by Mark R. Elsis
I was sitting outside The Plaza hotel in Manhattan one beautiful summer late afternoon in 1975, when I noticed a mime who was shadowing people on Central Park South. He would walk right behind someone, following them within one step of theirs for about 100 feet. Toward the end of miming one person he would pick out another victim walking in the opposite direction, studying them for only a few seconds. Then he would quickly do a 180 and mime them, instantaneously becoming them. He had every mannerism of every person down pat. He literally became each person. It was unreal.
He would constantly pick totally different people to become. He would transition from a business man, to an old lady, to a flaming gay guy, to a tourist, to a beautiful woman, to a punk rocker and on and on it went. I sat there in utter disbelief for around 30 minutes (until he stopped) and watched the most amazing and funniest performance I have ever witnessed in my life. And I have seen it all, well almost. It was a 30 minute non-stop belly laugh. A few times I had to turn away, just to catch my breath. It was so funny that I was in tears the whole time. This mimes performance was so incredibly wondrous, that it was hard to believe. I asked myself over and over, how could this mime so quickly and perfectly become all of these extremely different people?
I went up to the mime after he was done and asked him his name. He said it was Robin. When I watched the show Mork & Mindy a few years later in the late 1970's I thought to myself, this guy Robin Williams must have been the mime from a few years earlier. He was about the right age, he had the correct height, weight, color hair and processed the same facial characteristics that I remembered. But I wasn't 100% sure.
Years later (in the mid 1980s) I was driving my taxi one night in Manhattan when I picked up Warren Zevon and Robin Williams together. I soon thought back to that glorious day watching the greatest performance in front of The Plaza. The mime that was better than anything I ever saw on Broadway (and I saw almost all the great Broadway shows and revivals), television or in film. So, I told Robin and Warren the mime story. Then I asked Robin if it was indeed him. He said yes, it was. I told him that it was the most brilliant and funniest 30 minutes of my life. He was very appreciative of this compliment. I could see on his face how genuinely happy it made him.
Thank you Robin Williams for all of the inestimable joy and laughter you brought to the world. Thank you for being one of the greatest stand up comedians ever. Thank you for your magnificent acting career. And especially, thank you for that special summer afternoon in front of The Plaza hotel where that 17 year old young man witnessed first hand the extraordinarily virtuoso performer that you were.
I will miss the beauty you gave us all. Bless you and may you rest in peace.
If you enjoyed this article, I am writing a book, Meetings and Stories, about my scores of meetings with prominent people, mostly artists, and my lifetime of fascinating and wondrous stories.
A few of my Meetings and Stories are online, they include, Michael Jackson, The Genesis Of Beat It, and John Denver, Love Is Why I Came Here In The First Place.
Meetings and Stories
by Mark R. Elsis