My Memories Of Working With General Norman Schwarzkopf

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Sherry and Stormin' Norman Karate

I was speechless recently when I learned of the sudden passing of General Norman Schwarzkopf.  You see, I had the pleasure of working with him as a writer, TV producer, as an onset coach who prepared him for his interview segments, and even had the honor of applying his make-up once for his business show debut.

There is a story here, a beautiful one.  While working as the special project coordinator for a production company in South Florida, one day I was told that I would be taking a “trip”. The”trip” meant flying somewhere to a destination that was purposely being kept a secret.

There was a mystery surrounding this “project”.  No further information would be given to me.  Rather than ask too many questions I, being the adventurous type, simply decided to play along.

I readied myself for “Project Benji” (its code name) and arrived at the airport with very little, armed only with the last minute knowledge that I would “first” be flying to Tampa.  I was the only female amidst a team of five that consisted of our director, our line producer, the head of the production department and our lead editor.

Once on board, we nestled ourselves comfortably into our seats, one row behind the other.  I was on the second row, aisle seat. Our director was in the row directly in front of me, by the window.  The director seemed deeply involved in his reading material and was quiet for quite some time.  Whatever it was, it was serious and . . . so was he.  Barely any words were spoken among the five of us.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I opened up the dialogue.

Sherry: “Okay guys, you’ve had your fun,” I said. “Now, tell me where we’re really going.”

Director: “Well, we’re going to Tampa.”

Sherry: “I know that, but where are we ending up?”

Director: “Tampa.”

Sherry: “Okay, so now – who is it that is sooo special, soo secretive, in Tampa, that we are going to meet for a TV show?”

Director: “You really wanna know?”

I nodded yes.

Director: “Loni Anderson.  She’s gonna have her own show.”

Sherry: “But wait.  She lives in Jupiter.”

Director: “Not now.  She’s in Tampa or at least that’s where she’s shooting the show.”

Sherry: “Oh well.  WKRP in Cincinnati type?  Oh well.”

Director: “What’s the matter?  You don’t like Loni Anderson?”

Sherry: “Sure I do.  I hear she’s really nice.  I just was hoping that it might be somebody big, somebody really big, like somebody really famous and nice, ya know?

At this point the director turned around in his seat, looked at me with a tiny smirk and just as quickly turned back around facing forward again.  Still holding the stack of papers that he had been busily studying and with his face away from me, he reached over his head and passed a few sheets of paper my way.  As he did, he said, “Here’s his bio.”

“Him?” I asked, as I glanced at his photo.

I began to scan the paper.  With each word I read, I could feel my adrenaline shoot up a notch.  A smile slowly began to emerge and it broadened so much that I swear I could feel the right corner of my lip touch my right ear lobe!

I grabbed my heart and said, “Oh my goodness.  You don’t understand.  Oh my goodness.  If I could jump off this plane right now, I would.  Oh no!”

I glanced up to see four sets of male eyes unflinchingly cast my way.  They were obviously puzzled, and I imagine by this time they had begun to question my sanity, whether it had been wise to bring me along for the ride.  I just steamrolled right over their looks and questions.

“There are only two people in my life that I’ve always wanted to meet,” I said.  “I mean really meet, not just pass on the street, meet,” I added barely catching my breath, “and General Schwarzkopf is one of them!  It’s a good thing for you that I’m locked into this seatbelt or else I’d be running up and down these aisles right now!”

I announced how I felt like screaming and maybe doing a little jig. That’s just how happy I was!

Remarks began to flow about how easy it was to make Sherry happy, how geez, if they had known what a kick I get out of some things, how they would have really let this little joke go on forever.

“Joke?  What joke?”

And now I was mad.  And they knew I was mad.  This was not funny, I told them.  I guess the fire in my eyes must have made a strong statement because in seconds, they were all busy back pedaling and professing that indeed this was the truth and for certain I would be meeting this iconic legend.

And then . . . it hit me.  Clouds of mist filled my eyes.  It was a dream . . . come . . . true.  It was something I had visualized, thought about for years.

 

The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa was short.  Nerves began to settle in.  I had a hard time concentrating.  So here I was, someone who had been around celebrities for many years of my life, and I was nervous.

There’s a little background here that I feel I must insert.  I was a small time actress and model in New York City.  Eventually, I parlayed that into running a small modeling agency.  Being “star struck” just wasn’t in my vocabulary.  Living in the “Big Apple”, it was not unusual for me to have drinks with Chubby Checker or members of the Jon Bon Jovi Band one evening, hang out with The Beach Boys, regularly have sushi with The Four Tops and laugh with my famous comedian friends (Buddy Hackett) or hang out with boxers like Jake LaMotta.  We all knew each other and respected each other’s space.  It was what it was.

But, General Schwarzkopf!  Excuse me, but that’s a different category!

 

Suddenly, I found myself a little anxious and so I began to pray.  I prayed that I would not make a fool of myself by saying something stupid or by doing something awkward, like tripping over my foot, or getting tongue tied, or spilling something.

The four of us arrived early at the Tampa studio.  The wait was on. The wait was short.  True to his characteristic military punctuality, moments later, standing in the doorway – tall, trim, donned in a perfectly tailored suit – was Stormin’ Norman; the man who had driven the Iraqis from Kuwait in 100 hours; the man whose tactical skills had been lauded worldwide; the man whose father had led the kidnapping investigation of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son.

And just like that, he was whisked away into a tiny room, with me, little ole me, just the General and a “star struck” lady trying to make small talk.

I slowly began applying his make-up, getting him ready for our first camera trial run and as I did, I stroked his face.  I couldn’t believe it.  I checked around for scars, for any signs of a face lift. There were none.  He saw me looking, but didn’t question it.  I examined that man just like a dermatologist might have.  His skin was smooth, not a wrinkle in sight, but beyond that, it was soft.  I mean really soft.  Soft like satin.  Amazing!

How could a man in his seventies have skin like that?

Stunned, I just blurted out, “General, your face is like a baby’s behind!”

The General slowly lifted his chin.  He sat there, his eyes sternly crinkled as if baffled, not the faintest hint of a smile, just staring at me.  I wanted to run.  I had just insulted one of the greatest military men of our times!

“I mean, it’s smooth, smooth like a baby’s skin,” I said.

At that moment, a beautiful twinkle filled his eyes.

He laughed and said, “Sherry, no one, but no one, not a soul in my life, has ever said that to me, but that’s a compliment.  Wow. Good for my ego.”

Good for his ego?  What?  A man of his stature?

And from then on, it was mutual admiration, a respect for each other, and laughs, lots and lots of laughs.  He loved my etiquette stories and would always stress how kids (and adults) really need to learn manners, just like in the military.  He thought I was a nut, a fun nut, but a nut nonetheless.

Sometimes he would clam up while conducting an interview with some big CEO, so I’d step onto the set and simply say, “How are your grandchildren, General?” and an Atlantic to Pacific smile would light up the room.

I have many other memories of the General.  He was cautious about discussing the invasion and his role in it.  I heard many people ask him why he didn’t take out Saddam Hussein and his answer was, “Because I wasn’t told to.  We rescued the oil fields.  I did what I was told to do.”

He never said an unkind word about anyone, including Colin Powell, despite the many rumors that the two were at odds on policy.  He just didn’t go there.  Instead, we talked about Paul Newman, their work, his love for kids, the Turkey Shoot each year and his camps for children with special needs. He didn’t brag about anything except this . . .

One day, he asked me to come out into the parking lot and over to the back of his Chevy pick-up truck.  I did.  The open-ended back of the truck was empty, except for some type of container, a silver drawer that spanned the length of the truck, bolted down and built into the truck’s body.  It was a nice truck, but I had no idea what was so intriguing.  The General took out a key, I believe, and opened what appeared to be this stainless steel type cabinet. Inside, there was an array of guns.  He didn’t tinker with them.  He just wanted to show them off.  Each one had a purpose, whether it was for hunting or turkey shooting and usually somewhere in the story, there was an event tied to a charity.  The smile when he showed me those guns was pretty darn close to the grins he sported when talking about his grandkids.

Today, each time I look over to the shelf on the left, in my home office, and see his face shining down on me, I nod and smile, and yes, sometimes I even talk to him.  One photo he signed says, “Smile!” as he always kidded me about shouting that word to him in order to get his interviews off to a good start.  Even called me “Smiley” on a few occasions.

I never bugged him.  Never let him know that I was “star struck,” but I did confess one day that I had always hoped to meet him, that he was one of only two people that I had always hoped to meet.  That humble man could not, for the life of him, figure out why!

That’s exactly why, General.  That’s exactly why.

Rest in peace and . . . thanks for the memories.

 

 

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