Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Time I Interviewed Robin Williams

Cover of "The World According to Garp"
Cover of The World According to Garp
When I was 23 years old I was producing a talk show on cable television called "Celebrity."  The hostess was Alison Steele.  Known as "The Nightbird," Alison was a legendary rock DJ on New York City's WNEW-FM and probably the first really famous female rock radio DJ.  She was also a great personality and a classy "Celebrity" in her own right.

Our show was simple.  In each hour long episode we spent the first half interviewing celebrities who were promoting their latest movie, and in the second half of the show Alison interviewed a CEO or high level exec from companies such as Exxon,  British Airways, etc.  The corporate participant paid for their segment, which essentially bankrolled the show.  We got the real celebrity interviews for free.  This was fairly easy to arrange as back then every new movie had a New York premiere and a press junket around the premiere where the studio made all the stars available for interviews.  We'd show up at the appointed hotel at the appointed hour and get our appointed time with the stars.  Often we'd also get to attend the premiere and capture "b-roll" of the event, and of course the studio supplied ample clips from the film.  To keep things lean and efficient, we always shot our interviews with one camera, over Alison's shoulder, and then, at a later time we'd shoot her doing the "asks" in her posh East Side living room.  When edited together, you'd never know it wasn't a seamless two camera shoot done in one sitting.

As you can imagine, at a young age I had the opportunity to meet many, many very well known Hollywood stars.  As you can also imagine, I learned pretty fast that people are people, and just like the rest of the population, the community of famous people is filled with its fair share of nice folks, obnoxious jerks, and complete and total assholes.  The stories about the jerks and assholes will have to wait for another time.  This story is about one of the good guys.  One of the really wonderful, amazing and very special guys...

On the day we were scheduled to interview Robin Williams, Alison had the flu.  It was the only time in my tenure with the show that she had to call in sick and miss an interview.  But there was no way we were going to pass up the chance to get Robin Williams on our tape (yes, back then we used something called videotape.)  So we came up with a plan.  I would interview Robin.  We'd shoot him cheating to the side of where Alison would normally sit, and then when she was feeling better we would shoot her asks as usual.  When we edited it together it would look like Alison had conducted the interview with Robin herself.  All I had to do was to make sure I didn't talk over Robin and make it difficult to edit my voice out.

Needless to say, I was full of nerves and excitement.  Promoting the release of "The World According To Garp" Robin Williams was already a massive star thanks to Mork and Mindy.  If that weren't enough, I was also a big fan of John Irving and had read and loved Garp.  Having the chance to meet and interview Robin Williams was going to be the highlight of my young career thus far.  But I was gun shy...  Not that long before, another big name celebrity had really treated me badly, and made me feel like a young, inexperienced schmuck.  It was a blow to my ego, my confidence, and to the image I had of that particular star.  So I approached Robin Williams with trepidation... and was greeted with a huge smile, a warm and hearty handshake, and the feeling we might have been friends already for a long time.  It felt... genuine.

I think you'll hear a lot of people using that word when describing Robin.  He was genuine.

I explained to him the situation with Alison.  I had brought her head shot with me and, in my own feeble attempt to make him feel comfortable, I put the picture of Alison on what would have been her chair, opposite Robin, and asked him to look at and talk to "her" even though I would be asking him the questions from off to the side.  I explained how we'd shoot and edit her in later.  He made a few quick jokes about the situation, and happily, professionally, wonderfully played along and gave us a great interview.  Throughout it all, he could not have been nicer or more supportive of this young, inexperienced kid who was doing his best to get the job done.  He made me feel great, and more importantly at the time, he made me feel like a professional.  I was then, and always will be enormously grateful for that.

We have lost a true star, an irreplaceable talent, and a wonderful, genuine man...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bootie Call

2013-12-24 16.29.07

My first reaction was denial. A grandfather? Me? In my head I am still 19 years old, and that's certainly too young to be a grandfather. Of course it is also too young to have children who are now in their 20's. In the world outside my head I indeed have three adult kids (Adult kids? Is that an oxymoron?). In the real world my oldest son is soon to be 26, and sooner to be a father himself.

I remember the day Zach was born. Although we had moved to Rockland County we decided to still have "the baby" in Manhattan. I remember speeding down the Palisades Parkway with reckless abandon, hoping I'd get stopped by an eager Trooper just so I could have the satisfaction of pointing to Zach's very pregnant mom in the back seat and continue on my high speed journey citation free... Yes, Zach, one of the first (of many) joys you gave your dad was a valid excuse to put the pedal to the metal...

And now another joy.

But at first I was in denial. Was my son ready to be a dad? How would that change his life? He is just establishing himself in his own career. How would it change my life? Was I ready to be a grandfather? Fortunately I came to my senses enough to realize that it is not about me, it is about my son... And his girlfriend... And their life together.

Still, I just wasn't ready. I am from the school where you get married first, and then have kids, but I realize that social norms are different now, and the path my son is on is not as radical as it first seemed to me. And I know his girlfriend is a wonderful partner and loves my son wholeheartedly, as he does her, and I know she will be a wonderful mother. When Zach had a real scare, she was the one who saved him. I might not be ready, but Zach and Felicia are.

Thanks Mom!

Unlike hesitant me, my own parents were thrilled at the news and instantly embraced it with the same love and excitement that I am sure they will embrace their great-grandson with. It was my mom who finally put some sense in me and helped me paddle my way out of denial and open my eyes to see how exciting it is that our family was entering a new generation, that my son was ready and able to be a dad. I was reminded that they, my parents, were only 22 when I was born.

Shortly after having that conversation with my mom I was in NY for the holidays and walking through the Christmas shops setup for the season in Bryant Park. It was a cold but beautiful day, the kind where you can walk around with a cup of hot coffee or tea or cider and the cold smoke of your breath competes with the rising steam of the drink, a drink you count on to warm your hands as much as your innards. Through wind-teared eyes I spotted them inside one of the crafty pop-up shops, the booties. When was the last time baby booties caught my eye? Never? But I had to have them. Hand made from thick organic wool they were perfect, and the perfect first gift for me to buy for my grandson.  My grandson...

As I paid for the booties, I was suddenly struck with a wave - no a tsunami - of emotion.  I was suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelmed with the realization my son was going to have a son, and I was going to be a grandfather.  The cute little booties had finally made it real, made the tears start streaming down my face, and the lump of welled up feelings rise up in my throat.  Finally, I was ready.

Being Gramps...

But I was not yet ready for enormity of the real thing.  I had no idea how excited I would become as the due date approached.  As I write this I am on a plane to North Carolina, where Zach and Felicia live.  Where my grandson will be born, maybe even right now, while I am in the air, or later tonight, or sometime tomorrow.  But I am not leaving North Carolina until I meet the little bugger, and hold him in my arms, and put those little booties on his feet.

To be continued...

UPDATE:  My grandson, Liam David Sass, was born on April 10, 2014 at 11:36 pm.  He entered this world weighing 9 lbs 3 oz, 21 amazing inches long.  As someone who loves to write, and leans toward the verbose, I cannot find the words to fully and fairly describe the deep love, pride and joy I have for my son, for Felicia, and for my grandson.  I was in awe as I watched Zach step up into his role as dad and partner, and wonderfully coach and support Felicia (who was amazing in her own right) through a long and uncomfortable labor.  Even more indescribable is the instant love, bond and deep connection I feel to Liam, a bond I felt in the deepest corners of my being the moment our eyes connected for the very first time.

He is a special little boy, and I am so very blessed to be his grandfather. I have a feeling I will be spending a lot of time in North Carolina.  I miss him beyond words already.

2014-04-11 01.16.29
Zach and Liam...
(This post originally appeared on Dadomatic.com
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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Three Words: Focus, Focus, Focus.

Focus.  It is so important, and so much harder than ever to manage. Our lives are filled with so many distractions that -- sorry, that was a text from my daughter.  Where was I?  Oy, yeah, our lives are filled with so many distractions that it has become almost --- cool.  Someone just re-tweeted me.  Umm, what was I saying?  Oh, right, that with so many distractions it has become almost impossible to spend more than a fleeting moment on ---- email.  Just had to see what that email was because my Pebble watch was vibrating.  Now, as I was saying... Focus.  Damn, it's hard.  That's why focus is all three of my words for 2014.

Attention Deficit...

Attention Deficit is no longer a disorder.  Frankly, it is the norm.  I am as guilty as anyone of having a hard time sticking to any one task for more than a few minutes without taking some sort of digital detour.  I know it is bad.  I know I do my best work when I zone everything else out and stay FOCUSED on one thing for thirty minutes or more, but the times I actually do that are few and far between.  At least far less frequent than they should be.  The truth is, at least for me, the distractions that the Internet and our "always connected" lives have introduced only serve to exacerbate a problem I have always had.  I've always tended to commit to too many things at once and, as one of my High School teachers once warned me, "spread myself too thin..."  This, combined with a propensity to procrastinate makes distraction where the action is.  But no more...

Focus, Focus, Focus...

My "three words" for 2014 are Focus, Focus, and Focus.  I guess, my three words are really only one word: Focus.  (See, already I am more focused, putting my full attention on one theme word rather than three!)  Better focus is something I can strive for in all aspects of my life, from family, to fitness, to business, and I intend to approach all of them in a more focused way, being mindful of the moment and committed to what I am doing at any given time.  At least that's the plan.  It will be up to me to stay focused and carry it out. Wish me luck (but don't be upset if I don't respond right away... I may be focused on something else...)

What do you think of my newfound focus?  Do you have three words for 2014?

Photo Credit: © aaabbc - Fotolia
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