courtney robert3
Photo by Kayleigh Morin.

By Ket Lamb

In 1993, nineteen-year-old Courtney Bess caught a glimpse of a tall, lanky, happy-go-lucky mystery guy with a shock of black hair on the Upper West Side, but it took her twenty years to learn this handsome stranger’s name. In the interim, she dubbed him “Teen Idol.”

Robert Meatball ThompsonThat’s him at left. Dreamy, right?

Courtney had just moved from Florida to the UWS to attend The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) when she first saw him. She lived at what was then a ramshackle residence and dorm, The Lucerne on Amsterdam and W. 79th, where her neighbor was Grace LaRue Graham, one of the last remaining Ziegfeld Follies girls. Everyday, on her way to class, Courtney was delighted if she could snatch a smirk from Bruce Willis in passing on 79th street, collect a business card from the “model scouts” that seemed so prevalent on Broadway, and catch a glimpse of Teen Idol.

Courtney Bess on the UWSThat’s her at right.

She would see Teen Idol eating outside of Big Nick’s with friends, rounding the corner after a game of basketball in Riverside Park, and running errands at the bodegas on Broadway. She couldn’t help wonder about him. After a while, she suspected he was a local, and she was right.

Teen Idol, or as he was known to the rest of UWS, Robert “Meatball” Thompson, lived catty-corner from The Lucerne, house-sitting half the year for a friend. Unbeknownst to Courtney, Rob split the rest of his time residing at his family’s apartment and managing friends’ brownstones – all within the W 70s. Since he was born, Rob’s entire life had revolved around a six block radius. From loitering by Joe’s Candy Store as a kid, working at various antique stores on Columbus Avenue as a teen, and later at Panda Copy and The General Store, Rob had seen the neighborhood change as often as the faces of the AMDA students he’d occasionally get to know at work.

Courtney, however, was not one of those students. In 1994, she left AMDA for a European touring show, then she returned to work Off-Broadway. To pay the bills, she juggled auditioning and acting with working as an Upper West Side nanny. Escorting her little charges to the Calhoun school or Levain Bakery, she would often spot Rob on the curb, chatting with people.

After Courtney moved to Los Angeles in 2001, she focused on her West Coast endeavors. Always an East Coast girl, she jumped on occupational therapy internships at Mount Sinai and Visions in 2007 and carved out time to visit her old neighborhood. Gentrification, 9/11 and the economy had taken its toll on the UWS, so it was comforting whenever she saw Rob walking by. While he had grown a little grey around the temples, he seemed the same, friendly-looking guy, though he was still blissfully unaware of her.

Everything changed when Courtney walked into the building of one of her new clients on the UWS, in March of 2014. There, she was shocked to see Teen Idol working in the lobby. Since she would be visiting her new client regularly, Courtney decided to finally introduce herself to Teen Idol. She joked she had accidentally been stalking him for twenty years. Teen Idol laughed and said his name was Robert. He was enthralled by her sighting recollections, and it was obvious something was simmering between them. It didn’t hurt that they were geographically desirable.

courtney robCourtney was excited when two decades of random sightings finally led to a first date at the New York Historical Society. Afterwards, Rob asked Courtney where she would like to have dinner. Without hesitation, she replied, “Dallas BBQ!” A romantic walk in the mist and a first kiss in front of the fountain at Lincoln Center spun their relationship into high gear. Courtney couldn’t believe someone she had noticed for years might be The One. After a couple of months of dating, pointing out brownstones of their dreams, recounting significant Upper West Side sites of coming-of-age stories, and swapping, “Remember when…?” tales about locals, Rob confessed he had always yearned for a “small town romance, like in the movies” — and now, he had one. Together, they had turned the UWS into their own quixotic small town.

One year later, in a Central Park scene right out of a Woody Allen film, complete with picnic, rambunctious kids playing in the background and a dirty pup named Rocky eying their food, Rob proposed to Courtney. That’s them below after the proposal. After 22 years of “seeing” each other, Courtney and Rob are finally getting married downtown at City Hall on June 12, 2015. They will take each other’s hands and head uptown where they belong, home to the Upper West Side.


COLUMNS, HISTORY | 28 comments | permalink
    1. jill gill says:

      i remember robert from the Panda copy shop –
      always helpful and easy to work with…. congratulations…

    2. Suzanne Davis says:

      I LOVE this story!!! Hooray for love – and patience. suzanne

    3. DMH says:

      Such a great story. Congrats to these two!

    4. Zee says:

      I absolutely love this love story. How often do we get to hear of a “small town” city 20 year love story happen not only in NY city but in our trendy upper west side. Wishing you much Love, Peace and Joy for the rest of your lives.

    5. What a meet cute! So happy for these two. May their happily ever after begin now… and may their future honeymoon never end! Such a story. These two are NY Times VOWS material!

    6. manhattanmarg says:

      I’m kvelling! Mazel Tov!

    7. Steve in Manhattan says:

      Just want it to work for them … would be the best New York Story ever.

    8. Miriam says:

      Woody Allen could make this into a movie. Love it! Congratulations to the happy couple!

    9. ScooterStan says:

      Awrrrr…how cute!

      Just the kind of feel-good story that a slightly-more-cynical colleague (a very clever NYC teacher of social studies) would have rightly dismissed as “Eye-Wash”!

      Hope they swiped their MetroCards before posing for that first pic above!

      Wouldn’t want them arrested as fare-jumpers, would we?

    10. Boaz Hepner says:

      This is so funny and awesome, I loved reading every word!

    11. ka says:

      I LOVE this story, too, and the promise of true love transcending time & space. Congratulations to you both. Wishing you a rich life together filled with wonderful adventures, sweet challenges, peace, joy, and continued blessings.

      All you need is LOVE. <3

    12. Nelson says:

      Sweet story and congrats– However, if Tinder had existed 20 yrs ago they could have saved all that time and been grandparents by now!

    13. Hello all! Courtney’s best friend Kate of 20 yrs reporting from Boston. I am so glad to see finally see this girl find “The One” she deserves! She has been through so much in her life. Happy endings are long fought and earned and achieved. She is a living testament.

    14. Lucien Desar says:

      Mazel Tov! such a great story!

    15. fernando says:

      Congrats Courtney! I wish you and Robert the best for all the years to come.

    16. R Roca says:

      Hey “Meatball” it’s about F***ing time!
      Congratulation to you and Courtney, now how about some
      Westside kids to continue your school yard legacy!

    17. Upper East Sider says:

      Loving the subway shot!!! Great article too, what a cute story !

    18. I’m the photographer- yes, of course they swiped! Absolutely no illegal jumping the trains on my shoots. Just meant to be a fashion type engagement image.

    19. Nancy says:

      Adorable story. Brought a tear to my eye.
      Ya never know……

    20. Barbara StewartNyc says:

      just wanted to say congrats rob…please contact me…i cannot believe what i am reading…i cant believe its you…god bless you rob..hope all is well with the family…i hv been trying to locate this mans brother for quite sometime now..please ….

    21. Barbara StewartNyc says:

      and btw courtney your marrying a great guy …good luck..
      and god bless…

    22. Meredith says:

      I’m so thrilled that what was meant to be will be for you guys (sorry for the cheesy Doris Day-ish phrasing). Y’all dovetail together so well and this story is testament to that. Blessings for a wonderful future.

    23. carol mills says:

      It should only happen to me I have been a Westsider all my life and all I meet is great dogs! Congratulations a real movie coming to life.

    24. Dianne says:


    25. innerspacegirl says:

      I always tell people who think NY is a big cold city that actually the UWS is a village where everybody knows your name. This tale proves it true!