People waited in line, anxious to talk to Dinah Shore. They wanted her to sign her new cookbook for their daughters or nieces who have modeled themselves after Dinah. Some of them brought gifts for Dinah -- a can of Old Bay seasoning, a recipe for Milky Way cake. Two of them, upset over the treatment of chickens, presented her with save-the-chickens literature.
But mostly what people told Dinah, whose biography lists her as somewhere between 69 and 74 years old, was that she looked great and that they respect her.
For two hours on a gray Thursday afternoon Dinah sat in the middle of the Kitchen Bazaar store in the Towson Town Center signing cookbooks and meeting her fans. I sat a few feet away, listening. It wasn't comfortable, I was squeezed between the Griffo-Grills and the itty-bitty gifts bags -- but it was fascinating.
Every celebrity gets a certain amount of raw adulation. People want to see her or him, just because she or he is on television. But beyond the occasional mall walker who wanted a peek at a famous person, folks came to express their esteem for this woman who, as a senior in high school, was voted Best All Around Girl.
They said it in various ways.
"You're a credit to this country," said a woman carrying Dinah's cookbook and wearing a sweater she made herself. When Dinah complimented the sweater, the woman half-seriously offered to make another one for her.
"Lady, you talk my language," said a woman named Elleene who was "transplanted up here from Houston by the oil bidness" and compared notes with Dinah about her golf game. When Dinah paused, waiting instructions on how to inscribe the book, the woman waved her hand. "Whatever you say, doll, is fine."
A prim woman thanks Dinah for helping her when she was a newlywed. "I was lonely," the woman says in controlled voice, "and watching your show really helped me."
It was a sentiment that runs beyond the mall. Several Gallup polls have listed Dinah as one the 10 most admired women in the world. The admiration has built up over the years. From 1951 to '61 she hosted "The Dinah Shore Show," telling TV viewers to "see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet." She now hosts a talk show, "Dinah," on the Turner Network and still drives a Chevy, albeit a Corvette. She continues to sing. At the audience's urging, she broke into song while fixing some fish Provencal at the Kitchen Bazaar. It was the song "Dinah" that got her to change her name. The daughter of a shopkeeper and his wife in Winchester, Tenn., she changed her name from Frances to Dinah in 1944, when, after she sang "Dinah" at a radio audition, network executives kept referring to her as "that Dinah girl."
The latest book, "The Dinah Shore American Kitchen" (Doubleday $24.95) is her third cookbook.
The cookbook, like the author, comes across as a mixture of folksy and Californian. In the forward to her recipe for Steak Dinah, she warns "to turn your head away when you ignite the brandy. It might melt your mascara."
The molded chicken salad recipe comes from the home of Barbara Sinatra, her tennis partner. But it is not Ms. Sinatra's recipe, Dinah points out; it is the chicken salad of the Sinatra housekeeper, Versa.
And there is a bread recipe from the Golden Door, one of the fat farms Dinah said she has to retreat to after testing a cookbook.
Chicken turned out to be a sensitive issue for Dinah on the Maryland leg of her book tour. People objecting to what they said was cruelty to chickens appeared at her book-signing session in Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Later, in Towson, two very stern women waited in line to see Dinah, and then handed her a note comparing the killing of chickens to the holocaust.
She accepted the note, but said little. When I talked to her later, she said the protesters were apparently under the mistaken notion that she was still doing promotional work for Holly Farms. And she wondered how someone could compare slaughtering chickens to killing humans. Her voice was angry. Then, after this flash of fury, she caught herself and said simply that a book signing was not the place to discuss the care of chickens.
I read later that Dinah has described her underlying mood as "relaxed but aware." And I noted how careful Dinah, who has been married twice and had a long-term relationship with actor Burt Reynolds, was when I finally got around to offering up the question I had been waiting to ask for two hours: What kind of man did she like?
"I've never been attracted to a man," said Dinah, "who doesn't enjoy eating. If he doesn't think a meal is a celebration, he doesn't stay in my life."