Friday, October 23, 2009

Speaking of the Dead

Soupy Sales' death got me to thinking about all the showbiz types I've met who have since passed on. I met Soupy briefly in New York in the mid 90's when I had to engineer a satellite interview he was doing with a Washington DC based show. He was late and being a live-show TV pioneer he was upset and embarrassed. I assured him the show was taping and it was no problem. But he was still nervous so he told me jokes all morning long. They were silly jokes but the fact that he was telling them to me, and me alone, was a thrill.

Buffalo Bob was a TV pioneer I met in Boston when I worked at WBCN. Bob has finished his interview but wouldn't leave until everyone had their autographs. Classy guy.

Yet another one was Bob Keeshan, aka "Captain Kangaroo." I told him how I heard Hawaii had become our 50th State on his show. As we parted he said "We will meet again." I had a feeling he didn't mean on this earth.

I interviewed Charlton Heston at the Mark Hotel one labor day years ago. I called him from the lobby and he was surprised because he thought the interview was a "phoner." But he told me to give him a few minutes and meet him in his suite. We would have to keep the conversation low he said because his wife was sleeping in the other room. There his was, the guy who played Moses, in his t-shirt pouring me coffee. I normally don't drink coffee but I wasn't going to refuse. I didn't want to get into politics or 2nd amendment issues but I told him how my grandfather hunted squirrels for dinner during the Great Depression. Heston told me they were good eating. We chatted quite amiably and he told me how he march for equal rights and great stories about Ben Hur and his stuntmen. Without being asked he signed a copy of his memoirs for me. Then, weeks later we met again when he came up to our studios for an interview with David Brenner. He recognized me and when I made a stupid joke he pretended to slap me in the face. Just a joke, but the kind of thing the papparazzi would have been all over.

Anne Bancroft was beguiling. We were doing roundtable interviews for "Up at the Villa" and were told to tell her "who you are and where you're from" meaning what media outlet you worked for. But the first person said I'm Robin and I'm from Brooklyn." That was met with "Well I'm Anne and I'm from the Bronx." Her warmth was apparent right away. When I said "I'm Bill and I'm from Brainree, Massachusetts" she replied "Birthplace of John and John Quincy Adams" without missing a beat. Later she showed us how she played characters of different ages. Her hair was died black for younger roles but she flipped it up to show the grey roots underneath that allowed her to play older. If you watch the movie version of "The Producers" look for a scene where Max Biallystock goes into an apartment building. The list of residents on the mailbox includes one "A. Bancroft." This was a tiny tribute to her after she passed away.

One of the younger actors who passed away was Brad Renfro. He was thrust into the spotlight in "The Client" and during the roundtable interviews fidgeted in his seat without saying much. He was 12 at the time and it was to be expected. I did a one-on-one interview with him for "Tom and Huck" a year later. The publicist said "don't expect much" as I entered the room. He looked uncomfortable so I told him, "look, I just need one or two soundbites so just tell me about what it was like working on the film and who you enjoyed working with. Then we can just hang out for the rest of the time without telling the publicist we're finished." That's what we did and when the publicist came back he told her "This guy was the best of everybody."

Another young one was Aaliyah who we interviewed for "Romeo Must Die." She was known for her singing and this was her first acting role. She told us of her hopes saying where she wanted to be when she turned 30. An older journalist was besotted with her which was a good laugh. When she died the following year I cut the interview into soundbites and gave them to CBS News Radio as a favor. The next morning I awoke to Aaliyah's suddenly ironic soundbite about where she wanted to be when she was 30 on the CBS World News Roundup.

One of the oddest things in the world is to cut up an interview into soundbites after a person has died. It's sad to hear them breating and full of life. And if you liked them. you're careful how you cut up their soundbites, wanting to give them their due.

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