I’m writing a new arts column for the estimable Facts & Opinions: Journalism Matters journal, recalling interviews I did with celebrities during the 15 years I worked as a newspaper entertainment reporter. I was inspired to revisit the interviews after a recent conversation with a friend, during which I happened to mention casually that Tennessee Williams once complained to me that the Russians were ripping him off to the tune of thousands of dollars in unpaid royalties.
“You talked to Tennessee Williams?” said my friend.
Yes, and I talked to Kenny Rogers and Tammy Wynette and Sally Rand and Chuck Berry and dozens of other well-known individuals of that period. Revisiting those interviews now is an enjoyable exercise in time-capsule journalism for me, particularly in light of events that have occurred since. I call the column Brief Encounters because many of the interviews were conducted in haste, in green rooms and hotel rooms, when the publicists gave me 15 minutes or less to fish for pearls of wisdom.
I talked to Kenny Rogers after he had tried rockabilly, jazz, folk, country and psychedelic rock, and was unsure where he was going to go next. This was long before he recorded “The Gambler.” I talked to Tammy Wynette when she was finding it difficult to reconcile being a married mother of four with being constantly on the road. Later that month, she got divorced for the fourth time. I talked to fan dancer Sally Rand when she was still taking her clothes off in public at age 71. I talked to Chuck Berry when he was refusing to talk to other reporters because of all the bad press he received over his troubles with the law.
When B.B. King played for President Obama at the White House in 2012, I recalled that he once told me he thought the blues was dying. When Randy Bachman reinvented himself as a CBC Radio host, I recalled that I had talked to him about his career choices after he had seemingly committed artistic suicide twice, first by walking away from The Guess Who and then by leaving Bachman-Turner Overdrive. When Johnny Depp played Tonto in the 2013 big-screen remake of The Lone Ranger (a flop, by all critical accounts), I recalled that I had talked to the original Tonto, Jay Silverheels, about the racism he encountered in Hollywood.
My first column is about Silverheels. Check it out by clicking here. I hope you enjoy this journey down memory lane with me.