Jane Fonda and Ted Turner were refused service in a restaurant run by a Vietnam War veteran.
In March 2003 this updating of the venerable Do You Know Who I Am? legend began appearing in inboxes everywhere. Although the e-mail in question appeared to surge from out of nowhere, the story about Jane Fonda and Ted Turner being refused service at a restaurant in Montana run by a Vietnam veteran dates back a number of years: In 1996 a caller to the popular radio talk show hosted by Rush Limbaugh related the tale, and some folks harbor vague recollections of having heard this story as far back as 1991 (although we’ve yet to locate anything in print that would serve to substantiate these memories).
Star 100.7 was doing one of their “is anyone listening who” bits this morning. The first one was, ever have a celebrity pull the “Do you know who I am” routine.A lady called in and said that when she was visiting her cattle rancher Uncle in Billings, MT a few years ago, they went to dinner at a restaurant that does not take reservations. The wait was about 45 minutes. Lots of other rancher types and spouses already waiting. In comes Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. They want a table. The hostess says they’ll have to wait about 45 minutes.
Jane asks if she knows who she is. “Yes, but you’ll still have to wait 45 minutes.”
“Is the manager in?” she says.
The manager comes out, “May I help you?”
“Do you know who I am?”, ask both Jane and Ted.
“Yes, but these folks have all been waiting already and I can’t put you in ahead of them.”
Then Ted asks to speak to the owner. The owner comes out. Jane again asks “Do you know who I am?”
The owner says “Yes, I do. Do you know who I am? I am the owner of this restaurant — and a Vietnam veteran. No only will you not get a table ahead of all my friends and neighbors here, you also will not be eating in my restaurant tonight or any other night. Good bye.”
Would Jane Fonda attempt to play the “Do you know who I am?” card if she weren’t being seated quickly enough to suit her tastes? Though it’s tempting for many people to believe anything of the woman who will go down in infamy as Hanoi Jane, there’s not much to support the story other than the tellers’ desire to believe it of her. (Fonda’s then-husband Ted Turner [they divorced in 2001 after ten years of marriage] does own a number of ranches, including one in Montana.) Arguing against the story’s premise is what Fonda herself said in 1994:
“If you’re ever in a situation where you’re not getting served or you can’t get what you need, just cry,” she recommends. Fonda, who attended the Goodwill Games in Russia with her husband, Ted Turner, said she tried the crying game when an elevator operator in Moscow was too busy reading a letter to take her upstairs, and once again when she couldn’t get served in a restaurant. Worked every time.
Specifically, the folks at Sir Scott’s Oasis Steakhouse in Manhattan, Montana, where most versions of this e-mail claim the incident occurred, tell us that although Jane Fonda has indeed been in their restaurant, she simply said she had to leave when she was told how long the wait was — there were no indignant “Do you know who I am?” histrionics on Ms. Fonda’s part, nor was the owner summoned to deliver a defiant “You’re never eating in my restaurant!” put-down.
The question of its being fiction or reality aside, why would a story dormant for the better part of a decade resurface in March 2003. The appearance of a “celebrity gets his comeuppance” anecdote during the spring of that year was almost to be expected, what with patriotic fervor running high as America sent its troops to fight in Iraq and any number of celebrities took public stances against the war. In the minds of many, voicing objection to the war was the same as disrespecting American soldiers, perhaps because it was easier to view anti-war protesters as entirely in the wrong if they were portrayed as despising those charged with defending their right of free speech rather than as disagreeing with the military action those troops had been committed to. Either way, appreciation for U.S. troops was running high at the time, and any story featuring a self-important movie star who got slapped back into place by a serviceman was going to be welcomed warmly both because such legends take a good poke at full-of-themselves celebrities (of which there were plenty) and applauds that hero of our times, the American soldier.
Self-important celebrity tales are nothing new; they’re a common way of capturing by way of a fable how society feels about particular media darlings who have earned condemnation by their insufferable acts. Another example of the genre is the legend which attached to cooking queen Martha Stewart, who supposedly also tried her hand at the “Do you know who I am?” game with deservedly disastrous results. But no matter how the tale is framed or whom it features, its underlying purpose is to convey by way of story-telling a society’s opinion about someone it doesn’t like.
In October 2004, as the Presidential race heated up, this story resurfaced as a John and Teresa Kerry anecdote:
The radio station America FM was doing one of their “Is anyone listening” bits this morning. This first one was, “Ever have a celebrity pull up and say ‘Do you know who I am?’ routine.”A woman called in and said that several months back, while visiting her cattle rancher uncle in Billings, MT., they had occasion to go to dinner at a restaurant that does not take reservations. The wait was about 45 minutes. Lots of other rancher types and their spouses were already waiting. In comes John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry. They wanted a table. The hostess says they’ll have to wait about 45 minutes.
Teresa Heinz Kerry asks the hostess if she knows who she is. “Yes, but you’ll still have to wait 45 minutes.” Then Teresa says, “Is the manager in?” The manager comes out, “May I help you?” Do you know who I am?” asks Teresa.” Yes, but these folks have all been waiting already and I can’t put you in ahead of them.” Then John asks to speak to the owner.
The owner comes out. John asks, “Do you know who I am?” The owner says, “Yes, I do. Do you know who I am? I am the owner of this restaurant and a POW during the Vietnam War. Not only will you not get a table ahead of all of my friends and neighbors here, but you also will not be eating in my restaurant tonight or any other night. Good bye.” Only in America, what a great country!
To all who received this e-mail. This is a true story and the name of the steak house is:
Sir Scott’s Oasis Steakhouse
204 W Main
MANHATTAN, MT 59741