Jay and Mavis Leno: A one-night stand-up
In the mid-'70s, Mavis Nicholson went to the Comedy Club in Hollywood one evening. "I was seated front-row-center with my nose practically on the stage in the middle of this guy's routine. I'd never heard of him, but he was funny, tall and kind of cute. After seeing some of the other acts, I realized just how good he was."
The tall guy was Jay Leno.
During intermission, Mavis walked out of the ladies' room, down a long hall where Jay and another comic were talking. "Hi! Hey, wasn't that you in the front row?" Jay asked. Mavis nodded and sailed by. "I barely spoke to him," she says.
The next week Mavis went to the Improv, where a friend introduced her to a man with "the kind of hair most of us would die for," says Mavis. "When I realized it was Jay, I thought, 'Great...another chance.' "
They talked, laughed and became...friends. "I couldn't even envision having a relationship with Jay," says Mavis. "It snuck up on me, when I realized one day what had happened. I was in love with him."
Cindy and Herschel Walker: How 'bout them dawgs?
In 1980 both were on scholarship at the University of Georgia. Cindy DeAngelis, a middle-distance runner, got to know Herschel's sister Veronica, a track teammate.
"I hung around the girls' track team because Veronica was my friend, my family—we were close. I didn't go out with girls. Never dated, never drank, never smoked. I guess some people thought I was geeky," says Herschel. "[Cindy and I] met in the whirlpool [of the training room]."
"I was in the whirlpool," says Cindy. "You were in the ice. We didn't date the first year. It was the second year I decided to like him. It came upon me one day out of the blue, I knew I was going to marry him."
Renée Shafransky, Spalding Gray: Let's lose lunch
It was 1979, and Spalding had received a New York City acting award. "There was a reception afterward at Studio 54," he says. "I wandered around and danced with a few women, until I saw Renée. I tried to dance close, but she didn't seem to want to. I tried to keep my eye on her, but she ran off—disappeared like Cinderella.
"She had told me she managed a theater that showed experimental films. I found her.
"We went downtown to Mickey's Bar. She [drank] all the wrong drinks: a brandy Alexander and a kirsch and something else. We went back to her apartment and started to make love when she said, 'Excuse me, but I think I'm going to throw up.'
"She threw up while I held her. I think she was so impressed that I stuck by her that it sealed our relationship."
Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang Puck: Splat went the pat
Lazaroff was studying medicine in Los Angeles in 1979 when a friend persuaded her to go to a disco. "Wolf was sitting near me," she says, "but there was this fake painter between us—he was a real gigolo who had decided to become a painter. He kept bugging me, so I asked Wolf to dance." Puck asked her to come to his cooking class at Ma Maison.
The next day she got lost and barely made the last five minutes. "He was shy, keeping his eyes lowered as he talked," she says. "But as he scooped a big wad of butter into his hand, he looked up, saw me standing in the back of the room and dropped the butter—splat!—on the floor. Even though I was dating someone else, I knew I was a goner."
Carly Simon and Jim Hart: Strangers on a train
Hart, a poet, was at the train station in Hudson, N.Y., when he bumped into an old friend who was seeing Carly off. "I think he introduced us using first names only—'Jim, this is Carly; Carly, Jim,' " says Hart. When Hart asked to join her in the virtually empty train car, Carly couldn't resist. "I'd been reading about Grigori Orlov, Catherine the Great's lover—an incredibly romantic figure, dark and Russian," she says, "and there was Jim, dark and Irish—close."
On the train, says Hart, "we started up a traveling conversation, the kind where there's an instant intimacy." Carly remembers, "He was attractive in a seersucker kind of way, even a little nerdy."
Toward the end of the ride, Carly told him she was a singer. "Oh, really," Jim replied. "What kind of stuff do you do?"
"Popular songs," she told him. Silence. "Maybe you've heard of 'You're So Vain'?"
William and Rose Styron: Love, Italian-style
"In the winter of 1952, I gave a talk to Louis Rubin's graduate writing class at Johns Hopkins," says Styron. "There were only about 15 students in the seminar; Rose was one. I shook her hand, went back home and never saw her again."
"He didn't speak very well," says Rose. "He hemmed and hawed, and he was dressed badly. But he was attractive and terribly sweet. A year and a half later I was living in Rome, writing a book of poetry and dating a very dull classicist." Styron was in Rome too. Rose put a note in his mailbox suggesting they get together. He suggested they meet at the Excelsior Hotel bar for a drink. What he didn't tell her was that two other fellows would be in tow—one of them Truman Capote.
"It was a terrific evening of talk, energy and laughter," says Rose. "After that, Bill and I began to date. We spent a month walking from one end of Rome to the other. We loved to walk together. We still do."
Walter and Carol Matthau: He took her at her word
They met in 1955 at a rehearsal for Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? on Broadway. "Carol was understudying Jayne Mansfield," says Walter. "She was lying on a massage table, and I was supposed to pat her on the ass and say, 'Rita, baby, how are ya?' The next day Jayne was back, and I patted her ass. It felt [hard] like a handball court. So I asked George Axelrod, the director, if Carol could come back."
"I had made a date with George for lunch," says Carol. "Then Walter asked if I'd have lunch with him, so I said, 'George, I'd rather go to lunch with Walter, OK?' "
"She used a dirty word at lunch," says Walter, "and I thought, 'Maybe I'll get lucky.' Before I had a chance, she jumped me."
Ah, yes, they remember it well. Their eyes met, and there was instant love...or instant dislike...or instant no impression at all. Whatever the case, romance bloomed sooner or later for all the couples in How They Met (Turtle Bay Books, $15). "I wrote the book for my single friends who are forever saying, 'It's hopeless," says author Nancy Cobb, 42, who has been married for 10 years to Geoffrey Drummond, an independent TV producer. Cobb had become fascinated with first encounters when she saw a photograph of her parents taken at the Stork Club in Manhattan during their courting days in the 1940s. She says that recalling their first meetings seemed to bring something out in the couples she interviewed. "Their faces softened," she says. "There was an incredible sweetness."