Ronald Reagan stands by his desk, his face illuminated by the light streaming in from his office windows. In a deft move, he grasps my hand and jerks me around for a grip-and-grin photograph. He holds his hand on my back so I don’t move, I smile—the flash goes off. Standing side-by-side, I realize that he is a bigger man than I had expected, tall and radiant, warm and relaxed. It is the oddest thing: It is not possible to be nervous in his presence. He gives the feeling that he’s lucky to be with me.
The interview with movie actress Janet Leigh was done at the Celebrity Authors Luncheon in 1998, with about 600 women attending. When I sat down in my chair, the sponge cover on my microphone popped off. "Uh, I think I've lost my knob," I said." Janet Leigh turned in her chair, lowered her microphone, and asked, "What happened?" I looked at the naked end of my microphone and said, "The knob's gone." Janet jumped out of her chair, and leapt into my lap. She wiggled in, thrust her mike at my mouth, then teased in her best little girl voice, "Okay, tell me a story."
The audience of ladies laughed uproariously.
Jonathan knew that I was a Navy aircraft pilot and in this photo gave me a demonstration of his skills flying with his hands. When I first walked into his small studio, where he paints surrealistic canvas, Jonathan was sitting in the corner poised like a cigar store Indian. He didn’t speak. I finally said, “Hello, how are you?” and he began a monologue that lasted two hours. When he was finished, he said with a wry smile, “You sure ask good questions."
I interviewed Steve Allen, comedian, writer, composer, at the Celebrity Author’s Luncheon in Santa Barbara in front of 600 guests. He wears a “rug” and it was slightly askew, like he’d grabbed it from a hat rack on the way out the door and plopped on his head. I didn’t dare ask him about the toupee, but during the interview he did offer this: “My grandson was on my lap playing with my hair when he asked, ‘Grandpa, do you know your hair is dead?’ ”
Lovely actress June Allyson with the radiant smile. Her interview was done at a charity ball. When we sat together at dinner with her husband, he leaned over to me and said, “June doesn’t like to get up in front of people.” I thought, Is this the June Allyson who sang and danced in so many of the great musicals of the 1950’s? I soon found out what her husband meant. Once on stage, I could see she was extremely nervous. Her responses to questions were brief and stilted. Suddenly her husband came on stage sat next to her and held her hand. She was fine after that.
I interviewed Julia on three different occasions, once at her home in her kitchen when she was 72, then five years later for a NBC television show, and finally when she had just turned 90. And she was a joy, totally warm and happy. When I asked her about her first cooking experience, she replied, “I don’t think I was a born chef, but I’ve always been hungry. At age thirty-four I could barely boil water.” That’s Julia!
In 2004, I interviewed playwright Neil Simon (The Odd Couple) at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. For a man who’s paid to be funny, he’s rather dull in person, even in front of 300 writers. I worked hard to loosen him up and we finally established a rapport.
After the interview with Jane Russell in her home, we stepped outside and the photographer suggested we “get close.” So . . . Jane turned to me and kissed me. I thought: How many writers have been kissed on the lips by Jane Russell? Whoopee!
I interviewed author Jackie Collins (Hollywood Wives) in front of 300 writers at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. We met briefly before the interview and she said, “Please don’t ask me about my sister Joan Collins!” I didn’t, but I did ask her if she brushed her teeth before writing in the morning. She laughed and said, “You really are going to get personal.”