Sunday, June 28, 2009

Some of the best interviews

Recently I wrote about the three of the worst interviews I've conducted in my career as a journalist. Today I'd like to look at some of the best.

There's an element of bragging rights among writers when it comes to interviewing. It's our version of big game hunting. And I think most writers would agree that too often all you get with a celeb interview subject is 10 to 20 minutes. That's why long form interview/personality pieces are the Holy Grail for writers.

For me growing up, the "Playboy" interview was the gold standard. I think it is still the gold standard. In those pieces, a writer met repeatedly with someone over a period of sometimes months to get the best stuff. What a luxury that would be!

Generally if you have someone on the phone, you've got maybe 20 minutes before they have to move on. When I interviewed horror rock icon Alice Cooper, he had set up a number of 10 minute conversations. He was very prepared, very conversational and very professional. Obviously he was watching the clock, too and knew when to wrap things up. Could I have spoken to him more? Certainly, but those were the conditions for the interview.

Well, these following picks were for the most part longer term interviews and they are among my favorites because there was a a personal connection for me.

Vincent Price: the great actor appeared at UMass in 1983 for a performance of his one-man show "The Villain Still Pursues Me." My wife and I attended the show and the next day writer Stanley Wiater and I joined some Umass students for an interview with the man. Stan and I asked most of the questions and then walked out with Price. I taped the conversation and played it on my talk radio program. Stan sold it to Fangoria.

Price was engaged, witty and fulfilled all of my expectations as a fan as well as a journalist.

Jack Mercer: I spent over an hour with the man who was Popeye's voice for nearly 50 years at his home in the Woodside neighborhood of NYC. He and his wife Virginia were very gracious and as an audio souvenir I asked him at the end of the interview to say something as Popeye. Mercer's voice had a high pitch and it was amazing to hear him assume Popeye's gruff tones.

I couldn't look at him, though. I'm not sure why.

Jonathan Harris: The character actor best known for his role as Dr. Smith in "Lost in Space," was here in Springfield to appear at a primarily "Star Trek" convention. he was a joy to speak with and afterwards Harris wrote me a letter every time I sent him a copy of my animation magazine "Animato."

I would see him at other conventions and he would greet me warmly. He was so nice I couldn't tell him that as a kid I regularly hoped he would die so the Robinsons would finally get back to Earth.

Lillian Gish: The first lady of American movies had re-issued her autobiography in the 1980s and I contacted the publisher. I was informed that Gish wouldn't be interested in doing a radio interview, but I didn't believe it so I found her agent and asked her. Gish said, "Yes."

She was very sharp and accommodating and it was a thrill to speak with someone who career went back to some of the earliest days of cinema. Afterwards she sent me a thank you letter when I sent her a copy of the interview as it appeared in "The Valley Advocate."

Other satisfying interviews have included my three conversations with comic Dave Attell; interviewing Rachel Maddow after watching her perform her radio show; having Clayton Moore – the Lone Ranger on television – tell me that I actually knew something about his career; and meeting Maureen O'Hara and revealing to her I've had a crush on her since I was a kid – that effectively broke the ice.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

1 comment:

Courtney Leigh Llewellyn said...

Greatest. Stationery. Ever.