I think the closest I've gotten was in 1996, when People magazine named me one of its 50 Most Beautiful People. I had never really read the magazine, but one day somebody called me from New York and said that I'd been chosen for their most beautiful people issue. What? Was this some sort of joke? Once they convinced me it was, in fact, not a joke, they wanted to come take my picture. I told them, "Oh, no, I've got plenty of pictures. I'll send you one." Still they insisted on a photo shoot.
When the issue came out, I couldn't believe it. "Devastatingly sexy," Helen Gurley Brown was quoted as saying. Sheesh. And even my friends, Betty White and Bo Derek were in on it, offering quotes for the magazine. Boy, did I get ribbed after that! Charlie Gibson called the office and very politely asked, "May I speak to the world's most beautiful person?" I was flattered, but I don't think I'll ever live that one down.
On the flip side, I've also, out of habit, forced my "celebrity" on poor, unsuspecting victims. While filming in New Orleans, Dan Devaney, our sound guy, and I plopped down on a park bench, and this guy came by and held out a piece of paper. I was probably thinking about everything but that piece of paper. Automatically, I took it out of his hand, signed it, and handed it back with a smile and a nod. "OH . . ." he began, a little stunned, "I just wanted directions." Golly day, was that humbling!
When we go into truck stops, most of the time no one recognizes me until I open my mouth. They'll say, "That's amazing! You sound just like Jack Hanna!"
And I'll say, "Yeah, people tell me that all the time."
For the most part, we do try to be low-key when we're traveling. It's quicker and easier to unload the animals if there's not a crowd around. Kate, my assistant, faces a unique challenge when it comes to booking a place to stay. Most places don't allow pets, much less zoo animals. It's gotten tough enough just to get them in—most people know what's up when Jack Hanna checks in—and most of them have to be exercised, cleaned, watered, and fed too. We've made a few friends in the hotel business and have learned where we're welcome and where we most certainly are not.
Before we learned the ropes, we made the mistake of taking a sarus crane for a walk in the lobby of the Rihga Royal, not the kind of hotel where birds were typically allowed. Still, we figured the marble floor would be easy to clean. After prancing around for a while, the birds started cawing and scratching on the marble floor and startling some of the other guests. Before we knew it, we were doing some swift talking with the manger, the birds ended up in his office, and we weren't allowed to stay there anymore.
For a while, we did find a nice home at the Mayflower. We've stayed there for years and are sad to see it—and its welcoming owners—go. Our rooms were a mini zoo, with monkeys dangling from the luggage rack and penguins in the bathtub. The bar was downstairs, so you always had people double-checking the number of drinks they'd had when they saw a big cat walk by.
One of the most challenging aspects of cohabitating with animals is the constant lack of sleep. Many of the animals are nocturnal: an owl will hoot, a cat will pace, an alligator in the bathtub will thrash and splash around all night. After three or four days of this, you can turn into a zombie. But I've never heard anyone complain, and the animals seem to enjoy the change of scenery.