Associated Press Reporter, Bob Thomas recently wrote an article in which he marvelled at the number of old Hollywood types who used to send handwritten notes to members of the press. Usually, brief notes; sometimes telegrams, but whatever the form, these were efforts to say thank you for articles written that included their latest movies or some event in their lives. Now, why these were written and sent is anyone’s guess. They may have been at the urging of some protocol savvy studio publicist, part of the star’s own good breeding and upbringing… or they may have just figured that it was smart to get on the media’s good side; always a good idea..
In his lengthy career as an entertainment reporter, Thomas amassed a ton of letters and telegrams from such Tinsel Town luminaries as Bing Crosby, Gloria Swanson, Betty Dave, Richard Widmark and Shirley Temple, shortly after her first marriage to John Agar.
It got me thinking about my own fleeting minutes of fame exchange with today’s actors and how I, in my years as a reporter, have been blessed to interview some of the biggest D-Listers on the planet: Shari Lewis and Lambchop, Gavin MacLeod, perpetual hippie and social activist, Wavy Gravy, John of the Severed Penis Bobbitt and actor, Timothy Bottoms, who was a very nice guy–and loved him in “The Paper Chase”, but hardly an A-Lister.
I never got a thank you note from any of those “celebs”, although I did get the chance to take a gander at Bobbitt’s retooled tool.
If you remember back in the early 90’s, his then wife Lorena, took knife in hand and told him as he was passed out drunk after beating her one night, that in no uncertain terms, she was very tired of his abuse. She cut “it” off. He had “it” re-attached and then after their divorce, had it embellished in order to venture into what would become a very short-lived porn career.
He was a guest on the Stevens and Pruett Show on KLOL at the time and as the only female member of the show, the late, great Mark Stevens suggested that Bobbitt show me his goods. We went into a back studio and well, he did and there it was.
I have seen penises before, people–but never one with its own elbow.
Trust me on this.
But in my illustrious career in which I’ve had many one-on-one interviews, two stand out.
In 1993, I interviewed a very young, little known actress named Ashley Judd who was in Houston on a promotional tour of her well received debut in the indie flick, “Ruby In Paradise”. We met early one morning in the lobby of Houston’s famed art house, The River Oaks Theater. She was dressed unremarkably…more like she was from Hollywood, Florida rather than the shiny, plastic version of the California city with the same name. She wore khaki pants, a sweatshirt, jogging shoes and not a stitch of make-up. I remember thinking, as I studied her face, desperately looking for flaws that simply weren’t there, “I like this girl”.
She was smart and spunky, polite and very Southern. We laughed and talked about life and being the youngest daughter in our respective families. She seemed just as interested in my life as a lowly reporter and asked questions accordingly. She overstayed her interview by 20 minutes which prompted a mad scramble to the airport. But a week later, I received a very sweet hand-written note thanking me for my time. She even quoted things we discussed.
I kept that note for the longest time, but in my many moves to escape creditors and creepy ex boyfriends, it got lost. I regret that that happened. I wish I still had it.
I’ve mentioned here several times before that in early 1994, I interviewed Bob Keeshan–Captain By God Kangaroo.
I was nervous about this interview. I mean, this man was without a doubt, an icon, a legend in LaurieLand. He had a hand in raising me and he did it all from the den where I sat crossed legged on its cold linoleum floor still in my jammies, fixated on a man with funny white hair dressed in a white trimmed coat with massive pockets.
I waited outside the station for him at his arrival time. A black sedan pulled up and out popped a familiar face. While much older, he still had a lovely countenance that put me at ease instantaneously. His voice was the same, but he spoke slower. He walked slower too, but he still seemed incredibly kind and genuine. He radiated this aura of paternal safety.
The interview began and I kicked things off with my memories of Magic Drawing Board, Grandfather Clock, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Greenjeans and his cadre of cartoon characters, Tom Terrific, Lariat Sam and Badlands Meany. I remember wanting him to like me and I wanted to impress him; to prove one of his Little Girls had done good. I swear, had there been a few orange balls lying around, I would have juggled them while doing a little soft shoe as I sang the Cataline Magdalena Lupensteiner Wallabeiner song.
There was a certain wistfulness to his voice when he spoke about his years as the Captain on CBS and how toward the end of the show, the network kept tinkering with time slots and show length. Keeshan got tired of the politics and because of his own health concerns (he suffered a severe heart attack in July of 1981 moments after stepping off a plane at Toronto International Airport) Keeshan left Captain Kangaroo when his contract with CBS ended in December 1984, just nine months shy of the show’s 30th anniversary.
I then understood why he had the huge gin blossoms, the burst blood vessels, visible around his nose. I might have been wrong in my assumptions, then again, I would never judge. Certainly not when it came to Captain Kangaroo. I knew a little something about network strife, so I figured he’d earned every one of them…whatever the reasons why they were there.
After our initial interview, I took him to our sister station, the legendary Houston rock station, KLOL, on the other side of the building we shared. The staff there consisted of jaded rock jocks, who’d seen and done it all and were no longer phased in the least by the rock world’s flavor of the month. But Captain Kangaroo? That was very different. He was part of everyone’s childhood; the one commonality that news geeks, nerds, freaks and hipsters we all shared. These walking tattooes with long hair andvshated coke dealers clamored around him, star truck and praising him like he was the second coming of Jesus Jones. Autographs, photos…questions about who was The Town Clown and who was reallynin the Dancing Bear costume.
His handler looked at her watch and gave that look, meaning ‘that’s a rap’. As our afternoon together concluded, he hugged me and told me his wife and daughter were also named Laurie…spelled the same way I spelled my name. I remember how his blue eyes twinkled when he spoke of his family.
I escorted him downstairs to the front door and then outside to his awaiting car. I thanked him for making such an important part of my childhood so memorable. He merely said, as if he’d heard that a million times, “You’re welcome” and with a smile, took his finger and gently pressed my nose, while making a little beep/honking sound. I smiled. How could I not? He got in his car.
I stood there not moving, just staring at the dark sedan’s rear bumper and darkened windows as it made the corner and disappeared onto the busy lanes of Westheimer. I wanted to watch him leave. I wanted to see this interview in particular, go full circle. It felt important. I wanted to remember its beginning; its middle and its end.
And I always have.
He never sent a thank you note for the interview, but really, that wouldn’t have been necessary. What really mattered is that I got the chance to thank him.
Captain Kangaroo died ten years later, in January 2004.