Star Spotting



It was the “Hey Y’all” heard round the world. Since her show, “Cooking with Paula Deen” debuted on the Food Network in 2002, the contagious country-fried drawl of The Lady has infected households around the globe. Now, every day eager fans and curious diners line up a half-block down Congress Street to sample the cuisine named “International Meal of the Year” by USA Today in 1999. The juggernaut that is “The Lady and Sons” is at the top of the list of must-do’s for first-time Savannah visitors. Several Film Festival attendees, including Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Roger Ebert and Norman Jewison, have visited the Lady and sung her praises.

If you’re a Wilmington Island resident, chances are you’ve strolled the aisles with “The Lady” during a shopping trip to Publix or maybe at a stop at Davis Produce on Talahi Island. Paula Deen often visits these merchants when purchasing ingredients for her latest recipes. Long before opening The Lady and Sons, Deen was known as The Bag Lady, preparing catered lunches for business clientele that were delivered by her sons, Bobby and Jamie. Conquering her agoraphobia, she eventually took up shop at a Best Western hotel to cook meals, and after five years, opened the first Lady and Sons restaurant on Congress Street. Her wildly successful career includes the Food Network show “Paula’s Home Cooking,” publication of four cookbooks, a Paula Deen tour, cooking classes, the opening of Uncle Bubba’s Restaurant on Wilmington Island with her brother Bubba Hiers, and a movie career. Every day of the week, fans line up for hours in the sweltering heat just to sample her famous Southern cooking at the restaurant, and usually leave with a cookbook or a T-shirt to commemorate their visit.

Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck were introduced to the area during the filming of 1999’s Forces of Nature. Bullock subsequently purchased a home on Tybee Island’s north end, and Affleck and former fiancée Jennifer Lopez paid $16 million for an 83- acre, 10,000-square-foot waterfront home on Hampton Island, 35 miles south of Savannah.

According to Elizabeth Patterson, co-owner of The Tinder Box, an upscale shop on Bull Street featuring an eclectic collection of Monte Cristo cigars, ornate humidors and other accessories, “Bennifer” stopped in for a quick shopping excursion. “They spent a lot of money in here, buying a humidor, CDs, cigars and ashtrays,” Patterson said.

In June, Affleck and his wife, Jennifer Garner, hosted the nuptials of his brother Casey to actress Summer Phoenix at their estate. David Sauers and Robert Glisson, co-owners of Royal Restrooms, had the privilege of supplying elegant facilities for the elite gathering. “I was contacted by the wedding coordinator and it was all really hush-hush,” says Glisson. “Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take the trailer to Hampton Island. I was told to meet the coordinator at a gas station with the trailer, which was large enough to accommodate 300 people. The next day, I traveled back to the same spot to pick it up, so we didn’t see any of the stars,” he says. During their stay, the Affleck siblings were spotted on Broughton Street, specifically ducking in for a shopping excursion at Paris Market.

Before her marriage last summer to Jesse James, Bullock was frequently spotted jogging around the island, dining with pal Matthew McConaughey at AJ’s Dockside restaurant, and once even dancing with a young girl to the sounds of a guitar-playing entertainer on the deck. Bullock has also been accompanied by her husband to the popular outdoor restaurant, where patrons often arrive by boat.

While AJ’s doesn’t allow patrons to intrude on Bullock’s privacy or that of any other celebrity stopping by, autograph-seekers have approached the actress at The Tea Room on Broughton Street, another of her favorite spots. Country singer Billy Currington, well known for his recent duet with Shania Twain, often visits the island for a respite during touring breaks. The Rincon native even played an impromptu set for delighted patrons dining at AJ’s.

High school students had their own opportunity to share the spotlight with a star when James, a legendary custom motorcycle builder and owner of West Coast Choppers, was in Savannah last fall to film an episode of his popular reality show “Monster Garage” at Groves High School. “Monster Garage” is a documentary style show that demonstrates builders turning cars, trucks and boats into dual-functioning vehicles. He and six students from Groves’ School to Career Academy, along with a design team, spent five days transforming an average vehicle into a mini-dragster kit car.

Tybee’s star power also includes resident Jim Wann and his wife, Patricia Miller. Wann is the principle author and composer of the 1982 Tony Award nominated musical Pump Boys and Dinettes, which recently enjoyed a revival on Broadway. The couple split their time between Tybee and New York’s Hudson Valley. “We love the lifestyle and its quirky charm,” says Wann. Miller is president of the Tybee Fine Arts Council, and Wann was just tapped to serve on the Tybee Island Fine Arts Commission council.

Actress Diana Scarwid of Mommie Dearest fame, was born in Savannah and still resides here on Wilmington and Tybee islands between film roles. In 1996 she earned an Emmy nomination for her performance in “Truman,” and in 1981 she garnered an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her role in Inside Moves. Her recent projects include the films Valley of the Heart’s Delight and Local Color. A very private person, Scarwid works locally with battered women and supports area theater through the Tybee Arts Association. Last year, she co-wrote and directed the production of Alice in Wonderland with Renee DeRossett, in a six-month long collaboration that included 52 actors. Scarwid has also taught several weekly adult acting classes at the Tybee Theater Café, and is currently auditioning in Los Angeles.

Celebrity watchers, be on alert. Tybee Island’s newest resident is none other than John Mellencamp. Last month, the rocker and his wife, Elaine, purchased a $2 million-plus home on Officers Row from Col. Don and Lou Ann Harris. Seems the Mellencamp family is making the move from their Sea Pines Plantation residence on Hilton Head Island. According to local residents, the Mellencamps are now constructing a large privacy wall to surround the house.

At the Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz often arrives by helicopter with friends for a little “R&R” to play golf and enjoys fishing with his son. Other residents include Richard Armitage, the former deputy Secretary of State who assisted Gen. Colin Powell during his term as the nation’s Secretary of State.

Farther down the road, musician Gregg Allman owns a waterfront home in Richmond Hill and performed last year at the city’s Seafood Festival.

Stay tuned. Savannah’s new trend of celebrity-spotting continues.