Quack-Seat Driver

Matt Lauer bumps into Aflac ad star Birdie Hale

At 91 years old, Birdie Hale is working overtime for The Kaplan Thaler Group. On a recent sunny New York day, the actress, who appears in one of the agency’s Aflac spots (and over the years has done 10 movies or so, including Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America), hailed a taxi on Spring Street to head to an audition. The driver was the Today show’s Matt Lauer, who had traded jobs for the day with a New York cabbie. But Birdie wasn’t fazed, and not just because she’s a celebrity herself. She didn’t know who Lauer was.

“Ever hear of the Today show? With that Katie Couric?” Lauer asked. “Oh, sure. She’s wonderful,” Birdie replied. “But,” Lauer said, “the guy is not somebody you’d recognize that easily?” No, she admitted. Then Lauer realized Birdie looked familiar. “Likely you’ve seen me,” she said. “I’m doing the Aflac commercial right now.” “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Lauer said, surprised. “You realize, you’re my first celebrity!”

It was all caught on a hidden camera, and NBC gave Kaplan Thaler a heads-up that it would air the next morning (along with a clip from the Aflac ad). So 20 agency staffers showed up at Studio 1A for a “Quack Attack,” holding signs and handing out toy ducks (which were useful as bribes to get to the front of the line). Birdie also made a cameo. “Al Roker was teasing her, telling her, ‘We heard you didn’t tip Matt,’ ” says agency rep Tricia Kenney. But the person who was most excited was centenarian fan Willard Scott, who told viewers, “In nine more years, she’ll be mine.”