Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My favorite celebrity sighting experience

How’s this for one of those cool Hollywood stories? And I swear it’s true.

It’s the summer of either 1969 or 1970 (I’ve narrowed it down to those two). I’m a sports intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. KMPC was the big full-service radio station in town. They had star disc jockeys like Gary Owens (from LAUGH IN), Wink Martindale, Jim Lange, Geoff Edwards (all your favorite game show hosts), Roger Carroll (announcer of THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW and many others), and occasionally Bob Crane (HOGAN’S HEROES). The morning man, Dick Whittinghill, was an LA institution.

And when the station wasn’t playing Sinatra or Streisand, it was airing sports. KMPC was the home of the Rams (I’m so glad they’re back), the Angels, and UCLA football and basketball. Dick Enberg and Dave Niehaus were among their play-by-play men. We’re talking “high rent district.”

KMPC had their own planes and helicopters and even a news reporter in a trench coat who was a character right out of Raymond Chandler named Donn Reed who cruised around the city at night filing reports of hold ups and hostage situations. “Donn Reed – nightside.”

My job that summer (whichever summer it was) was to write up sports reports every half hour for the newscasts, change the ticker tape ribbon (my fingers are still purple), and keep track of the police scanners should a liquor store robbery break out. For this I was paid minimum wage. But I didn’t care. I LOVED it. On the side I was writing comedy bits for Gary Owens and interning for Dick Enberg at Rams’ games at the Coliseum. I also got as many Angel tickets as I wanted, but who the hell wanted to schlep out to fucking Anaheim in late afternoon traffic?

Anyway...

One morning I’m at my desk in the newsroom and Stanley Spero, the General Manager comes in. He asks if I’d do him a favor. There’s going to be a movie about a radio station that will soon go into production and one of the people from the film wanted to spend a couple of days just hanging around a radio station, soaking up the atmosphere. Would I mind spending the next two days with this person, showing him around, answering any of his questions, etc.? I said, “Sure.” (Like I’m going to tell the boss “No.”) So he said great and left. A few minutes later he returned with the person.

Paul Newman.

And this was the 1969 (or '70) Paul Newman. The Butch Cassidy Paul Newman. I imagine many of you women readers are now swooning. (Note: If there are readers who don’t know who Paul Newman is please do not tell me. I will be depressed for weeks.)

The movie was WUSA.

So for the next two days me and Paul Newman were BFF’s. I’m happy to report that he could not have been nicer and more down-to-earth. He was gracious with everyone. I thought to myself, “Oh why can’t iPhones with cameras be invented fifty years sooner?” Like an idiot, I didn’t get a photo with him or even his autograph. I was “too cool” for that. Moron.

When the movie came out I was the first one to see it. Looking back, I was the ONLY one to see it. But those two days together were amazing. I felt guilty taking KMPC’s $1.25 an hour. I went from Newsroom Kid to Sundance Kid.

24 comments:

Bill said...

There is a Newsradio episode with almost this exact plot (close enough that I went to check imdb to see if you were involved). James Caan is playing a radio announcer of some sort in a movie, so he arranges to follow Phil Hartman's character Bill McNeal around for a day. Bill is obsessed with telling Caan about "what makes a man like me tick," but Caan only wants to know nuts and bolts stuff, like headphones.

LouOCNY said...

WUSA was released early 1971....so it was 1970

Still very cool....

Al Melon said...

Now THAT'S a cool story!

Anonymous said...

Friday question! Who's Paul Newman?

;)

Mike Doran said...

WUSA was about a right-wing AM radio station whose owner (Pat Hingle, if memory serves) was trying to get his candidate elected to ... something ...
This was a pet project of Newman's; he got a lot of his pals to appear at cut rates.
The result - one reviewer called Newman "the Jack Webb of the Left", and that was one of the more positive comments.
WUSA isn't on DVD as far as I know, and hasn't been on cable in a while, so how it looks 45 years after the fact I can just guess.
My own memory of the period was that even left-leaning movie critics of the time found the very idea of "right-wing radio" just a tad far-fetched in 1971 ...

RyderDA said...

My Paul Newman story...

I live up in Canada. It's like 1983 or so, and I'm in Edmonton of all places. Back then, Edmonton had a race track, and I'm there for the Can Am races. Soon to be famous race drivers, like Denis Hulme, Teo Fabi and Jaques Villenuve are racing. And Newman is there, because Newman has a team. I've got a pit pass, and as I'm walking through the pits, I see a huge crowd. Everyone is hanging around Newman and there's a line up of camera people and reporters doing interviews. I get a picture (!) and saunter off.

A few minutes later, I stop to go to the bathroom. I'm alone in the can, standing at the urinal and in walks Newman. He saunters up and starts using the urinal next to me. No, there are no bathroom jokes here. But we do start talking racing. And for about 3 minutes, I get a one-on-one conversation with Lord Paul. What a phenomenally nice, articulate, kind guy. No ego, no "star attitude", no nothing except a super guy. It was only 3 minutes, but we talked racing and movies and Joanne, and a guy I already thought was pretty good became my hero.

I read his biography, and thought "this is the kind of guy I want to be". Married to the same (awesome) woman for 50 years (he got married the year I was born), awesome at his job, a hellraiser when he wasn't working driving race cars, the whole Newman's Own thing giving back to charity, the list went on.

I didn't like every movie he made, but I liked him in every movie he made. RIP Paul. Thanks for taking the bathroom break with me.

Roseann said...

I swooned.

Will Spencer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Donald said...

Ken, you did the right thing not asking for an autograph. He was famously averse to giving them. I interviewed him at a junket for "Nobody's Fool" and asked him about that. He said it stemmed from an incident when someone asked him for an autograph while he was in the bathroom. "It wasn't just an invasion of privacy," Newman recalled, "it was an invasion of purpose."

Shelley Herman said...

If I recall correctly, Geoff Edwards had a part in WUSA.

Anonymous said...

Who's moderating today's comments -- somebody seems to have given Will Spencer an early release.

Paul Duca said...

WUSA are now the call letters of the CBS station in Washington

Don Jennett said...

Mike Doran and several others will be happy to learn that the entire movie is right there on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxcUbldRfE

Craig Larson said...

After retiring from the Navy I worked as a Business Manager for a Food Broker. One of my accounts was Newman's Own. I had limited interaction with Paul, but I can confirm that he was a humble, unassuming gentleman. He fully realized how lucky he was to be where he was in life. I strongly recommenced his book Shameless Exploitation, which is primarily about how Newman's Own came to be; or his business partners book Paul & Me by A. E. Hotchner. Hotch had tons of stories and he used to hang out with Hemmingway in his earlier days.

Pamela Atherton said...

What a very cool memory! My (small)Paul Newman connection is that his wife was the Darling of LSU when my parents went to school there, so I have her photo in the yearbook. And when I was married, my husband did communication systems for race car drivers. We got the job for Paul Newman, and I got to put on his helmet!

VP81955 said...

Ken, according to IMDb, "WUSA" premiered in New York City on Aug. 19, 1970 (which was my 15th birthday, BTW), so unless Paul was really into post-production for that film, your encounter with him came in the summer of '69.

Oh, and WUSA now are the call letters of channel 9, the Gannett-owned CBS affiliate in Washington... although to D.C. folk such as myself, we'll first think of that station as WTOP-TV (where Warner Wolf was the sportscaster for many years, and one of his successors was the late, beloved Glenn Brenner).

Tim Dunleavy said...

And now, my DAD'S Paul Newman story.

Sometime in the seventies, my dad was on a business trip to San Francisco. One night Dad and his business partner Harvey go to a restaurant, and after they get seated, they look around and notice Paul Newman sitting a few tables away, having dinner with another man.

"Wow, it's Paul Newman! I'm going to go ask him for his autograph!" says Harvey.

"No, don't do that," says Dad. "Celebrities hate being interrupted when they're eating."

"But it's Paul Newman!" says Harvey. "When am I ever going to get a chance to meet him again?"

Dad and Harvey argue about it, and in the middle of the argument, Paul and the man get up and walk out of the restaurant.

The very next night, Dad turns on "The Tonight Show," and Paul is the lead guest. At one point Johnny asks him "Is there anything you don't like about dealing with the public?" and Paul replies "Yeah, I can't STAND it when people interrupt me when I'm eating!"

Dad's always been glad he dodged that bullet.

Charles H. Bryan said...

There is nice recent documentary about Newman's racing life. Free on Prime, I think.

mdv59 said...

OK, now I'm really jealous.. forget the Emmy Award writing career, you got to intern for Dick Enberg!

I grew up listening to Enberg doing Angels games, and for many of those years he was about the only good thing the Angels had to offer. To me he's as good as Scully and for the years he teamed with Don Drysdale to do the Angels I still think they were the best announcing team to ever call a game.

Oh, and that Newman guy was pretty good too.

PJ said...

Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman 2015

Yes it is available on Amazon Prime.

Pete Grossman said...

Perfect Newman story, Ken. Have a few myself having worked on The Verdict. While uncredited (I was crushed, but was a PA after all) did have enough sense to have a couple of shots taken my set photographer in front of the Francis P. Galvin door panel - closest I wanted to get to asking him to take a picture with me.

gottacook said...

WUSA had been the call letters of the NBC-TV affiliate in Minneapolis in the 1980s (also a Gannett-owned station); Gannett then transferred the call letters to its DC station and renamed the Minneapolis one KARE.

D. McEwan said...

Super cool!!! Too bad WUSA is such a lousy movie.

Barry Traylor said...

WOW!! You got to spend 2 days with one of my heroes. Not only was he a fine actor but even more important, he was a great human being.