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I Was the One Who...

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John VALDEZ

WAS LAST TO LEAVE THE U.S. EMBASSY AFTER THE FALL OF SAIGON

Valdez was a Marine Corps sergeant at the U.S. embassy in Saigon when North Vietnamese forces invaded the city on April 29, 1975. He and his small unit tried to keep crowds of South Vietnamese away from the compound. When that failed, they barricaded themselves inside. After helping embassy staff into escape helicopters on the building’s roof on the night of the 29th, he and 10 other Marines were the only Americans left. By then the mob had broken in. “We could have been wiped out right there on the roof,” he says. But at 7:52 a.m., after pushing his compatriots inside the final chopper, Valdez struggled up a closing ramp as it lifted off. Now 66, he heads a charity that gives scholarships to young people from the hometowns of two Marines killed that day. “I really don’t think much about my place in history,” he says. “It was just about being in the right place at the wrong time.”

Bryony EVENS

SAVED HARRY POTTER FROM THE REJECT PILE

In 1995 Evens was an office manager in London’s Christopher Little literary agency. Since the firm didn’t usually handle children’s books, she was about to return unread a manuscript submitted by an unemployed single mother named J.K. Rowling. “But it had an interesting binder, with a peculiar fastening,” recalls Evens. “So I read the synopsis. It had all the elements of a classic.” Evens, now 34, got her boss to read it, and a bestseller was born. But Evens never received any kind of bonus, and soon moved on to other jobs in publishing. She did, however, have the foresight to keep a first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which has appreciated enormously.

Rudy DURAN

FIRST REFINED TIGER WOODS’S SWING

When a 4-year-old Woods and his mother, Tida, walked into a golf shop in Long Beach, Calif., in 1980 looking for a coach, “Tiger could barely see over the counter,” says Duran, a golf pro known for his work with kids. “I teed up four balls and Tiger took out his little cut-down 2½-wood and hit four shots perfectly, 60 to 70 yards.” An impressed Duran took Tiger on and coached him for six years. “We worked on shortening his backswing, changing his grip, improving his posture, changing ball position. And we worked on course strategy,” says Duran, 55. “I enabled him to develop his natural ability to full potential with drills. By the time he was 5, he was a shrunken pro.”

Dr. Frederic MAILLIEZ

FIRST TENDED TO PRINCESS DIANA AFTER HER PARIS CAR WRECK

Mailliez, an E.R. doctor, was driving home from a party when he entered Paris’s Alma tunnel moments after the car carrying Princess Diana crashed at around 12:35 a.m. Seeing the wrecked Mercedes in the tunnel, Mailliez stopped to help. The driver, Henri Paul, and Diana’s lover, Dodi Fayed, were already dead; the princess and her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones were seriously injured. Mailliez, who didn’t know whom he was helping, assessed her condition and began first aid. “She was expressing herself but not in a way you could understand,” he says. “Her back was to me and I never saw her face.” An ambulance arrived 20 minutes later. Unaware of her severe internal injuries, Mailliez “thought she’d be okay.” Like the rest of the world, he learned of Diana’s fate the next morning from a TV report. Mailliez, now 42, has continued to practice medicine and drives through the Alma tunnel often. “I don’t think this story will ever go away,” he says. “Diana was so famous. No one can understand that she died in this stupid, senseless way.”

Jerry PARR

BUNDLED RONALD REAGAN INTO A LIMO AFTER HE WAS SHOT IN D.C.

On March 30,1981, Secret Service agent Parr was a few steps behind Reagan outside the Hilton Hotel when he heard “what sounded like three firecrackers,” he says. Within seconds, Parr had the President in the limo. “I felt through his shirt and down his arms. I thought he wasn’t hit,” he says. “Then he coughed up blood and we rushed to the hospital. We were there in three minutes.” A bullet fired by John Hinckley Jr. had lodged in Reagan’s chest and was removed by surgery. Parr, now 73, retired from the service in 1983 and was ordained as a nondenominational pastoral counselor. He and wife Carolyn work with parishioners at an ecumenical church in a low-income D.C. neighborhood.

Ellie KANNER

CAST FRIENDS

In 1993 Kanner was a new casting director for Warner television when she went to work on a pilot about a group of urban twentysomethings. For inspiration, Kanner, who had only cast one other project (High Strung) on her own, didn’t turn to other shows but to a recent romantic comedy. “I’d just seen Singles,” she says. “I kept thinking about that movie while we were casting.”

Not that that made the job of finding the perfect Friends much easier. Téa Leoni, who was approached to play Rachel, and Janeane Garofalo, who was offered Monica, both turned the parts down. The first to be cast was Lisa Kudrow, who’d recently been hired—then fired—for the role of Roz on Frasier. Jennifer Aniston signed on after another pilot she’d done fell through. Kanner and the producers loved Courteney Cox Arquette—but as Rachel. It was only after Cox insisted on reading for Monica that she landed the part that would make her famous. David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry soon fell into place. “Seeing them all together,” says Kanner, now 38 and a TV director, “we knew there was great chemistry.”

Timothy KEATING

HIRED MONICA LEWINSKY

Lewinsky was set to finish her internship at the White House when Keating, then head of legislative affairs, hired her Nov. 13, 1995. Her job? Answering letters. Two days later, she volunteered to run errands for White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta—in close proximity to the President. The rest is sexual history. Keating eventually reassigned Lewinsky to the Pentagon because, he says, she wasn’t doing her job. Jay Leno joked that Keating had sent an incompetent to the place that controls nuclear weapons. Says Keating, 42, now a vice president of Honeywell Corp.: “My poor, sainted mother heard that.”

Sandra FORD

FIRST REPORTED THE BEGINNINGS OF THE AIDS EPIDEMIC

As a drug technician working at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta in 1981, Ford took calls from doctors requesting medications to treat rare diseases. When a physician in New York City called describing a young homosexual man with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia—a lung infection normally found in people with compromised immune systems—Ford’s curiosity was piqued. About two weeks later she received a call from a New York doctor who reported hearing about five gay men suffering from bone sarcoma, a rare condition usually found in older Jewish and Mediterranean males. Ford wrote a memo about the two phone calls–the first documentation of the epidemic that would come to be known as AIDS—and alerted CDC doctors to the similarities between the unusual cases. “It wasn’t a big lightbulb experience,” she recalls. “But I did remember the first doctor mentioning the homosexuality of his patient.” As word of a gay plague spread, doctors from around the country began contacting Ford, and her cramped office became a clearinghouse in the evolving treatment of HIV cases. “They called me the mother of AIDS,” says Ford, now 53 and still working for the CDC. “I was around at the beginning. And I would love to be around when the epidemic comes to an end.”

José EBER

CREATED FARRAH FAWCETT’S FEATHERED DO

Call him the wind beneath her wings. In 1976 “Farrah came to me at the beginning of Charlie’s Angels. Her hair was very long and layered,” recalls the L.A.-based stylist. “I said, ‘Trust me, darling.’ When I finished, she was practically jumping with happiness. She said, ‘I love it!’ ” So did millions of imitators. “I know she was happy,” says Eber. “Because she’s still coming to me.”

Dr. Ted ASPES

PERFECTED JULIA ROBERTS‘S SMILE

When David Letterman asked Roberts on a 1997 show how big the space between her front teeth was when she was a child, she replied, “Bigger than yours.” Aspes, a Smyrna, Ga., pediatric dentist, was the one who closed that gap (caused by sucking her thumb as a child) by fitting Roberts with a plastic retainer in the early ’70s. The modest 57-year-old says he takes “a little credit for making her smile a little prettier. We all feel good seeing a hometown girl succeed.”

Cliff FREEMAN

CREATED THE WENDY’S SLOGAN ‘WHERE’S THE BEEF?’

Freeman, a copywriter for the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency working on a Wendy’s campaign, noticed that the competition’s burgers were mostly “big fluffy buns.” Which led to his brainstorm: a spot featuring a crusty senior citizen repeatedly spouting an outrageously addictive catchphrase. “Where’s the beef?” not only helped sales at Wendy’s jump 31 percent, it became a pop cultural phenomenon: Walter Mondale even coopted the phrase during his 1984 presidential campaign. Says Freeman, 59, who parlayed the success of the commercial into his own agency: “It’s turned out extremely well for me.”

Alex CALL

CAME UP WITH THE DIGITS FOR THE ’80S HIT ‘867-5309/JENNY’

“I made it up sitting under a plum tree,” says Call, who co-wrote the 1982 single sung by the band Tommy Tutone. The song, which made the Top 10 on the charts, still inspires prank calls the world over. Who was Jenny? “Nobody,” says Call, 55, who still makes “five figures” a year in royalties. “The name just had the right number of syllables.”

Alexander BUTTERFIELD

EXPOSED RICHARD NIXON’S SECRET TAPES

In 1971 Nixon asked Butterfield, then a deputy assistant to the President, to install a hidden recording system in the Oval Office. As Butterfield recalls, Nixon said it was “to help with his memoirs.” Two years later, Senate investigators looking for a connection between Nixon and the Watergate burglary asked Butterfield if he knew of any recording devices in the Oval Office. He told the truth. In 1974 the Supreme Court ordered the release of the recordings, which detailed Nixon’s knowledge of the break-in and subsequent cover-up. Butterfield says he didn’t mean to betray his boss. “I knew what a big secret this was to him,” says Butterfield, now 77 and living in San Diego, “but I didn’t want to lie.” Nixon, who died in 1994, never spoke to him again.