Hours before TV personality Ellen DeGeneres was set to live chat with a Philly audience, Walnut Street near 17th shut down to make way for camera crews and fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the talk show host.
DeGeneres announced via Twitter yesterday that she wouldn’t physically grace the Rittenhouse neighborhood with her presence, but that didn’t stop about a hundred people from taking off school or work, making signs or camping out before 1 p.m. to get a chance to send their love.
While camera crews set up a metal structure to hold their equipment, fans yelled at the passing cars, chanting, “honk for Ellen” and “can we get a beep.”
Self-proclaimed “loudest, proudest Ellen fan in the world” Debbie Jones made her way from Ewing, N.J., this morning, despite not finding any friends or family to accompany her.
“Didn’t matter,” she said “I wasn’t going to miss this for the world.”
Jones’ boss told her to take the day off work, because if she didn’t get her shot to talk to Degeneres, he’d never hear the end of it, she said.
“She’s just such a great person, the kindest person in the world, I think,” Jones added.
Mother and daughter duo Stacey and Lila Zelesnick from Downington called off work and school for “mental health days” to see DeGeneres.
Diane Agin and Annette Pangle set up camp around 10 a.m., hoping to get to talk to the TV show host. Agin, of Kensington watches the show every afternoon and described the TV host as “funny” and “caring,” adding that she loves that DeGeneres helps so many people on her show.
Pangle hopes to add DeGeneres to her long list of celebs to visit the city — she’s met Hillary Clinton, the Pope and “pretty much anyone who’s ever come through Philly.”
Nancy Davis from Mayfair wore heart-shaped glasses that matched the photos of DeGeneres on her sparkly poster. She headed to Center City when she heard her favorite personality would be setting up shop and tried to recruit her granddaughter, with no success.
“She’s just the funniest, the smartest, you know?” Davis said. She added that she wanted to track down the show’s crew, because — in classic Philly hospitality — she brought them some pretzels to munch on.
Steph Dorantes, wearing a sparkly crown, explained that she didn’t expect to spend her 25th birthday waiting to chat with DeGeneres, but “it just kind of happened.”
“I just love how she does so many wonderful things for so many types of people,” she said.
Maggie Lacon rushed from Blue Bell when she heard the city would be closing down Walnut Street from Broad to 17th until 8 p.m., and made it just in time to don her pizza onesie to grab Degeneres’ eye as part of a “famous duo.”
By 2 p.m. the street was barricaded off by police and metal structures while show-runners organized fans for their shot at the camera.
Around 3:40 p.m., the Mancinis could see “Ellen Show” producer Jeannie Klisiewicz through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the Capitol One building. It was just about game time. So, they were plotting already.
The four Mancinis — sisters Gianna, Carla, Maria and mom Gina — came down from Glassboro. Gianna and Maria dressed like zombies in the Halloween costumes that Maria and her boyfriend wore last year. Carla and Gina were dressed up as Mario and Luigi. Carla heard that there might be giveaways. That’s why she came out in the cold. “Free is for me,” she said.
Before the clock struck 4, the camera panned over the crowd, eliciting small bursts of cheers. Inside the crowd, with signs foisted upwards, it was hard to see much of the broadcast, but of course that didn’t stop anyone from hollering.
“Momma, where’s Ellen,” asked 4-year-old Serenity Chung, dressed as a dinosaur in a stroller. Mom Simi Chung was also wearing a dinosaur get-up.
The crowd skewed female, and lots of moms with kids in tow.
“Oh that’s a cute sign,” said one woman holding two babies. “My sign says ‘I don’t have a sign– I had to pick my kids up from school.”
Klisiewicz, the correspondent, explained to the crowd as the crew their way through, that they’d try to capture everyone, but advised, “Please don’t grab at us, people really like to grab.”
Most of the fans present weren’t in costumes. Klisiewicz announced that only pairs wearing them would be eligible for best dressed duo contest. Bummer. Ellen tweeted the theme this afternoon, after folks had already begun gathering on Walnut. But, seemingly to soften the blow, Klisiewicz plugged DeGeneres’ new show, Game of Games, where anyone can sign up to be a contestant online.
Klisiewicz told fans that DeGeneres was thoroughly impressed with the response.
“That is the first time Ellen has been so impressed with a crowd.” Oh Jeannie, we bet you say that to all the girls.