| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:27

    i first saw renee zellweger pushing a rack of luggage uphill on a west side sidewalk, no entourage, no aides. like most stars, she instinctively stops traffic. we ogled (discretely) as she strained against stacks of suitcases, her skinny body forming a wide triangle with her luggage and the pavement.

    a week later, she ran past me in central park. detail-noticer extraordinaire that i am, before i recognized her, i'd mused: look at that girl's movie-star ankles-defined but narrow calves exquisitely tapering, like a matisse line drawing. she glanced back, and bingo, the girlish, innocent wonder of zellweger's plump, wind-reddened cheeks and sweet almond-shaped eyes. i bet when she turns 80, she'll be girlish, sweet-and running.

    i've been holding a zellweger film retrospective in my bedroom. in the teen film empire records she's a scenery-chewing, rambunctious kid with a flash of perfect butt. she steals scenes wearing a backless red slip dress and dancing like she's got wings. the very same physical exuberance powered the film chicago. her co-star, catherine zeta-jones, feels shivery cold as zellweger feels warm and kind.

    in her early texas masterpiece the whole wide world, she plays a spunky compassionate schoolteacher who writes for herself and can't accept the craziness of the famous writer she loves. this wondrous performance led to jerry mcguire, where she beams such superhuman, but real, goodness that she lifts tom cruise up too.


    i love zellweger because she's a real person with the occasional unglamorous flaw on her gorgeous surface. once, while sweeping onstage for letterman, she teetered embarrassingly on her high heels. as usual, her hair and clothing seemed un-styled and unblanded-out by silly pros.


    chatting with letterman, she feels to me like a plucky little kid imitating a sexy mae west-type movie star.

    zellweger isn't a hollywood product. after graduating from the university of texas at austin, she made local indie movies. she fascinates me much more than the plastic-surgeried, glammed tinseltown girls. remember her soft rounded stomach acquired for the wondrous bridget jones movies? i once sat next to michelle pfeiffer at a memorial service for a studio executive and i swear she filled only a third of her seat: no discernable muscle in her bare arm resting on our armrest. her face was surgically stretched and re-stretched.

    back to zellweger: it took her seven years to produce an amazing lifetime tv drama about pioneering oncologist dr. dennis slamon, who refused to buckle and finally invented a lifesaving treatment for a form of breast cancer.

    i can't wait to see zellweger in my own love song, which just had a big premiere at the berlin film festival. (in central park, i overheard a passerby boldly ask her, "are you going to berlin?" "sure, aaa, ayum, thanks for askin'," she sang out in her sweet katy, texas drawl.)

    so maybe one day i'll get bold and thank her for how good she makes me feel while i absorb the subtleties of her glow on the big screen. ?- susan braudy is the author and journalist whose last book, the boudins and the aristocracy of the left, was nominated for a pulitzer by publisher alfred knopf.