Until now, I shared the following story strictly with my closest friends.
In 1993 I discovered that Billy Dee Williams, one of Hollywood’s top leading men in the 1970s (Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany, Brian’s Song, and others) and 1980s (Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and even 1989’s Batman) airbrushed, and I thought it would be a great coup to feature his art in Airbrush Action. I called his agent and sure enough (I have to admit that I didn’t have much confidence in a positive response), Mr. Williams was not only interested, but I was told he read Airbrush Action! I was truly flattered that an A-lister read the magazine.
A breakfast meeting was arranged for the interview. Present were Joel Cohen, the writer, my best friend Art Beins (I needed a hometown witness for this seemingly historic moment!), Mr. Williams, his assistant, and me. After meeting at his upscale Manhattan hotel, all of us piled into Williams’s limo. I felt that we connected immediately, and Billy’s focus was directed at me throughout most conversations. As the limo careened across 40-something street, Williams stated, “Clifford, I killed a lot of women on this street.” “Really,” I replied, not completely understanding what he meant. “That’s right,” he continued, “I used to have three women a day, every day. I had to have it.” “The same three women?” “No. Three different women every day. I had to have it.” All of us just sat in silence. . . . . . and awe.
Soon after we were seated, Billy discovered that no alcohol was served before lunch, so we had to uproot and relocate. Even for Manhattan, the happening center of the universe, finding a legal joint that served alcohol in the morning was a challenge.
Billy sat opposite me, and regardless who asked him a question he responded to me. He oredered a Rob Roy cocktail (scotch, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and a cherry); we all did. I’ve never been a drinker, but I didn’t want my very special guest to feel alone here.
Williams is one of the most charismatic people I had ever met, and I soon realized that the most charming thing about him was that he had absolutely no filter! The interview itself consisted of the typical garden variety questions asked of any featured artist; how it all began, choice of airbrush (Aztek, if you’re curious), compressor, paint, surface, blah, blah, blah.
I was intriqued by his stories, and I craved more. Believe me, if you hang out with Billy Dee Williams long enough he will never disappoint. He went on to reminisce about a meeting he had with the execs at ABC to discuss a possible TV series that centered around Williams. “Clifford, there was an attractive female at the meeting with very large breasts, and you know how it is when you’re really thinking about something, and you mean to say one thing, but another thing comes out? Well, I looked at her and said, ‘My, you have beautiful breasts.’ My agent, always fearing I might say the wrong thing, was floored. It was funny because I really had no intention of saying that.” “What happened next?” I asked. “Well, the meeting ended soon after and the show never materialized.”
Tomorrow, in Part II, I’ll write about my visit with Billy Dee in Hollywood.
FYI, Billy Dee Williams was featured in the 1994 January-February issue of Airbrush Action.