Drinking with Robert Duvall

It was my senior year of college, and I turned 21 in December, the day before I left school to see my family for winter break. I was at the University of Virginia, and my parents lived in California, so I didn’t visit often. In fact, it was the first time I’d seen them since winter break of my junior year.

My sister, also a senior at a state university in Virginia, had turned 21 ten months earlier, and we’d arranged to fly together to the West Coast. My father was all smiles when he picked us up at the airport, bragging to everyone he saw about having not one but TWO daughters who were 21 years old. The next night, he took the two of us drinking.

In case you’re wondering, yes, it did feel weird to have our father take us out drinking. On the other hand, our parents had moved to California only recently, and we really didn’t know anyone on the West Coast. So it wasn’t as if we had anyone else to go drinking with. And he was so excited about treating us. He took us to a piano bar he knew, and we all sat around the oversized grand piano. And my father, who is much more outgoing and charismatic than anyone has a right to be, charmed the other people there by going on extensively about how I’d just had a birthday, and how proud he was of his two 21-year-old daughters. We sang old songs along with everyone else around the piano. And we drank. He was impressed that I ordered bourbon like him rather than a “girlie” drink like white wine — but I was a U.Va. student, after all.

Everyone has always said that my dad looks like the actor Robert Duvall. But it hadn’t occurred to me that people were paying attention to him for any reason other than his natural charm. After a few minutes, someone finally asked the question that apparently everyone in the room had been wanting to ask, “You’re Robert Duvall, aren’t you?”

My dad laughed and said of course he wasn’t. His name was Bart. People winked and nodded and smiled. And someone commented on how sweet it was that a big Hollywood star was pretending to be an average guy because he wanted it to be his daughters’ night, not his own. Over the course of the evening, he insisted repeatedly that he really wasn’t Robert Duvall. Nobody believed him, and every time he protested, they were just more impressed at how humble he was. In the end, he gave up and signed their cocktail napkins, “Bob Duvall.”

To this day, a dozen Californians are probably still telling the story of the night they sang and drank at a piano bar with Robert Duvall and his 21-year-old daughters.

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