“Celebrity” is never a word I would use to describe myself. I was on national TV for over 30 years selling products on TV Shopping Channels and infomercials. Some of my peers use the “C” word for themselves. If it works for their fragile egos, that’s fine. I proudly use the terms of salesperson, writer and musician. They have always worked for me.
1. What’s for Dinner?
There were a few times in my life when I was reminded that I had a great deal of face recognition when I was in public. The first was in the early 1990’s. I had been on QVC for a few years at that point and thought it was a really great sales job, nothing more. One night, I was having dinner at an Olive Garden restaurant in the Philadelphia suburbs. (Nothing but the best dining spots for me.) I was with a young lady whom I had just started dating.
People started coming up to me in the dining room wanting to speak with me and have me sign an autograph. It was fun the first few times it happened but then it started happening every couple of minutes. Soon there was a line at the table as our food arrived. The waiter, a very observant man, came to the table and asked me to stand up. As I stood, he announced to the room, “This is Steve from QVC everybody! Say hello!” They complied. “Good,” he said. “Now say hello, Steve, and sit down.”
After I sat down, the waiter continued, “Now Steve and his date are having dinner. Please let them dine in peace. I’m sure Steve would love to speak with you when he’s finished. He’ll speak with you in the reception area.” Sure enough, there were a couple of dozen people waiting in the reception area when we were leaving. It took about a half hour or so but it was better than having our dinner interrupted again. The whole incident made quite an impression on my date.
2. What the Hell am I Doing in Scranton?
Sales Magic, my third book, came out in 1993. It used analogies from the world of magic to make points about the sales process. The publisher arranged for me to do an extensive book signing tour. I flew to most locations, but drove to the local venues. One of them was a mall bookstore in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Scranton? It was about a 3-hour drive one way. But the same chain that was in Scranton had me doing signings in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, LA and many other major cities. So, in keeping with what an old boss of mine used to say, “Some days you get the turkey, some days you get the feathers.”
Even though it was 1993, the drive, which wound up taking a little over 4 hours, was my first clue that America’s infrastructure was in sore need of repair. The roads between Chester County and Scranton were awful. Pot holes, bumps, rough surfaces. The roads pretty much looked like my skin when I was 17.
I still arrived at the mall about a half hour before the signing was supposed to start. Scranton was extremely economically depressed back then and sadly still is. America’s shift away from a manufacturing economy hit them hard. Over half the stores in the mall were closed and the anchor stores, Sears and J.C. Penny’s were like ghost towns.
When I reached the bookstore, I saw a huge line going out the door and down the mall. The store manager told me there were over 200 people in line who were anxious to meet me. He added that most of them had come to him and said they couldn’t afford to buy my book at the time but would really like to meet me and get my autograph. He added that he told them they could meet me but I would only sign if they bought a book.
I told him if they wanted my autograph badly enough to wait in line at a mall with no heat (it was January and the main HVAC system was either broken or the landlord was saving money any way he could), I would be glad to sign. The manager agreed and we started.
People wanted to speak with me and get my autograph. Quite a few wanted a picture. It took a little more than 3 hours and we sold a total of 2 books to a crowd that had grown to over 300 before I left. One man had me sign a piece of paper and said he would put it in my book when he had saved up enough to buy it ($13.95). Having been that broke in my life (see my story called “The Superman Fund”), I quietly arranged for him the manager to give him a book that I bought. A few months later, he and his family sent me flowers to thank me and tell me that he had gotten a sales job and they were doing well. The note said my book had helped him sell, especially my concept of “The Benefit of the Benefit.”
His story made all the months of writing the book worthwhile. I hope it helped a lot of people the same way.
3. How Dirty is Your Carpet?
During one of our “50-in-50” tours, where we went to 50 states in 50 weeks, seeking out the best products from those states, we did a remote broadcast from the Bissell Carpet Cleaner Company in Michigan. Sadly, today they are just a warehouse for products made in China. But I’m pretty sure some manufacturing was happening back then.
The show was very successful (I’ve always said America loves to clean). When we finished, the facility manager asked if I would stay and sign a few autographs. I told him it was no problem and he led me to a table they had set up. The line of people wanting my autograph stretched around the entire building. It was 3 PM.
At 7 PM, the line still stretched as far as the eye could see. People were thanking all of us at QVC for selling so many of their products. They asked if I was okay and offered to bring me some food. I gave them some money and they went out and brought back pizzas for all of us. There were still a couple of hundred people in line.
The line finished at about 11 PM. Good thing as my signing hand was approaching something that I’m sure felt like the precursor to carpal tunnel.
4. Song Sung Who?
I like and respect Neil Diamond as a songwriter and performer. He has written some amazing songs and his performances are among the best in the business. Still, with all these credits, I would rarely go to see him in concert. A young lady I was dating (the same one from the Olive Garden story) wanted to see him at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, so we went.
It was a great show and we both had a terrific time. He was even better live than I had heard. Neil give the audience everything he had. And the songs are legendary.
After the show, we were leaving “the blimp hanger,” as many performers called the 17,000 seat plus venue, a woman saw me and shouted out my name. This caused many other people to look in our direction and also start calling out my name. In a few moments, my date and I were being pushed against the wall by an ever-growing, obviously QVC-watching crowd.
I actually started fearing for our safety as they were pressing so hard that it was getting difficult to breathe. Luckily, a couple of security guards saw the melee, pushed through the crowd and managed to get them to stop pushing. They even escorted us out to the parking lot. As we got into our car, one of them asked, “Sir, may I ask who the fuck are you?” “Just a fan,” I replied and I tipped them for keeping us safe.
Someday, I hope to meet Neil and share this story with him…but maybe not since he’ll also probably want to know who the fuck I am.
Epilogue (Hey, it was good enough for Quinn Martin, it’s good enough for me.)
Cue the William Conrad voice – “A sad, lonely man who feels a bit less lonely after these incidents. He’ll think back on this as well as other lines and crowds of people when many who know him continue to make him feel like a fugitive.”