Words of Wisdom

updated 11/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

KATHARINE HEPBURN ADVISED, "Keep going—whatever—always." David Mamet warned, "If it's called the 'house salad,' it's no good." Barbara Walters' words of comfort: "This too shall pass."

Sage advice, at least as good as anything Forrest Gump's mom would come up with. And it's all been dispensed to 17-year-old Beau Bauman of Southold, N.Y., in response to the question that he asked the famous and not-so-famous for 3½ years: "What's the most important thing you've learned in life?" His book, The Most Important Thing I've Learned in Life (Simon & Schuster), hit bookstores in June.

Bauman, a senior at Southold High School, got the idea when he was 13. His mother, Bonnie, an artist, was lecturing him about the most important thing she had learned in life: reading. "I said, 'Oh, Mom, why don't you write a book about it?' She snapped back, 'You write the book.' " Beau started out by asking family, friends and local merchants the big question, but quickly realized that he needed quotes from famous people if his book was going to work. He began sending out typed letters—about 4,000—to anyone he thought might have something to say. Jackie Mason was the first to respond ("Honesty is nothin', compared to decency"), and Hulk Hogan soon followed ("Happiness runs in a circular motion. Relax, be cool, enjoy nature").

Bauman also got some autographed pictures and form letters. And there was the time the Secret Service visited after he inadvertently wrote would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr., not realizing he was the John Hinckley Jr. "They thought my letter was some kind of code," he says. Finally by January, Bauman had some 800 answers—and the interest of a Simon & Schuster executive who had read about his endeavor.

Now, published at 17, Bauman is stumped as to what is the most important thing he has learned. Perhaps he should turn to page 125 in his own book, where his mother says, "To read—because it will take you beyond yourself. To love, to give, to create—for the same reason." The lesson? You should listen to your mother.

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