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Fame and the mountain

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It is fitting that a famous place is the backdrop for a handful of personal stories about fame - fame sought and unsought, fame unbestowed on the deserving, and showered (well, let's say "drizzled") on the not-really-deserving.

As a child at my daddy's knee, I heard his story: the climbing of Washington State's 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier. It was 1912. The Tacoma, Wash., branch of the Mountaineers had just opened its doors. Dad was with the group in its icy climb.

But during the ascent, one of Dad's companions dropped down upon the snow beside him and whispered that he could not go on. Dad knelt down, talked to him, lifted him to his feet. Slowly they negotiated the mountain together, behind the others. Arriving at the summit, they beheld the sure reward of self-sacrifice and persistence. It was Dad's closest brush with public fame; he was already quite famous in the hearts of those who loved him.

Years later, I found myself on the mountainside as well, but with a different kind of climber. Social climbers, some of them.

I was a waitress at Paradise Inn, in Mt. Rainier National Park. Frequent celebrity guests were seated by the hostess at tables attended by waitresses who had proved themselves. It was well into the summer before I got my first celebrity: Actor Charles Laughton was at the height of his career. I did the best waitressing I could while bedazzled. Other guests in the dining room paid not the slightest attention to him. That would have been gauche.

After a commendable meal, Mr. Laughton retired to a leather lounge chair in front of one of the two stone fireplaces that anchored either end of the lobby.


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