Larry & Me
Hi, this is Sue! I run this website, the Facebook fan community, the chat room, and a bunch of other things for Larry. I’m often asked how I met Larry and how I came to be his “Girl Friday” of sorts. I shared a little bit of the story on the Facebook page recently and received such an enthusiastic response I thought I’d share the rest of it here.
The story starts of course in 1977 when CHiPs premiered. I was 7, and like most of you I immediately fell in love with the show and its characters. While I loved the entire gang at Central, there was something about Jon Baker that just connected with me. Maybe it was his warmth and kindness, his willingness to accept people for who they were, his gentleness with children, or his determination to make the world a better place in whatever small way he could, but he quickly became my hero. I grew up in a home damaged by alcoholism and its associated problems, and as an only child spent a lot of time alone. It was often painful, and Jon was the only positive male role model in my life for a very long time. I know most of you grew up wanting to marry Jon, but I wanted him to adopt me!
I grew up with Jon, Ponch, Sarge and the gang at Central. When the series went into syndication I did my homework with them every afternoon. One Saturday night, I was punished for something (I’ve long since forgotten what) by being sent to my room and not being able to watch the new CHiPs episode that was on that night. I was terribly upset-but then it suddenly occurred to me. If I couldn’t watch my episode, I’d write my own! And that’s exactly what I did that night, under the covers with a flashlight. It was absolutely terrible but that began my love affair with writing.
As I watched CHiPs I often wondered what it would be like to meet Larry. Of course I knew it would never happen-after all here I was a kid in Boston and he was a grown man all the way in California, which at the time seemed so far away and exotic to me. It was just a little girl’s dream. As shy has I was back then, I couldn’t even muster the courage to send him a fan letter!
When I was 10, our local paper, the Boston Herald, featured Larry in their Sunday magazine. It wasn’t a typical celebrity profile, instead Larry talked about what it was like being a famous dad and how much he loved his kids. He spoke about them with such pride and it made me love him even more! I cut out the photo that accompanied it, which showed him leaning against a stall, rope in hand, looking relaxed and content with his world, and taped it to my bedroom mirror. It stayed there until I left for college.
I sort of lost touch with CHiPs in college. With no cable TV and 3 roommates, there was just no time or way to watch. However one day after Id moved back home, there was a Braves game on TV. It ended and then I heard it-that familiar theme song. I fell in love all over again, and a few years later in 1995, I discovered a CHiPs discussion group. Sadly, it’s long defunct now, but at the time it was a truly wonderful group, made up of fan and CHiPs crew members like Randy Torno and the late great Phil Bondelli. I started sharing my CHiPs stories with them and they loved them-one of them (It was about Jon’s experiences in Vietnam and his visit to the newly opened Vietnam Memorial in DC) so much that they encouraged me to send to Larry. Phil Bondelli and his wife insisted he just had to see it. I thought they were crazy. What would Larry want to read some fan’s story for? Surely he had better things to do? Yet the group was insistent and managed to find Larry’s email address. So one day in 1997 very VERY nervously I did, not expecting to get any sort of response. Two days later I received one.
I tell you I sat in front of my computer for 15 minutes just staring at his name in my inbox. I finally opened it and it was a lovely message telling me how much he loved my story, how it made him cry and he hoped I was getting paid to write because I was that good. It was then he gave me the nickname I still have today- Miss Steinbeck.
We kept emailing each other, and it surprised me to learn how much we had in common. I still never thought we’d meet but then I learned he was coming to NYC to do a CHiPs 99 promotion. My childhood dream was going to come true.
A year or so after I sent him my story, we met. I was a shaking, stuttering wreck but it was a night I’ll never forget. The first time I ever saw Larry in person he was driving up the street toward me riding a CHP motor! Seeing the man I had grown up watching on TV right there in front of me was both amazing and absolutely terrifying. I tripped over my tongue more than once, shook like a leaf and I’m sure made a total fool of myself. Yet Larry was kind and warm and when I told him who I was he gave me a big smile and an even bigger hug. We talked for a good hour and I helped out by snapping photos of him with fans for said fans. It was a lot of fun-although I feel a little bad-Erik was there too but I was so wrapped up in talking to Larry I’m afraid I pretty much ignored him aside from saying hello!
From time to time over the next 16 years we’d get busy with our own lives but always reconnected and somewhere along the way grew from fan and celebrity to very close friends. Larry started asking for my help with things and the next thing I knew I was running his website, then the Facebook page. I absolutely love it and it’s led to some amazing experiences, like having dinner with him, Robert Pine and Catherine Bach (Daisy from Dukes of Hazzard!) in Las Vegas, getting to talk to the producers of the new Hawaii 5-0 series, helping negotiate a movie deal, and of course, the CHiPs Reunion! I look back on that with pride, yet also realize there were so many things I screwed up! It, like much of what I’ve done with and for Larry was an invaluable learning experience, and I couldn’t have done it at all with his help and encouragement. It helped me come out of my shell and become more confident in myself. Lord knows I am far from perfect but the opportunities I’ve received have really made me a stronger and better person. I’ve also made many real and lifelong friendships through the fan community, and through Larry I’ve had the rare opportunity to see fame from the other side of the coin, and to find that guess what? Most famous people are truly no different than you or I, and fame and fortune is nice, but family, integrity and love are far more important and enjoyable.
My very favorite part of being Larry’s assistant is helping at his personal appearances. I love seeing the fans’ faces when they see him for the first time and listening to their stories about how he encouraged and/or inspired them. It’s truly amazing. I hear those stories every day on the fan page and in my email too. Countless people have shared how he inspired them to pursue a career in law enforcement or like me, offered them comfort and hope while they struggled with a painful home life. I love that I get to play a small part in connecting him to you, the fans. I haven’t and never will forget what it was like to get that first email, that autograph in the mail, and meeting him for the first time. I’m still one of his biggest fans!
Every so often I look back on the journey and wonder to myself how I’ve been so lucky. I’ve decided that a higher power had something to do with bringing us together. I mean let’s face it, people generally do not grow up to become close friends with one of their favorite actors, let alone organize a reunion of the cast of their show. It just does not happen without a little help from above. I truly believe that.
At a personal appearance he did in April, I told Larry I’d be happy to pay him for his autograph just like everyone else, and he grinned, told me not to be silly and said, “Aww, you’re family!”
He’s family to me (and my husband!) too, and so much more. He is a mentor, one of my dearest, best friends, a surrogate father, and to the little girl in me, he’s still my hero. On Father’s Day I wished him a happy one and he responded to thank me, calling me his “third daughter.” I won’t lie, it brought tears to my eyes as I thought back to the time when I wanted nothing more than for Jon Baker to adopt me. It’s just been an amazing journey and I am deeply grateful and the beautiful sapphire I wear (a gift from Larry) every day reminds me of just how blessed I am.
I remember often thinking when I watched CHiPs that when I grew up I hoped I would have friends like the gang at Central. They were always there for each other, loyal and loving until the end-and I do! I never dreamed that I’d actually have them themselves as friends, but I play Scrabble with Paul Linke all the time and talk to Robert Pine from time to time. It’s been a wonderful journey from a little girl who loved CHiPs to who I am today.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my story, one I’ve been asked for many times, and that someday you’ll get to meet Larry yourselves. He is every bit as kind and warm as Jon Baker, as down to earth as they come and just a lot of fun to be around. He also has a wicked sense of humor, and truly loves and appreciates his fans. He’s has never forgotten the wonderful ride you sent him on thanks to your love for CHiPs. Your loyalty and support mean a lot to him.
Thank you all for making the Larry Wilcox fan community so very special!