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The International Writers Magazine:Memories

Carmelita Pope
David Russell
The recent PBS Special on the life of Elia Kazan flashed back memories of Carmelita, whom I last saw 25 years ago. Most of U.S. readers would have known her as the lady who did the TV commercials for PAM.


My meeting Carmelita was by accident. I was in Chicago to produce a short film,which would used as the opening of Detroit Tiger TV Telecasts for the upcoming season. A complication in camera equipment cost us Friday morning. Since Saturday and Sunday were union down days, it meant completing the work the following Monday and would cause my staying the weekend.

The Chicago Museum of Art was showing a major exhibit of Monet paintings that I wanted to see. A perfect Saturday activity. When I called home explaining what happened and that rather than fly back and forth for a half day at home, I wanted to stay in Chicago to see the exhibit, my cooperative wife agreed.

That saw me heading for the bar and a before dinner drink. On my way in, I spotted a sign announcing that Chicago Woman In Broadcasting would be meeting at the hotel in about an hour. In the bar, a number of attendees were seated having a Friday Night glass.

Immediately, I spotted Lee Philips, whom I knew, and who rewarded me with a big a hug. Then, she introduced the three at the table. One needed no introduction. I knew her immediately from her PAM commercials. That’s when Lee introduced me to Carmelita Pope. Shortly thereafter, they headed for their meeting and I ordered my drink.

Five minutes later Carmelita and Lee were back; there weren’t enough members
for a quorum. The two had planned to have dinner after the meeting, but Lee said since there was to be no meeting and her husband planned see a movie, she wanted to join him. Carmelita said “go”. Turning to me, Pope said, “Looks like I’m on my own, but, before I drive home, I have to meet a chef who asked me to sample his new restaurant. Would you like to join me?”
It was better than a lonely hotel meal, so I quickly agreed. “Finish your drink while I get my car. I’m in a red Cadillac Convertible.”

10 minutes later we were driving through a part of Chicago I’d never seen, the old city where streets had trolley tracks. She pulled up in front of an old house, which had been converted into an eatery, The sign read “The Bakery”.

Inside the Maitre D’ fawned on Pope, seating us at a reserved table near a large wood burning fireplace. In minutes, a busboy delivered hot rolls with butter. Obviously the chef was serving fish, because a bottle of Pouilly Fuissé appeared minutes later. Some patrons stopped to ask for an autograph, which Carmelita gracious signed. “I wish they wouldn’t do that”, she whispered.
Dinner began with a delicious spicy, Ceviche. Later the Chef told us it was Sea Bass with lime, fennel and a touch of Garlic. Then came a small lemon ice to cleanse our palates. This was turning into a major Gourmet to-do. In came the Chef with a bus boy carrying a platter with a lid sitting on a small burner, which was put on a serving table. Lifting the cover with a flourish, he revealed a fish still bubbling, which he said was Red Snapper.  The fleshy neat was moist and covered with red, orange and green peppers, capers, onions and blanched almonds.
Proudly, he sliced a cut for each of us, then stood back waiting for an opinion.  If this was a Magic Chef program, I would have described it as one of the most delicious piece of fish I’d ever eaten. But, I realized he didn’t want my opinion. Soon, he and Carmelita were into an esoteric discussion about the dish and what went into the making of it? How he was pricing it? How many he could turn out for a table filled with people wanting the dish, etc. etc. etc?

When he left, Carmelita smiled and said, “Wasn’t that fun? And this amazing dinner is gratis. What he really wants from me is to tell all Chicago about his restaurant and attract the big spenders. But, enough about them, let’s enjoy our dinner. Tell me about yourself.”

For the next two hours we gabbed about David and Carmelita. Where we’d been.
What we’d done. What our hopes were for the future. I learned that she had an
ill husband, two sons, had been an actress waif in New York living in walk-up rooming house with other actors. The main talent in her house had been Richard Kiley, who later starred in “Man From LaMancha”. But she was the first to land a job, as an understudy in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. Then, she told tales of working with Kazan, who she obviously idolized. When an actress left for a Hollywood film role, she got her minor role, but she said the experience was priceless, though no one in the cast got rich.

During our gabbing, I mentioned I’d planned to see the Monet exhibit the next day.  “Funny”, she said, “I have a meeting at the museum tomorrow late morning. Listen, I hate driving the 30 miles home alone at night. There’s a good hotel near me. Drive with me and I’ll pick you up in the morning for breakfast, so you can meet my guys”.

If dinner was an indication of what mountains Carmelita moved, why not go along for the ride? So, I drove the 30 miles with her, slept at the hotel and she picked me up in the morning for breakfast at her house. Though her husband was in hospital, I did meet one of her boys. We all enjoyed her breakfast feast, then we drove back to the Chicago Museum. The Monet exhibit was spectacular. It was the first time I actually studied his Giverny home with its oft painted lily pad pond and bridges Monet added to show how Japanese art had influenced his paintings.

Lunch with a Curator was in their private dining room where I actually was asked my impression of the exhibit.  She was being kind because it was Carmelita’s opinion and influence they really wanted.

After the museum visit Carmelita dropped me at my hotel. On two other working visits to Chicago, we lunched again, seeming to enjoy each other’s company. But, the next time I saw her was 10 years later.

My family had moved west to Los Angeles and I had become a commercial film company CEO. A short time later I was invited to write a regular weekly column in Industry Trade Magazine. Checking my column one day, I noted in a news item that Carmelita Pope had been named the Film Industry Commissioner assigned the task of Protecting Animals Working On Feature Films. There was a phone number so I called it and left a message.

Next day, Pope’s friendly voice was on the line and we gabbed like old magpies, finally making a date for lunch. When I walked into The Hollywood Citrus Restaurant she was already seated. A big hug from her earned me my 15 minutes of fame in that industry filled restaurant.

We picked up our conversation as if our last visit had been just yesterday.  Now single, her boys off to college she was having a great time doing what she loved, working with animals.
We met two, perhaps three more times. By then, I was commuting to our office in Mexico City and pretty much busy filming someplace in the world.  We never met again. But, seeing the Elia Kazan special flashed Carmelita’s face back to mind. Memories spilled out and I remembered that when I was with her, for me that always meant 15 minutes of fame. Carmelita Pope was one special lady.

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