One of the amazing highlights during the production of REAL happened by a series of coincidences. This remains one of the true highlights of life of the book, and even more so of my life. Chet, from the HOPE chapter, had turned 90. Since our meeting a few years ago, I liked to visit him periodically and see what new works of art he had been working on, as well as how he was. He had been having multiple health issues, but fought for his independence and freedom to paint. One fall afternoon, 2010, he placed a 3″ binder on my lap as I sat on his sofa, and explained that it had been a birthday gift. The binder was a collection of copies of hundreds of sketches and photocopies of his work. One section was full of Chet’s pencil sketches from WWII, which depicted many of his comrades from the Army, and scenes from Europe. Suddenly, there she was…. Beautiful, Adored, glorious… several sketches of his regiment’s favorite pin up girl, “The Outlaw” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” star, Jane Russell. Her portraits were exquisite. He remarked that he and the guys had had a crush on her and that he still did. The sketches were done 71 years ago. I could see the sparkle in his eyes, the change in posture, as he spoke about her inspiration… how much the men loved her images hanging on the walls of their barracks and the officers’ club.
Jane Russell, the drop dead beautiful, classy Hollywood actress, is Jane, from our BALANCE chapter. More remarkable than I ever dreamed she could be.
“Chet…. How would you like to meet Jane?”, I asked…
“Wh..what? How could that be..?” He was surprised,but very curious.
I told him that she was in my book and I would make a couple of calls and see what we could do. After saying goodbye, I made my calls while on the road home. With in 20 minutes I called Chet back, “Chet, grab your hat and shine your shoes, you have a date with Jane! ”
He called me twice a day over the next week before we met at a restaurant in Santa Maria, California. Their meeting was one of the most precious memories for all of us. They talked for almost two hours. He was such a gentleman and Jane lived up to her regal, feminine, spunky reputation. At the end, he gave her the pencil drawing with his autograph, and she had a photo for him. She kissed him on the cheek with her signature red lips…. After 71 years of dreaming about this vision, this goddess…. he had lunch with Jane, got a kiss on the cheek… All the way home he he talked about how his heart and soul felt like a 19 year old again. It was wonderful.
I was worried about how Chet would take hearing about Jane’s sad death at the beginning of 2011. He was greatly grieved, but so happy that he had had the chance of a lifetime, a memory that made him feel so alive.