The death of Jackie Mason, maybe the last of a generation of the so-called Borscht Belt comics, brought to mind one funny story and triggered a celebrity headcount. Working on air since 1980, running into or interviewing celebrities is depending on one’s point of view, one of the perks of the job or an occupational hazard, Sometimes the rich and famous were in the news, sometimes they were the news, but most of the time, they were pitching a book, hawking a product or otherwise looking to expand their place in the celebrity pecking order. In some cases, I worked with them, or found myself sitting right next to them on an airplane.
First, the Jackie Mason story. It was probably 15 years ago. We were taking in a Broadway show and went to pre pre-theatre dinner at Rene Pujol, one of the great NY restaurants, now closed. Mason and his entourage were at an adjoining table. I always try to give them their privacy, especially in a restaurant. My friend Bob did everything but throw a dinner roll at Mason, as if to say–”I know you. You’re famous”. Mason picked up on it and invited us to come over. As my friend babbled some of Mason’s well-known lines, Mason said “Hold on here. What do you guys do?”
As Bob was too starstruck to reply I told Mason I was a Correspondent for CBS News, a few seconds later Bob disclosed he was a Mortgage broker for a major bank.
“Oh,” Mason shot back, “one of you’s a liar and the other’s a thief.
We all laughed, then left Mason for his dinner.
Word of his passing at 93 got me thinking about that list of the well-known. Bill Murray sat next to us in a restaurant and had us laughing through 3 courses. At a bar in Montauk NY Billy Joel asked us if we’d seen Paul Simon. 20 minutes after he left, Simon came in looking for the Piano Man. Alec Baldwin was a regular at the church we used to attend on Eastern Long Island. When he had his tax problems I got to interview Willie Nelson on his tour bus Honeysuckle Rose, which could have been called Willie’ Weed Ride. The smell was that thick.
I sat next to actor EG Marshall, former Vice President Lloyd Bentsen and Baseball great Ralph Kiner. Before I had a chance to chat, all 3 were asleep before takeoff, although I think Bentsen was faking it. Lots of politicians were part of the job, I traveled with Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan and another White House wanna be named Jerry Brown.
Ran into Jack Kemp at LaGuardia Airport, he was a mad man, running along with Bob Dole in a campaign Kemp knew was doomed to failure. Football’s Tiki Barber was a colleague at WCBS TV one off season, and there were interviews with Boomer Esiasson, and Mike Ditka, who was hawking Scott TP as the brand to use at Halftime of one Super Bowl. Keith Hernandez, Rusty Staub and Bud Harrelson came my way, a treat as a Mets fan. Sportscasters Vin Scully, Harry Kalas and Tim Mc Carver are on my good guys list. I got yelled at by two guys who made it part of their day to day routine–Tommy La Sorda and Bobby Knight. I spent a rain delay at Wrigley Field watching Jack Buck throw down Press Room Hot Dogs. During my rookie year in Chicago, I interviewed Bob Hope, Jesse Jackson, Bob Vila and an adult actress named Marilyn Chambers, the latter by request of an oversexed boss who caught her act at a local strip club. Diet Dr, Nathan Pritikin seemed to be miserable when I interviewed him and I guess he was. He killed himself a couple of months later.
I found myself on a runway with Clint Eastwood early one morning in Monterey, as we waited for Pope John Paul. Eastwood, then Mayor of Carmel smiled when I asked him if he was doing an action film called Dirty Harry Meets the Pope.
And there were plenty more over the years,
Most of the stars were nice and accommodating. Some were annoying. I won’t name names, but the brother of a dead Saturday Night Live Comic, a home improvement PBS host and an actress who sang her way through the ALPS were no fun to be with.
But they probably thought that way about me…