jean béliveau: like meeting an old friend they hadn’t seen in a while

jb

There seem to be three main types of Béliveau fans; perhaps the types are general. There are the ones who want to do what is expected of them; they ask for an autograph and are invariably polite. Then there are those who need physical contact; they want to shake hands or stand close to Jean for a picture. And there’s a third group who stand off from him as though stunned. They stand quite still, at a little distance, and stare. Then all of a sudden they’re apt to do or say something quite unpredictable, amusing or touching, like the lady of the golf course who played through his foursome one afternoon. She came striding along, passed this quartet of players, took a long, slow look over her shoulder as she went — a look mingled bewilderment and pleasure, very familiar to anybody who spends some time with Jean in public — and then spilled her dignity all over the place.

“I never saw you alive before,” she said. It just seemed to pop out.

Jean grinned at her. “I’m alive all right,” he said.

Perhaps the tremendous amount of television exposure has something to do with this phenomenon — the fan who is temporarily stunned by seeing the hero in the flesh. Jean says, “They act like they know me personally; it’s a wonderful feeling. Not just as if they’ve seen my picture in the papers over and over again, but more as if we’d spent a lot of time together, somewhere that they couldn’t quite remember. As if they were meeting an old friend they hadn’t seen for a long time. … They stop and stare; then they get that look of recognition, and they’re apt to say funny things very spontaneously, or start talking as if we’d been having a conversation that had been interrupted. It’s a very personal thing.”

• Hugh Hood, Strength Down Centre: The Jean Béliveau Story (1970)

(Photo: Weekend Magazine, 28 December, 1963/Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/e002505688)