Did they see Will in the mall?
Did they see Will in the hall?
Did they see Will in the gym?
Is it really, truly him?
Ever since actor Will Smith held a news conference at the Columbia Inn to announce that he would be filming "Enemy of the State" in the area, sightings have occurred with alien frequency in Howard County.
Rumors abounded that the "Independence Day" star was staying at the Columbia Inn. That the "Man in Black" bought a shirt at Britches in the mall. That he was playing hoops at a local athletic club.
No such breathless reports of sightings emerged about two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman, Smith's co-star in "Enemy of the State."
"Hack who?" asked one teen-ager.
The fact that the Jerry Bruckheimer/Touchstone Pictures political thriller is being filmed in Baltimore and Washington -- not Howard County -- hasn't stopped Smith from appearing out of the corner of many Columbians' eyes.
"He used my indelible black marker to sign the autographs," said Cheryl Kirtley, an instructor at the youth room at the Columbia Athletic Club. "But I gave the kids the lecture about treating everyone nicely and equally and that he's just a man who deserves to play a few hoops if he wants."
She said Smith has come to the club a few times since the summer to play basketball, sometimes with his fiancee, Jada Pinkett, the Baltimore native who appeared in the TV series "A Different World" and several movies, including "The Nutty Professor."
To some, Pinkett is the key to Smith's local connection. It is known that she went to a Columbia charm school, but various other rumors about her emerged from every Smith sighting -- grandparents in Howard County, a Pinkett-owned residence in Columbia. But they could not be confirmed. A call placed to the publicity department for "Enemy of the State" was not returned.
The last confirmed Smith sighting was early last month.
"He was here playing basketball with his girlfriend," said Leah Kleinberg, assistant fitness director at the Columbia Athletic Club. "He went into the youth room, and all the kids were playing with him."
A quick dash through the club Nov. 22 turned up no sign of the actor. The children in the youth room denied having played with the rapper and television star, but they enthusiastically invited him to the club for a game of 15-on-one.
Howard County officials also denied rumors that Smith was living along Lake Kittamaqundi.
"He has been known to rent a suite at the Columbia Inn before, but he's not there now," said Ann Ryder, information and reference coordinator for Howard County.
Although some Smith sightings are little more than rumors, officials at Sony's Columbia Palace 9 have the pictures to prove the man was there.
"We can confirm that Will Smith was here. We do have the pictures," said George Blakely, a projectionist at the theater, in a tone that made it clear this was a very serious matter.
"He was here with a bodyguard, his girlfriend Jada Pinkett and Jada Pinkett's mother," Blakely said, reciting the facts as if read from a sacred text. "He saw the last showing of 'Nothing to Lose,' with [actor] Martin Lawrence, on its opening day. It was a little more than a month ago."
Those brief glimpses of the man known as the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" keep fans salivating for more.
"If you find him, let me know," said county information coordinator Ryder.
"I've heard that he's just a delightful man, and we'd love to have him grace Howard County with his presence."
Pub Date: 11/30/97