You’re Not Famous . . . Until You’ve Had Your Picture Taken With This Man

Paul Walton with, clockwise from top left, Madonna, David Letterman, Hillary Clinton, and Leo DiCaprio.Photo: courtesy of Paul Walton


Hiya! Paul Walton from San Diego! Hi! How are ya! Omigod! There’s the host! What’s her name? What the dickens is her name – Rosie! Hi! Rosie! Paul Walton from San Diego! You did so great, Rosie! You were great! Great! You were – oh, hi! It’s Paul Walton from San Diego! I thought I recognized you! Let’s get a picture! Thank you! No, I’m still single! One of these days, I’m going to find the girl of my dreams! Hey! How are you? Hi! Paul Wa – Oooooooooh! There’s the Dixie Chicks! Omigod! What’s that Dixie Chick’s name? I wish I had my camera! I just gave somebody my camera! Where’s the gentleman I gave my camera to? I’m going to try to locate him – geez! I feel naked. I have three rolls of film and no camera. It’s almost like I have no pants. Oh! There he is! Wheew! Okay. Okay. I got the camera. The Dixie Chicks are great! What’s your name? Martie Seidel! Thank God I have my camera back. Martie! Could I ask you for one quick picture? You’re great! Paul Walton from San Diego. I own a hotel in Escondido. Health spa and resort. I’d like to give you my card. You can come and sleep over! I love life! This is like climbing the highest, highest mountain! John Tesh! Hi, I’m Paul Walton! Somebody as tall as me! The Hite Report! I have to get my camera! This is the problem, I keep giving my camera to people and – Hi! Paul Walton! Oh! It’s Martie Seidel again! John, may I have one quick picture? Wow! With John Tesh!


– You’re filtering the Zeitgeist, Paul.

– The Zeit guys, who do you mean? What Zeit guys?

ZzzziiiiiiTTTT! GiiiisssssTTTT!

– Oh! I’ve heard of that term – what is it?

– You’re capturing the trend of the moment – i.e., celebrity.

– Yeah, I’m the living date-time stamp. You know how some people want their photographs stamped with the date and time? I hate that. My date-time stamp is myself in the pictures. I can look at my hairstyle and suit in a photo and tell you exactly what date and time it was taken. And next year if everybody says the Zeitgeist of Celebrity is over and it’s suddenly the Zeitgeist of Hurricanes or the Zeitgeist of Natural Wonders, I’ll be the Zeit Guy there too. You should see my majestic pictures of Hurricane Bob! And the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids, the Matterhorn, and Plitvice in Yugoslavia. Because all I’m doing is recording the historical moment.


I’m looking for the girl of my dreams. I know she’s out there somewhere, so I’m events-oriented. I’m not celebrity-oriented. I’m events-oriented.

I went to Hurricane Hugo. I went to the falling of the Berlin Wall, the earthquake in San Francisco, the bombing in Oklahoma City the next day. I was at the Mississippi floods. I’d love to be a hero. I’d love to save someone, and if it happens to be a pretty girl, it wouldn’t be a bad way of meeting.

Clinton’s bus tour? I got on his bus at Lexington and rode all the way to St. Louis! Whether it’s a special event, a tragic event, a celebrity event – these are the defining moments of my life.

I’m not going to the Academy Awards to take a picture with any specific actor or actress. I’m going for the event. These actors and famous people, politicians, musicians, whatever, they’re just an ancillary thing. They happen to be there and they happen to be in my food line. So, gosh, I might as well talk to them. But the primary thing is just going to the event and finding the girl of my dreams. I go to the Polo matches in the Hamptons, spring break in Daytona Beach, the running of the bulls in Pamplona, the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, the Grammys, the Earth Summit, the MTV Awards, the inaugurations, the United Nations Commission on Truth in El Salvador, Cannes, Fantasy Fest in Key West, Telluride, natpe, the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines looking for a cornfed girl, the Golden Globes, Carnival in Rio, National Press Club lunches, the Vermont Maple Syrup Celebration, the one-hundredth anniversary of North Dakota . . .


You know what I used to do? When I was in high school and the first couple of years of college, I used to answer police calls. I had a little police scanner, and I monitored the police. I’d find out where all the action was – the car accidents, the robberies, the burglaries, and any crime that occurred, I’d hear about it. I knew every street in San Diego. And a lot of times I’d get there before the police would arrive and I would actually help the injured.

I used to work in an emergency room for two and a half years in high school, so I knew a little about life-saving measures, and oftentimes I’d help people before the police came.

And I always thought I might be able to save someone, and it would be the girl of my dreams.

The damsel in distress. That was the fantasy. That’s always been the most powerful fantasy. Ever since I was in elementary school. To save the damsel. I’d suddenly be the hero. And she’d look at me in a whole different light.

You see, I was always very short. I didn’t have a whole lot going for me physically. The only thing I had going for me was mentally, but guys didn’t get the prettiest girls just because they were smart. Unfortunately. So the only way to maybe get a pretty girl was to help her, save her, rescue her, write a term paper for her, do something nice for her.

Answering police calls – I thought, that’s the way.

I had a Mazda pickup truck with a camper shell. A very unassuming-type rescue vehicle. One night there was a traffic accident on top of the bridge to Mission Beach. An out-of-state plate. From Phoenix. All the Arizona people come here in the summer to the beach areas of San Diego.

It wasn’t a major mishap, but it was enough that they needed assistance. And there was a beautiful girl. She had dark hair, dark eyes. Olive complexion. She didn’t have a dress – I think it was shorts. She was dressed casually; it was summer.

I helped her. I’m not saying I saved her life, but I helped her out, I assisted her. Not mouth-to-mouth, but I, you know, I made sure she was propped upright. Anyway, she saw me and I saw her; and suddenly the police came and they took her away to the hospital.

And I never got her name. I meant to go to the hospital that night, but I didn’t know which one they took her to and it was too late. I always remembered her.

Then, about a year later, I was at the Rubin H. Fleet Science Theater in the museum, and suddenly this girl sees me, this gorgeous girl, and goes, “Oh, my God!” and she comes up to me and hugs me! And I’m lookin’ around like, My God, must be another guy, I don’t belong here.

And she says, “This is the guy that saved me! This is the guy that saved me!” she’s saying to all her friends. “This is the guy when I was in that car accident, remember last year?” And she says, “Sweetheart, honey, come here, I want you to meet – this is the guy that saved me. This is my fiancé.” Typical. Typical.


My dad was born on the Lower East Side. His parents were in the shmatte industry. He went to CCNY and Yale. My mother’s father was a traveling salesman. They actually think that I take after him. She went to the University of Maine and Harvard. My dad is originally Walovnick. He changed his name to Walton so he could get a government job. He was a chemical engineer. He worked in the civil service. My mother was a teacher.

It was a content marriage. Paul has two younger sisters, Ellie and Judy. My parents had their happy moments. It wasn’t the type of undying love and affection that I – well, they had their times. They had their downs. Well, it was never over anything too serious – I mean, it wasn’t like he just would outright hit her, it would just be after they yelled and yelled and screamed or whatever and then maybe he just lost control and punched her in the face.

And remember when you’re a kid, just not wanting to see, hearing – oh! She must be in pain!

I was very close to my mom. I was closer to my mother than to my father. I remember one day when – we had a house where if you chased each other, you ran in circles. My mom actually ran out and locked herself in the car, the family car. She knew my dad wouldn’t do anything to that car, you know. She knew she was safe there. Then he’d go off, and she’d be able to emerge.

Well, I think my life, my entire life, is actually a reaction to my environment. I opted to go just the total opposite way.

Vince Gill! Oh! Sorry! Clint! Clint Black! Clint Black! Paul Walton from San Diego! Is it all right to take a quick picture with you, Clint? You’re great! Thanks! Natalie Cole! Oh! If my mother were alive today! All these stars are wonderful! But nobody compares to my mom! Is it okay to take one quick picture with Natalie? Thank you very much! That was wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! I love this! I’m a people person! You can talk to people at events. Everybody is somebody. So everybody knows you’re somebody. Nobody thinks your nobody!


– Here’s a picture from the senior prom. The girl’s a tenth-grader. You’re supposed to go with a senior. I couldn’t find a senior.

– Oh, I’m sorry.

– You notice how I just wasn’t the fashion coordinator?

– I see that.

– Black shoes. Khaki pants.

– Why didn’t you wear a dinner jacket? Jesus Christ, Paul! You’re the biggest, galootinest, doofiest guy I ever met in my life! Not a cynical bone in yr. body. Never a cruel thought. Sweet-tempered, bumptious, Paul Walton from San Diego – like a force of nature! … and just ridiculously doofy.

– I didn’t have one.

– You wore a gold shirt, a pea-green jacket, and khakis to your prom? With a rose-colored tie? This is the worst-lookin’ outfit I ever saw. Was the girl embarrassed to be seen with you?

– Well, no. I didn’t actually go with her. I actually went by myself and I met up with her there.

– Ah.

– And we were together for about an hour and took a picture.

– If anybody ever wants to know about how our celebrity culture works, this is how it works.


From Paul’s diary:

Headlines: stocks in recovery. Dow leaps eight points to 713.

Since my graduation didn’t start until 9:45 a.m., I finished reading in bed the “Life Science Library” book called Growth.

… This evening Paul a police-officer neighbor took us Paul and his friend Al to Tijuana. The cabdriver took us right to a bar with girls. A girl found me!

She was dark-haired. She wasn’t a skinny minny. See, what you do in Tijuana is, you go to a bar, you pick out who you want, then you go upstairs to the room.

She was a little frustrated because I wasn’t getting so excited. Well, who could? I was kinda scared. But she was going to see that I got my money’s worth.

She was probably 30. She could have been 40. To me she could have been – to me she was my mom. On top of me.


There were a thousand people in my graduating class and I knew just about everyone’s name. And I would always – going to the locker room, I used everybody’s name. “Hi, Sarah, how ya doin’?” “John, hi,” you know. They nicknamed me the Mayor. I knew everyone’s first name. It takes a lot of effort. You gotta work.

If you know everyone, you don’t have to fight.

Sort of like building up like in a bank, only it was intros. And you make a lot of deposits.

I gave the graduation speech. And I thought, How ironic. Here I am seemingly lecturing to my peers on how to be happy and telling them, ending my speech with, “Strive to be happy,” and I realized I might be the only one who’s not happy because I think I’m the last virgin.

I prided myself on knowing more about the female genitalia than the high-school seniors who wore their letterman jackets. I got good grades. I got all the questions right, but they had actually seen it.

What an idiot I was! What an idiot! So what? I knew all the parts. Labia minora, labia majora, you know, all this crap, who cares? What a loser I was. Who cares about the parts and the names? The Latin names.


I still think of myself as the little nerd in high school. That little middle-class nerdy high-school kid. The nerdy short, short high-school kid. I must have been such a nerd that I didn’t even realize that I was a nerd, that’s how much of a nerd I was. And so when I meet these celebrities, and I do some of these things, it gives me a little bit more confidence.

Hey! Mark! Mark McEwen! Hey! Paul Walton from San Diego. We gotta get a picture! Thanks! Thanks! Great! Bye, Mark! See ya! E! E Entertainment! There’s – what’s Joan Rivers’s daughter’s name? Melissa! I don’t know anybody’s name. Hi, Melissa! A producer stops his forward progress Oh! They’re going live! Sorry! Oops! There’s Will Smith! Omigod! He’s funny! Get ready! Here we go! – Wait! I thought it was Will. No, that wasn’t Will. Have you seen Will Smith?


I’m not a paparazzi. I’m not interested in celebrities’ personal lives. I don’t even recognize them. I have to ask questions. Who the hell did I just take a picture of? I don’t know who they are. I really don’t. I hand the camera to whoever happens to be standing by. I don’t live my life vicariously through them or anything like that. I’m too busy living my own life.


I have A-list files, B-files, and the rest of the files.

I’ve turned the pictures into small cards, like business cards. They’re what I call my out-of-business cards. You see, when I was retired for eleven years, I didn’t work. People would say:

“Do you have a business card?”

“Well, no, but I’ve got an out-of-business card.” And I would give them one of the pictures, and they would go: “Oh! Cool!”

Everyone liked it. Then I started giving them a stack, and I’d say: “Whichever one that you want, go ahead and choose.”

And Liam Neeson, I’m sorry, Liam, but even though you were an A, I thought – he went down to a B. No one recognized him. For whatever reason.

Here’s Anne Bancroft, right? Look at her. No one knows who she is.


Paul Walton couldn’t land the top job at US Sprint Communications Company, so he settled for a world tour. Walton is the once disgruntled San Diego salesman who railed about how management ran Sprint and campaigned to become its president.

… Walton financed the campaign and his subsequent travels with the $1.7 million settlement he won from Sprint over thousands of new accounts for which he said he signed up, but Sprint failed to connect.

– Mark Davis, business and financial reporter, Kansas City Star, February 12, 1989.


I started as a schoolteacher. I taught three years. Here in San Diego. I taught high school at the high school that I went to, as a matter of fact. Then I answered a tiny little classified ad in the newspaper. And I starting selling Sprint accounts. I set up a little card table on my former college campus, San Diego State, with two fluorescent signs that said, long distance calls, half price. free sign-up today. And I was to make more money from that one day of signing up students than in a whole month of teaching school. The business grew. I had 400 reps. I had to pay my people. So maybe I ended up with about $4 million. But the 1.7 was basically my profit.

But Sprint didn’t want to pay me. They thought they could get away with royally screwing me in the end. They thought I’d be happy with a final check of about $60,000. For my final accounts.

But I knew that I was owed more. And they knew it, too. This is how big companies screw the little guy, with all their big corporate attorneys.

“No,” I said. “I’m not going to sue you; I’m just going to picket your front entrance. I’m going to hand out T-shirts to all your employees that say, us sprint, you’re going to lose a mint unless you get on the ball and pay paul.

They’re not used to fighting outside a courtroom. And every week they kept raising it more, 60, to 80, to 150. I was just trying to get paid what I was already owed.

Finally they settled for $1.7 million, but I had to sign this big ten-page nondisclosure agreement saying I can’t talk about this. I’m in the vice-president’s office with the attorneys, in Kansas City. And they said:

“Here’s your check, here’s your $1.74 million check, just sign here.”

And I looked it over. And I just felt, “This is what you owe me. This is my life. If I ever want to talk about this to anyone, I should be able to. I deserve it.” And I gave them back their $1.74 million check.

I was living on the beach at the time. South Mission Beach. Here in San Diego. I got all the, what I called the trappings of civilization – the convertible, motorcycle, big-screen TV, beautiful CD stereo system, boardwalk, open door, beach. I had it all.

Anyway, a storm came. Fierce winds. Highest tides we had in years, and it came over the boardwalk and destroyed everything. I rarely lose my temper. But I lost my temper. When the attorney called me from Sprint and said, “Listen, pal, every day that you don’t sign this agreement, we’re going down $10,000,” I lost it. I never – I never – I’ll remember that to the day I die, how I lost it. I basically said:

“No, you listen here, pal. I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do to your company right now.”

And I’m talking to him with muddy waters in my living room. It’s a few days before the Super Bowl, and guess who is a proud sponsor of Super Bowl? And where is the 1988 Super Bowl being held?

San Diego.

I said: “You listen here. You’re going to pay me that $1.74 million and I’m not going to sign a goddamn thing. And I’ll tell you something. If I don’t receive that check before Super Bowl, I’m going to ring Super Bowl with a plane saying, why can’t sprint pay paul? I’m going to circle your Super Bowl and we’re going to pass out T-shirts to every single person there saying us sprint you’re going to lose a mint unless you get on the ball and pay paul. And I’m going to have picketers and protesters there and you better believe it!”

The day before Super Bowl, I was Fed-Exed a check for $1.74 million, and didn’t have to sign a damn thing. After I cashed the check, that’s when I ran for president of the company.


From the brochure

Castle Creek is a small, elegant, and personalized inn offering all the comfort and features of a large resort and spa but on a more friendly, courteous, personalized level.

Located in the scenic foothills 45 minutes north of San Diego International Airport. In the vicinity are wineries, Lawrence Welk Village and the world-famous Wild Animal Park.

When I retired from Sprint, I put most of my money into this place. I was a mortgage holder. They paid me in trust all these years. Eighty-five hundred a month. I was retired for eleven years. Then suddenly they stopped paying. I had to take it over. It was broken, and I’m trying to fix it.

I’ve never had a class in hotel management, or anything remotely near it. This is just another form of business. I will rise to the challenge. If I can get it turned around, and I’m able to get out of this with life and limb, I’m set for the rest of my life. One more time.


I broke up with the woman I’d been with for five years when I retired. I retired when I was 30. I was retired for eleven years. I had the money and the freedom, the time, you name it, to be able to spend with a woman of my choice. But it was always so difficult to find her, and when I met a nice girl it was difficult because I didn’t have a “job.” I might as well have been disconnected from society. I was out on the outer fringe as far as they’re concerned. I was strange. I was weird. They couldn’t understand how someone so young would not work, and they would question why, not in an open way, but question it almost more in a deprecating way. So it seemed like it was more difficult having the money and time.

Now that I’m here at the resort, now that I don’t have the freedom, now I have legitimacy. Now they want to give me time, and I don’t have the time to give them. This is very upsetting to me.


But as a single guy, I just want to be in New York City. That’s really where I want to be. That’s where I belong. You know why? You don’t have to drive. I’ve never met one person driving a car.


Some people probably think, Jeez, what a frivolous life. Is that what he lives for? Just for a picture of a celebrity? But that’s just the by-product. It’s just a souvenir of the wonderful people I’ve met. And I take lots of souvenir pictures of just regular people. But you know, other people don’t care to see the pictures of regular people. They want celebrities.

So it makes it sound like all I do is chase celebrities, but actually it’s just the opposite. I take beautiful pictures of mountains and valleys and streams and rivers, but no one wants those nature pictures. They want celebrities.

So I want you to know that my hobby is just talking pictures, period. I’m having a great time and the photograph is the proof.


– I remember once I went to a play called The King and I. And Sid Caesar was in it. My mother took me to the play.

– Sid Caesar?

– I didn’t know who the hell Sid Caesar was. I just remember meeting him with my mother.

– Were you excited?

– I was excited because my mom was excited.

– Ah-ha!

– My mother was excited. We met Sid Caesar! She was very excited. Jeez.

– And you saw she was excited. Ye gods. Days interviewing the fellow – the Polo Lounge, Castle Creek, Tijuana, throw in the pothouse where the trollop made a man of him … phone calls … the Grammys … always looking for the context, and the context turns out to be not some huge spanking comment on our celebrity-crazed culture, not that “the culture” produced a certain kind of fantastically doofy chap, but simply that a fellow is looking for the girl of his dreams and making his own personal People magazine for his mother.

– Very excited.

– And how did that affect you?

– Oh, I was so happy for my mom that I got excited.

– Well, well, well. Aren’t we onto something here?

– Well shrugging, yeah. Maybe.


My philosophy is that, well, first of all I don’t regret very much in my past. Because the proof is in the pudding. And the pudding is right now, right here. Right this minute. The fact that I’m alive and thinking about life and talking like this means I did everything right in my entire life.

All the right decisions. All the correct left turns. All the correct right turns. I went straight when I was supposed to go straight. I made 100 percent correct decisions. So therefore, I truly can’t regret a thing by the mere virtue that I’m alive to even talk about it. Life is paramount. And I’m not talking about Paramount Studios.

I photograph a lot of things because I like to preserve the moment. Photographing is the quickest way to capture the moment and then move on.


At the Governor’s Ball after the Academy Awards each year … you want to know what I’m really thinking? Why am I here? Meeting all these strangers? All these celebrities? They’re not going to do anything for me. I’m not here to network. I’m not here to see my old friends. It’s just a sea of strangers, familiar strangers because you recognize them, but nonetheless they’re strangers. And I say to myself, If I’m here next year by myself, I’m a loser.

Because where I would rather be is watching this on TV in Aspen with the woman I’m in love with by my side lying next to a fireplace.

You’re Not Famous . . . Until You’ve Had Your Pic […]