There are people who kinda love their cellphone service, and then there is Bob Gray. A refreshingly friendly and stoutly built Cleveland native, bursting with the unfiltered enthusiasm and tendency for "straight talk" associated with his part of the country, Gray has a reason to be really excited about his Sprint phone.
Several months ago, upon moving back to Southern California from Cleveland, after Lebron James' jump to the Miami Heat single-handedly torpedoed the Cavaliers' national TV contract and, subsequently, Gray's work as a director and assistant director of live basketball broadcasts, Gray went to get a local L.A. cellphone. Little did he expect to be inheriting the recently retired number of a reasonably famous and very well connected actor-comedian.
"The next day I get a text message," says Gray, who resembles a blend of Ethan Suplee and a fleshier-faced Billy Bob Thornton. " 'Hey man, I just saw your shit on TMZ.' " He wrote back, "Whose number do I have?"
Gray, an aspiring director, screenwriter and actor, looked up the previous owner, whom he quickly recognized from various roles.
Text messages really started pouring in, such as, "Are you coming to the Super Bowl bash?' "
There were invitations to Hollywood parties, restaurant openings, Laker games. Friends saying, "Hey, what's up," "Go Celtics" and "Hey douchebag."
Clearly this phone number cut right to the celebrity's inner circle.
One night Gray and his girlfriend, who live in the very un-Hollywood Huntington Beach, were out to dinner when a text appeared: "Hey, babe. I'm having my birthday party tonight at a house in the hills. Let me know if you can make it. Love and kisses."
Gray wrote back: "Awesome, hon. What's the address?"
Immediately, Gray's staring at an address; he exhibited the necessary adventurousness and chutzpah: "Cool, I have a few friends I want to meet me there, can you get them on the list? Bob Gray directed that Bigfoot movie, released by Troma, and Liza Foster's the lead actress. They have their lawyer Barry Davis with them. They're very cool. Is that all right?"
Soon, Gray and Foster were outside an imposing, rented mansion way up in the Hollywood Hills, going through a Secret Service-type security line.
"It's Mercedes, Maseratis and limos, and we're in our Dodge minivan with Ohio plates. They've got those little wrist walkie-talkies and earpieces and the guy's like, 'Who're you?'
"I'm Bob Gray.
"He goes, 'Hang on.'
"We're wondering if we're really on the list.
"The guy comes back: 'Yeah. You're on the list.' I think he was amazed."
There they were, at Paris Hilton's 30th-birthday party, with fire and waterfalls and girls dancing behind smoked-glass windows, with amazing cocktails and food, all of it tied to a Moulin Rouge theme.
"We went up there and hugged her and thanked her for inviting us," he says. "She was real nice. It was great."
Gray and Foster stayed until 4:30 in the morning. While it wasn't exactly star-studded, they did see Kathy Griffin and heard reliably that Lil Wayne was there.
Gray and Foster attended their second Paris party about a month ago, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where they palled around with Andy Dick, a few Real Housewives of Orange County and Erin Murphy, the all-grown-up Tabitha from TV's Bewitched. They also hung out with Paris' mother, whom Gray describes as "really nice and approachable and cool to talk to."
"Oh," Gray adds, as a sudden afterthought. "David Arquette was there, too."
The star power didn't stop there. An incoming text got them to Parks and Recreation star Retta's birthday party at a Beverly Hills club, where Gray's gift -- a Jesus Christ action figure -- went over smashingly.
Another time a text offer came in to do 10 minutes at the Laugh Factory. When Gray called and explained the situation, the guy laughed his ass off and offered him seven minutes on the show. Gray, who did stand-up 20 years ago, politely declined.
That caller was Kevin Nealon -- a favorite of Gray's -- who said he should write a screenplay about the whole thing.
So did prominent comedy talent manager Dave Rath, another connection Gray made through the special phone number.
Gray and writing partner Adam Jones are well under way on that project (he also mentioned a horror-comedy script he wrote, called Attack of the Melonheads, which he said has garnered interest from director Wes Craven and Lionsgate). Gray also is working with independent casting director/producer Roxane Davis and the Gersh Agency on potential projects relating to his story.
Gray got calls and texts from theatrical agents, other entertainment-industry gatekeepers and established comedians, all of which he diligently forwarded to the intended party.
When an offer came in to act in a Nick Cannon film, Gray fantasized about saying, "I'm busy, but let me recommend my great actor friend Bob Gray," but there is a limit to his deviousness.
One guy who called had an immediately distinctive voice. It was Adam Sandler, who laughed like crazy at some of Gray's phone number-related stories and then called him "a good egg."
And then one day Gray answered the phone while driving. "Hey," asked the voice. "How do you like living my life?"
It was the guy, the previous owner of the phone number. (If his name were to be revealed here, Gray's magic well of cellphone connections would dry up. But like the mysterious Charlie in Charlie's Angels, this guy need not be seen for his effect -- on Gray's life -- to be felt.)
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The guy isn't mad. He thinks it's cool and appreciates Gray's respectful handling of the situation. He even promised to meet Gray for dinner sometime.
So far, it hasn't happened.
"Well, you know," Gray says, with boisterous resignation and rolled eyes, "it is Hollywood!"
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