Fame and the Forrest Gump Effect
• From Jimi Hendrix to RFK, Rosenberg has met celebrities galore •
Editor’s Note — Canton resident Wendy Rosenberg has been a Today Magazine contributing photographer since January 2019, gracing our pages with her amazing wildlife photos, and has displayed her work at numerous exhibits across the Farmington Valley.
70 years young, Wendy was born and raised in the Bronx — in the iconic “city that never sleeps” — and her formative years in the cultural epicenter of NYC intersected with plentiful celebrities.
Her brushes with famous people have continued throughout her adulthood, lending a Forrest Gump-like quality to her life — in the classic movie, Forrest meets many famous people while his life story connects with major moments in U.S. history. In Wendy’s own words, here is a who's who list of people she knows and has met...
By Wendy Rosenberg — Special to Today Magazine
Rock music legend Jimi Hendrix was a dear friend of mine in my teenage years in the mid-1960s. We met through a mutual musician friend and hung out together a lot during practice sessions and at recording studios and friends’ homes, and also at Cafe Wha? — the popular live-music club in NYC’s Greenwich Village where little-known performers (at that time) like Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Louis Gossett Jr., Richard Pryor and many others sharpened their skills before becoming well-known.
By the way, the question mark is part of the name, according to the website of Cafe Wha? — “The club’s odd name was a shortening of the word what, intended to convey incredulity” — at the amazing entertainers!
A friend and I hung out quite a bit with singer and actress Barbra Streisand. My friend was Sharon Kaufman, and in the 1950s and ’60s her dad Jack owned Kaufman Furs on West 30th Street in NYC. Guess who was one of his original customers — yes, Streisand, one of the few people who has won Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony awards.
I met The Chambers Brothers (the R&B soul band) through mutual friends. One time at the Fillmore East — another famous music club, in NYC’s East Village — they called me up on stage, sang “Happy Birthday” to me, and surprised me by bringing out Janis Joplin to sing and dance with me. The Fillmore East was open for just three years (1968-71) but the club’s headliners included Hendrix, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone.
Singer-songwriter Richie Havens — we met in August 1969 while I attended the epic Woodstock music festival, where he performed. We hit it off and stayed in touch. Many years ago, at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, he actually dedicated a song to me (“Back to the Garden”) and sang it to me from the stage, saying, “This is for my friend Wendy.”
Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk — I met him while doing volunteer work at a private NYC hospital where he was a patient. We sat for hours and hours each day talking and kept in touch for several years. At that same hospital I met Tim Hardin, the folk singer-songwriter and activist who also played at Woodstock.
I met Peter Yarrow — of the legendary folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary — through Steve Seskin, my Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter cousin. He and Peter work on many projects together, such as Operation Respect, an anti-bullying program that has been used in more than 20,000 schools across the country to teach kids kindness and respect.
My cousin wrote the song “Don’t Laugh at Me” with country music songwriter Allen Shamblin and it inspired Yarrow to start Operation Respect. “Don’t Laugh at Me” won Music Row Magazine Song of the Year and NSAI Song of the Year (Nashville Songwriters Association International). Peter, Paul and Mary also recorded the song.
Celebrated pianist George Winston — we met many years ago and became friends. He stays in touch with me and sends tickets whenever he is playing nearby. Before the COVID shutdown, he sent me tickets for a show at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, and asked me to stay after the concert so we could hang out and catch up.
Other notable iconic musicians I have had encounters with include Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger — we worked together with other teenage volunteers on the sloop John B when cleaning up the Hudson River in the 1960s.
While I grew up in the Bronx, several future famous people lived in my neighborhood, attended the same schools and were even friends — such as Emmy-winning actor and Oscar-nominated director Rob Reiner (and of course his father Carl Reiner) … Ralph Lipschitz, who changed his name to Ralph Lauren and then became the internationally known fashion designer and billionaire businessman … and another fashion designer with an international brand, Calvin Klein, who I did some early modeling for and who got his first job in the NYC garment industry through my mother.
Calvin and I shared a last name — my maiden name is Klein — and we were often mistaken as brother and sister. After the first big opening of his fashion design company, thanks to my mom, he sent me a huge box in the mail with several pairs of jeans and a great thank-you note.
As an adult, one of my favorite celebrity meetings was with Oscar-winning actors Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier
During my late teens and college years, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I worked as a nanny and child-sitter for some interesting families who provided more celebrity encounters — including Oscar-winning actor and director George C. Scott, who won Best Actor in 1971 for Patton (I took care of his son Campbell Scott, who became an actor and director himself) ... the Cashman family and their young son Brian (yes, the Brian Cashman who became general manager of the New York Yankees) … and the Colombo family — Joseph Colombo was the organized-crime boss of one of the infamous Five Families of the NYC Mafia.
As an adult, one of my favorite celebrity meetings was with Oscar-winning actors Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier — I sat right next to him at a Broadway play and we became instant friends. I was called about an available ticket for the sold-out show Julius Caesar — the Shakespeare drama — starring Denzel in NYC about 15 years ago. The ticket happened to be in the second row. During intermission, I realized I was sitting next to Mr. Poitier and almost passed out from excitement.
After the show, I told him, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve always been a big fan of yours.” He put his arms around me, giving me a huge hug, and introduced me to his family — and then to Denzel after the audience left. What a special day!
My serendipitous encounters as an adult continued with such notables as Alan Alda, Krishna Das, Dr. Henry Heimlich, Reggie Jackson, Alvin Lee, Mandy Patinkin, Mr. T, Bernie Williams and Robin Williams.
Of all these encounters throughout my life, my friendship with Jimi Hendrix stands out above all but one — nothing can quite compare to the time, as a teenager, when I met and shook hands with Robert F. Kennedy at a 1968 presidential campaign rally in NYC. His touch and his charisma went right through me to my core. +
• This article first appeared as the cover story in the January 2021 edition of Today Magazine — our "Fame and the Forrest Gump Effect" issue
• For Wendy’s Today Magazine photos and a previous cover story on her life and work, in the July 2020 issue, visit www.TodayPublishing.net/digital-editions — her wildlife photos appear on the back cover and sometimes inside the magazine
• Her memoir chronicles her lengthy, mystifying illness — Getting Threw: A Story of Survival — and is available on Amazon.com
By our count, Wendy has met and/or been friends with 30+ legit celebrities throughout her life — surpassing Forrest Gump by far. By the way: If you question any (or all) of her story, how can you confirm whether her account is legit? Hint — the same question applies to every news report ever published by every media outlet worldwide … and so does the same answer.