100 New Yorkers of the 1970s

Copyright (C) 2005 by Max Millard

100 New Yorkers of the 1970s

By Max Millard

Dedication: to Bruce Logan, who made this book possible.

Copyright 2005 by Max Millard

———-

INTRODUCTION

The interviews for this book were conducted from May 1977 to December
1979. They appeared as cover stories for the __TV Shopper__, a free
weekly paper that was distributed to homes and businesses in New York
City. Founded by Bruce Logan in the mid-1970s as the __West Side TV
Shopper__, it consisted of TV listings, advertisements, and two full-page
stories per issue. One was a “friendly” restaurant review of an advertiser;
the other was a profile of a prominent resident of the Upper West Side of
Manhattan. The honoree’s face appeared on the cover, framed by a TV
screen.

The formula was successful enough so that in 1978, Bruce began
publishing the __East Side TV Shopper__ as well. My job was to track
down the biggest names I could find for both papers, interview them, and
write a 900-word story. Most interviewees were in the arts and
entertainment industry — actors, singers, dancers, writers, musicians,
news broadcasters and radio personalities. Bruce quickly recruited me to
write the restaurant reviews as well. During my two and a half years at
the paper, I wrote about 210 interviews. These are my 100 favorites of the
ones that survive.

These stories represent my first professional work as a journalist. I arrived
in New York City in November 1976 at age 26, hungry for an opportunity
to write full-time after spending six years practicing my craft at college
and community newspapers in New England. I had just started to sell a
few stories in Maine, but realized I would have to move to a big city if
I was serious about switching careers from social worker to journalist.

My gigs as an unpaid writer for small local papers included a music
column for the __East Boston Community News__ and a theater column
for the Wise Guide in Portland, Maine. I had learned the two most
important rules of journalism — get your facts straight and meet your
deadlines. I had taught myself Pitman’s shorthand and could take notes at
100 words a minute. So I felt ready to make the leap if someone gave me
a chance.

Full of hope, I quit my job in rural Maine as a senior citizens’ aide, drove
to New York, sold my car, moved into an Upper West Side apartment
with two aspiring opera singers, and began to look for work.

One aspect of the New York personality, I soon observed, was that the
great often mingled freely with the ordinary. At the Alpen Pantry Cafe in
Lincoln Center, where I worked briefly, David Hartman, host of Good
Morning America
, came in for his coffee every morning and waited in
line like everyone else. John Lennon was said to walk his Westside
neighborhood alone, and largely undisturbed.

The other side of the New York mentality was shown by nightclubs
surrounded by velvet ropes, where uniformed doormen stood guard like
army sentries. Disdaining the riffraff, they picked out certain attractive
individuals milling outside and beckoned them to cut through the crowd,
pay their admission and enter. The appearance of status counted for much,
and many people who lived on 58th Street, one block from Central Park,
got their mail through the back entrance so they could claim the higher
class address of Central Park West.

In early 1977 my shorthand skills got me a part-time job at the home of
Linda Grover, a scriptwriter for the TV soap opera The Doctors. On
the day I met her, she dictated a half-hour script to me, winging it while
glancing at an outline. My trial of fire was to transcribe it, type it up that
night and turn it in the next morning for revisions. I got little sleep, but
completed the job. After that I became her secretary.

Linda’s soap work was unsteady, and to supplement her income she wrote
all the cover stories for TV Shopper. After I’d been helping her for a
few months, she accepted a full-time job as headwriter for a new soap. I
had told her of my ambition and shown her some of my writing, so she
recommended me to Bruce as her replacement.

For my first assignment, Bruce sent me to interview Delores Hall, star of
a Broadway musical with an all-black cast, Your Arms Too Short to Box
With God
. I went to the theater, watched the show, then met Delores
backstage. The first question I asked her was: “Is that your real hair?” She
smiled good-naturedly at my lack of diplomacy and didn’t answer, but
made me feel completely at ease. She led me outside the theater, and
without embarrassment, asked me to hail the taxi for us. Then she directed
the driver to a favorite soul food restaurant, where she stuffed herself
while I conducted the interview. She was as gracious in my company as
she had been on the stage while bowing to a standing ovation. Later, her
role in the show won her the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a
Musical.

After completing my Delores Hall story, I was kept constantly busy at the
TV Shopper for as long as I stayed in New York. At first Bruce gave
me all the leads, many of whom were people who had requested to be on
the cover. But soon I was after bigger game, and began to systematically
hunt down people whom I had grown up admiring. I scanned People
magazine each week to find out which celebrities were New Yorkers.
When I landed an important interview, I often visited the New York
Public Library of Performing Arts in Lincoln Center to study the clipping
files and prepare my questions.

A few interviewees were distant and arrogant, making it clear that they
wouldn’t be wasting their time with me if not for the insistence of their
agent. A cover story in the TV Shopper could possibly extend a
Broadway run for a few days or sell another $10,000 worth of tickets to
the ballet or opera. But the vast majority of my interview subjects were
friendly, respectful, and even a little flattered by the thought of being on
the cover. In general, the biggest people were most likely to be
unpretentious and generous of spirit.

It was thrilling experience to meet and interview the people who had been
my idols only a few years before. When we were alone together in a
room, I felt that — if only for that brief period — I were the equal of
someone who had achieved greatness. I had grown up reading Superman
comics, and one day it flashed on me: this is Metropolis and I’m Clark
Kent!

My subjects probably found me somewhat of a rube. I didn’t dress well,
I had little knowledge of New York, I asked some very simplistic
questions, and until 1979 I didn’t use a tape recorder. So perhaps some
of the stars were put off their guard and revealed more of themselves than
they would have to a more professional interviewer. I was struck by how
single-minded they were for success. Probing their brains was like getting
a second college education. Their main message was: Don’t waste your
life and don’t do anything just for money.

Of course, many people declined my request for an interview. Among

those I fished for, but failed to reel in, were Richard Chamberlain, Isaac

Bashevis Singer, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), Rex Reed, Halston,

Carrie Fisher, Russell Baker, Ted Sorensen, Joseph Heller, Margaret

Meade, Helen Gurley Brown and Ira Gershwin. Then there were the

Eastsiders and Westsiders too famous to even approach, such as Woody

Allen, Bob Hope and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

The person who did more than anyone else to secure first-rank interviews
for me was Anna Sosenko, a woman in her late 60s who owned an
autograph collectors’ shop on West 62th Street filled with elegantly
framed letters, manuscripts and autographed photos of some of the
greatest names in the history of entertainment. Despite her treasures, she
always talked with one hand over her mouth to hide the fact that she had
practically no teeth.

For 23 years Anna had managed the career of cabaret superstar

Hildegarde Sell, and had penned Hildegarde’s theme song, “Darling, Je

Pages: First | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | ... | Next → | Last | Single Page