Published by: Abbott Press
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How did Clint Eastwood spend his Thursday evenings? What caused one of America’s greatest basketball coaches to scream the “n-word” at the author? How did Heller become an early witness to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair? Why did jazz singer Helen O’Connell proposition the young, innocent Charlie Heller? What led the author to insult the leader of America’s space program? How did Heller and a TV star/sex therapist develop immediate rapport? How did the author and the leader of a famous rock band become friends?
These are some of the interesting vignettes told by Charles Ota Heller, a former CEO entrepreneur, educator, venture capitalist, athlete, and engineer who came to America as an immigrant from Czechoslovakia at the age of thirteen and who now looks back at a life of chasing the proverbial American Dream, chronicling the famous and near-famous people he met along the way.
"Annapolitan Charles Ota Heller’s new book is about his brushes with celebrities and other notable people. Unlike Prague: My Long Journey Home, his memoir of growing up a hidden child in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Name-droppings is light-hearted and lively."
—Outlook by the Bay Magazine, Read the full review
"Charles Ota Heller’s new book is about his brushes with celebrities and other notable people. Unlike Prague: My Long Journey Home, his memoir of growing up a hidden child in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Name-droppings is light-hearted and lively. Fourteen vignettes make for easy reading…”
—Marilyn Recknor, Bay Weekly
"Charles Ota Heller admits it. He’s a name-dropper… He also likes writing (stories)… Name-droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous and Near Famous came out in October (2013). The light tone is a departure from the first installment of the 77-year-old entrepreneur’s three-part memoir, which was published in late 201ll…”
—Theresa Winslow, The Capital Newspaper
"Name-droppings is the second autobiography book from Charles Ota Heller. (It) consists of fourteen short pieces of Heller’s life in USA (school, college, work), where he narrates how he met some famous and near-famous persons… Bill Clinton (and Monica Lewinski), Michael Dingman, Larry Doby, Clint Eastwood, Andy Enfield, J. Geils (and Jack Geils), Henry Iba, Don Klosterman, Viktor Kožený, Helen O’Connell, Carroll Rosenbloom, Wernher Von Braun, Earl Weaver, Philip Van Horn Weems, Dr. Ruth Westheimer… The book is very well written, the narrative is very good and I had a nice time reading it. I even found myself eager to finish the story I was reading, in order to go to the next one. For all that, I will give it 4 out of 4 stars.”
"Engaging tales of famous and near-famous people with whom the author crossed paths in his distinguished career. Charles Ota Heller, the author of the gripping memoir, Prague: My Long Journey Home, is an astute observer and marvelous storyteller.”
—Susan Moger, novelist and former Senior Editor of Scholastic
"A delightful and insightful window on the character and qualities of a host of notable super-achievers who have touched Heller’s amazing life. A quick, easy, and entertaining read from a remarkably accomplished survivor of Nazi and Communist oppression.”
—Charles “Chic” Dambach, author of Exhaust the Limits
"Name-Droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous and Near-Famous simply rings throughout with the author's joy in life and its many encounters. To read it is to participate in contagious delight. To read it is to share in Charles Heller's unpretentious "conversations" with history. Story-telling is itself a form of encounter with another person, the wider world and oneself. And Charles Heller tells good stories. For an author to express a genuine sense of wonder and artful innocence in meeting--often by chance--those who help define an era in which one lives (or "almost" do so, as Charles Heller humorously asserts) is to share a critically important human gift with readers--appreciating with sheer joy the multiple and often unanticipated human encounters that a life fully lived offers and in so doing, enriching one's own life and that of others in the sharing."
—William Durden, President Emeritus, Dickinson College
"Charlie Heller is a natural raconteur. He spins great stories about his encounters with the famous and near famous. His insights into human nature are penetrating and well written. I completely enjoyed reading this book.”
—Owen Powers, Amazon reviewer
"A wonderful collection of entertaining stories from an interesting and insightful man with a unique perspective and no ax to grind. Very enjoyable and certainly a great gift.”
—Ren Klein, Amazon reviewer
"Charlie Heller is a fine writer, and this book of reminiscences about his encounters with the famous and sometimes infamous will get you laughing, and have you shaking your head in bemusement about human nature. My two favorite stories involved Clint Eastwood and Earl Weaver. Highly recommended.”
—Penny Henderson, author of Life Lessons from Esther
"In Name-Droppings, Charles Heller brings us a light-hearted companion to Prague, My Long Journey Home. Not unlike Forrest Gump, Heller has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to meet some of the famous characters of our time. Unlike Forest Grump, it is all true. The stories are fascinating and as each chapter ends, I anxiously turn the page to find out who is next. Heller is a wonderful story-teller of the humorous as well as the serious.”
—Karen Cain, Amazon reviewer
For the past two years, I have been immersed in writing the last two memoirs of a trilogy, following up on the publication of the first, Prague: My Long Journey Home. The upcoming second book can be categorized in the subgenre of “coming-to-America” books, and its working title is Cowboy from Prague. The final book of the trilogy will be titled Ready, Fire, Aim! Tales of Entrepreneurial Terror and will consist of my experiences in the lunatic world of entrepreneurship. As I worked on the two manuscripts simultaneously, my memory and the journals I have kept for many years kept unearthing vignettes about famous, and near-famous, people I have been lucky enough to encounter since coming to America from the Czech Republic as a thirteen-year-old.
After I read the earliest of the stories—about Clint Eastwood, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Wernher von Braun—to our critique group, my writer friends jokingly accused me of being a name-dropper. As I added vignettes starring such notables as Bill Clinton, Henry Iba, and Earl Weaver, my colleagues’ quips turned into compliments.
“These are great stories,” they said. “You have to include them in your next book.”
I tried. But there was a problem. If I compiled all these anecdotes into a single chapter, that chapter would be much too long. Moreover, because the stories span a period of more than fifty years, placing them into one chapter would destroy the continuity of the book. As a second possibility, I attempted to disperse the tales into various sections of the two books, where they might fit chronologically. This attempt, too, failed. Although some of them bore a direct relationship to my overall respective themes of the two books, most did not.
Finally, after a great deal of head-scratching, I concluded that it would be best to keep the stories together, but to separate them from the upcoming memoirs and to publish them as a short book. Yet, I worried that a book like this might be considered an exercise in vanity, something I attempt to avoid in my writing. But my writers’ group friends put me at ease. All three—Karen Cain, Paul Harrell, and Marilyn Recknor—gave their enthusiastic approval and even suggested a title.
“You should call it ‘Name-droppings,’ ” one of them advised, implying that my grandiloquence resembles the spreading of scat. I liked the image and went to work. With Name-droppings: Close Encounters with the Famous and Near-Famous a finished book, I must say that I feel honored and privileged to have met the men and women about whom I have dropped scat.
I wheeled my suitcase out of the hotel to the waiting airport shuttle. As I climbed inside, I noticed that all the passengers were women, and that the first and second rows were filled. So, I made my way to the rear and took one of two empty seats, next to the window.
Despite the fact that the van was nearly full, we were not ready to leave. The driver remained outside, apparently waiting for one more person to fill the only empty seat, the one adjacent to mine. After ten or fifteen minutes, I began to get antsy. There were not many flights out of Chattanooga, and I had to make my connection in Charlotte. I was running out of time. Other passengers were becoming impatient, too, judging by the tone of their quiet conversations. Then, suddenly, the chatter ceased. All eyes focused on the reason for our delay. A tiny woman, less than five feet tall, with light brown hair, wearing horn-rim glasses and a dark blue suit, came out of the hotel door, followed by a bellman, lugging a suitcase nearly as large as its owner. The driver helped the woman negotiate the steps into the van. She spotted the only vacant seat, made her way to the rear, and sat down next to me.
I nodded, “Hello.”
“Hello,” she responded as she made herself comfortable.
Finally, the driver jumped behind the wheel, started the engine, threw it into gear, and we were off to the airport. My neighbor turned to me, “So, where are you headed?” she asked in German-accented English.
“Home. I’m flying to Baltimore,” I said. “How about you?”
“I’m heading home, too. I live in New York City.”
After a few moments of silence, she resumed her small talk. I was not anxious to continue because I had noticed that our fellow passengers were turning their heads and listening to our conversation. But I wanted to be polite and responsive.
“What were you doing in Chattanooga?” she asked.
“I was giving a seminar here at the hotel for the past three days,” I answered.
“Really? I was down here giving seminars, too. Two days ago, I was at Duke University, and yesterday I was at the University of Tennessee,” she explained. “What was the subject of your seminar?”
“Entrepreneurship,” I said. “I was teaching a bunch of managers of business incubators how to help companies during their startup period. Most of them have never run small companies, so they didn’t understand the difficult issues entrepreneurs face.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m a small businesswoman myself. I wish I could have learned from you before I started.”
Now, I was getting interested and, despite the eavesdropping women in front of us, I asked, “So, what about your seminars? What was the subject?”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I could hear snickering throughout the van, and one woman burst out laughing.
What the hell is this all about? I wondered.
“Sex,” my neighbor answered. “I’m a psychosexual therapist.”
Now I seemed to be only one in the van who was not laughing. I was perplexed, embarrassed, and at a loss for words. After a long pause, the woman stuck out her hand.
“Hi. My name is Ruth Westheimer. What’s yours?”
I shook hands with Ms. Westheimer and responded, “I’m Charlie Heller. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Then, suddenly, the fog lifted from my brain. “Are you Dr. Ruth?”
She laughed and clapped her hands. “Yes, I am. You’ve seen my show?”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t,” I admitted. “But I’ve seen you interviewed several times.”
Now that the air was cleared, our fellow passengers seemed to lose interest in our conversation, and I felt more comfortable. Dr. Ruth was interested in my work at the Dingman Center and in my entrepreneurial career. When I told her about my passion for skiing, her face lit up.
“I live for skiing,” she said. “One of the biggest benefits of my fame is that, whenever my husband and I want to go skiing, we have a limousine pick us up at our apartment in Manhattan, drive us to the airport, and a private airplane flies us to Colorado. It’s a tough life.”
“I envy you,” I said, as I tried to imagine this little wisp of a woman bombing down a mogulled, black-diamond run at Aspen.
“Where did you learn to ski?” she asked.
I told her about starting at a very young age in Czechoslovakia, then having my skiing interrupted by the war, resuming again after my family was reunited, then not skiing again for some fifteen years because I could not afford it after escaping to the United States. I explained that I was trying to make up for lost time and that my moonlighting career as a skiwriter allowed me to ski all over the U.S. and in Europe.
“How about you?” I asked, wanting to know not only about her skiing, but about the source of her heavy Germanic accent.
“I was born in Germany,” she explained. “But, actually, I started skiing in Switzerland.”
She went on to tell me that she was born in Frankfort a few years before Hitler’s ascent to power. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, her parents sent her to school in Switzerland. The great majority of the students were German Jews and, in the years that followed, the school became their orphanage. Most of the parents, including Ruth’s, perished in the Holocaust. I told Dr. Ruth about my own, and my family’s, travails during the war, and we seemed to bond instantly. After my initial embarrassment over the discovery of her profession, followed by intimidation caused by her celebrity, I became totally comfortable in her presence. She seemed to enjoy my company as much as I enjoyed hers.
“What flight are you taking out of Chattanooga?” she asked as we approached the airport.
“I’m flying to Charlotte, and I’ll connect there with a flight to Baltimore,” I said.
Once again, she clapped her hands and smiled. “That’s perfect. I’m on the flight to Charlotte, too. Let’s sit together.”
The driver took Ruth’s bag to the curbside check-in and I followed with mine, while Ruth waited in the van. After tipping the driver, she joined me and we entered Chattanooga airport. Immediately, I discovered that I had been the only person in America, or at least in the state of Tennessee, who failed to recognize the famous Dr. Ruth. A guy working the Hertz rental car window literally jumped over the counter and ran up to Dr. Ruth to ask for her autograph. She obliged him and many others, as we made our way, ever so slowly, to the USAirways counter. I upgraded to first class so that I could sit with my new friend, and we began the walk to the gate, with a procession of autograph seekers in our wake. Finally, Ruth put her arm through mine, apologized to her fans, and asked me to walk faster to our airplane. Although I had discovered by now that Dr. Ruth was eight years older than I, I felt as though I was escorting my little sister to school. At six feet one, I towered over her and had to bend down whenever she spoke. I was amazed at the commotion caused by this tiny package of energy walking beside me.
Finally seated in the comfort of our first-class seats, we had privacy for the first time. Ruth told me how, after the war, she discovered that her family had been wiped out by the Nazis. Alone in the world, she and some friends traveled to Palestine, where she became a devout Zionist. She fought on the side of the Haganah for the independence of Israel and was wounded in battle. She emigrated to the U.S. via Paris, and eventually earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University. In New York, she married a fellow Jewish refugee and ski enthusiast, Manfred.
To my great relief, the subject of sex never came up in our conversation.