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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Most of us have had encounters, deliberate or accidental, that have changed our lives or at least remained in our memories. A new book puts a number of memorable meetings together for better and sometimes worse.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg sampled the book. She begins by describing an encounter she once had with some pretty exotic royalty.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: This is a true story. It happened to me, although even I have a hard time believing it. Years ago, I lived in New Delhi, India and worked for the wife of the American ambassador, Chester Bowles. Mrs. Bowles, Steb, had many visitors and part of my job was to answer the door when they arrived. One day the bell at the Bowles' home on Rattindon Road(ph) rang and standing outside was the maharajah of Jaipur.

Your Highness, I said welcoming him in, what gorgeous pearls you're wearing. He was quite the glass of fashion. His turban was purple silk. His tunic was champagne-colored silk worn with a long, yellow silk vest. And the long, shiny pearl necklace was truly beautiful.

Oh, thank you, said maharajah. On Tuesdays I wear pearls. On Wednesdays, it's emeralds. Thursday, rubies, et cetera, et cetera.

I tell you this...

(LAUGHTER)

CRAIG BROWN: Hmm.

STAMBERG: ...hello, Mr. Brown, by making an introduction to Craig Brown, author of the book "Hello Goodbye Hello..."

(LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: ...a collection of who said what to whom when some 101 real-life meetings took place. Mr. Brown, as you hear, joins us from our London bureau.

Glad you liked that story. Hello, goodbye, hello, Mr. Brown.

BROWN: Yes, sweet. It's a lovely story.

STAMBERG: You are a columnist for the London Daily Mail, also for Private Eye magazine in London. And this book presents encounters between all kinds of people whom Americans don't know or, forgive me, especially care about. But there are some that are real fun that we will understand. And would you tell us the one about Madonna meeting the great dancer choreographer Martha Graham in 1978, in New York.

BROWN: Madonna had just arrived in New York City and had got herself a place at Martha Graham's dance school and was absolutely terrified of Martha Graham, who had this incredibly severe reputation as the great kind of mother of modern dance. In the corridor, she needed to have a pee and left the dance class and met Martha Graham in the corridor and was completely struck dumb with...

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: ...with terror in her presence.

STAMBERG: And we should establish that Madonna was 19 years old. But tell what actually happened with poor Madonna, age 19, cowering in the hall and needing to use the facility.

BROWN: Well, she in her own words, said, I ignored the aching in my lower abdomen. I forgot that I had a big mouth and that I wasn't afraid of anyone. This was my first true encounter with a goddess; a warrior, a survivor, someone - actually, I can't say the word...

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: ...someone to be frightened of.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET INTO THE GROOVE")

MADONNA: (Singing) Get into the groove. Boy, you've got to prove your love to me. Yeah. Get up off from your seat...

(LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: OK, Rachmaninoff meets Harpo Marx.

BROWN: Yes. Well, Harpo had booked into this very fashionable hotel called the Garden of Allah, which was a great kind of bohemian place where all the Hollywood stars hung out. And at the same time, Rachmaninoff had booked into the chalet next door. And there was this terrible war of musicians, and that Rachmaninoff wanted to play his piano and Harpo wanted to play his harp, and they were each drowning out the other.

And Rachmaninoff, who was quite a grumpy man, complained to management, tried to get Harpo moved. But Harpo had this very clever idea of playing incessantly the one tune that Rachmaninoff was famous for - he had composed it at age about 20 - the "Prelude in C Sharp Minor." And so, Harpo kept playing the "Prelude in C Sharp Minor..."

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: ...and eventually he won the battle and Rachmaninoff had to change chalets.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PRELUDE IN C SHARP MINOR")

STAMBERG: Craig Brown how did you find all this out - all these stories?

BROWN: One of my jobs in England is reviewing books, so I review a book every week and have done for about 15 years. So I started noticing these strange meetings between people. And particularly the ones I enjoyed were between sort of high people and low people, sort of philosophers and pop stars, or presidents and film stars. And so, I particularly liked these strange juxtapositions of sort of serious people and lightweight people and see how they spark off one another.

STAMBERG: Here is a hero, hero worshipper situation, The Beatles, dying to meet Elvis Presley. It's August 1965 in Beverly Hills. Elvis is not all that eager. Tell us about the hello goodbye hello.

BROWN: Elvis Presley, to some extent, was nervous of The Beatles because he'd gone through a fallow period. He seemed to be going out of fashion and suddenly these young, English people with long hair, with girls screaming, they seemed to be the new Elvises. And at the same time, The Beatles were completely in awe of Elvis, so they wanted to be friends with him. And he didn't want to be friends with them.

(LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: But he said they had to come to him, huh?

BROWN: Yes. Yes. No, he was a bit like a kind of renaissance court or something, that, you know, with status. And they had this very awkward, tongue-tied meeting.

STAMBERG: Craig Brown is a columnist for The Daily Mail and Private Eye magazine in London. His new book is called "Hello Goodbye Hello."

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News. Goodbye.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HELLO GOODBYE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) You say goodbye and I say hello. Hello goodbye. Hello goodbye. Hello goodbye. I don't know why you say goodbye. I say hello. Hello goodbye. Hello goodbye. Hello goodbye...

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HELLO GOODBYE")

BEATLES: (Singing) I don't know why you say goodbye. I say hello. Hello goodbye...

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