the Wise County Fairgrounds. But on this day, further action seemed unlikely.

“This is Beverly D’Angelo,” said Sissy Spacek when the blonde burst through the Inn’s front door.

I was not familiar with D’Angelo’s work, but I had seen her at the previous day’s shooting of a concert scene in the rain. She had the supporting role of country singer Patsy Cline.

“You should talk to her,” said Spacek, who held the part of Loretta Lynn. She identified me as a reporter and headed inside.

“Damn!” D’Angelo said. “It’s cold out here.”

I asked if we could go inside and talk.

“I need to get a toothbrush,” she said. “Is there a store around here?”

I said I didn’t know and suggested we look for one.

We started down the street. The wind slapped our faces. We spotted a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. We walked to it on a sidewalk cleansed by the rain. When we entered, D’Angelo stopped, looked around and said, ” I’ll never find it in here!” I laughed.

It was not a super-size store, but a small-town supermarket easily navigable by a man from the glittering metropolis of Roanoke.

“We’ll find it,” I said. “Stick with me.”

It was a joke. She didn’t laugh.

We found the toothbrush in no time. D’Angelo spotted it first and selected a tube of toothpaste — Colgate — to round out the set. Then we walked to the checkout counter.

She paid the clerk and we stepped outside. She wasn’t recognized, because stardom had yet to descend upon her. She didn’t look as glamorous as she had the day before at the fairgrounds, either onstage or backstage later when, still in makeup, costume and wig, she sat on a metal chair and smoked a cigarette.

“I need a coat” she said, hugging herself that next morning.

It was about 9 a.m. We looked down the empty street and spotted a hardware store.

“Do they have coats?”

I had no idea. We walked to it.

The store was so quiet inside it could have been closed. Two older guys looked up. D’Angelo told them what she wanted, and one of them went to a rack and produced a light blue insulated jacket. She handed me the bag from Piggly Wiggly and tried on the jacket. It fit. She paid $80 and wore it out the door.

On the walk back to the Inn I interviewed her. Her answers were salty. Her father, who worked in TV back in Ohio, had a big band. She liked to sing. (Her rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy ” is one of the movie’s high points, along with Spacek’s performance of “I Fall to Pieces.”)

As we talked, it hit me: I’m going on a walk, albeit an errand, with a Hollywood actress, as they were then called. I smiled, knowing my wife would be amused.

D’Angelo went on to star in the ” National Lampoon Vacation” films with Chevy Chase, play a recurring role on cable TV’s “Entourage” and gain praise for many other roles.

Spacek earned an Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn.

Recently, a Piggly Wiggly store opened in Southeast Roanoke.

It reminded me that maybe I should tell this story.

Life is good.

– Joe Kennedy


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