WARNING: Rated ‘R’… Includes Adult Content
Interviewer to the Stars
Sam At KBCS – 1970s
I truly got lucky in 1972 when Bill Keffury hired me to do mornings at the new station he was helming for CBS Radio. KCBS-FM was a tiny station with smaller ratings but owned by one of the biggest broadcast groups in America at the time. They were launching an oldies format patterned after the extremely successful WCBS-FM in New York City. Except that in New York City they had jocks who had made their fame in New York City, and we were, to put it nicely, not famous. The format never made a dent in SF ratings. I snuck in when nobody was looking, but by 1973 I was doing mornings, News and Public Affairs. This gave me a chance to interview some of the most interesting characters in film and literature. Here are a few snippets of memories from my ridiculously exciting and dangerous time in San Francisco.
Porn stars were mainstream in the 70’s. “Deep Throat” had somehow kind of legitimized porn. One of the biggest stars of the genre was Linda Lovelace. I remember being nervous (why?) and waiting for her to finish her interview on the News Station KCBS.
She was very nice and unspectacular, but her manager, Chuck Traynor, on the other hand, carried himself with the swagger of a mob guy. The only real tidbit, except for my hot sweats, was Linda saying she had a pencil in her vajayjay! She said it kept her tight. Linda’s peculiar talent kept her from being accepted as a mainstream actress, and she led a tragic life.
Marilyn Chambers was just as nice as Linda, and by the time I interviewed her a few years after Linda, she was being managed by, yes, the mob guy with an attitude, Chuck Traynor. Chuck played the role of manager/agent, but to me, he was more likely a glorified pimp. Marilyn was just looking for a good time and a good living: she had once been the Ivory Snow mom before movies got her. I heard that she had offered a BJ on the air to a colleague of mine, and I don’t know if she gave him a “happy ending”, but I know I never received such an offer, making me wonder: “What’s wrong with ME?” When I was co-host of a show on KRON-TV for several years, my producer seemed to have a “thing” about porn stars. He would call and tell me to go and interview someone at the Micthell Brothers theater. It must’ve been for personal favors – for him – because the interviews never saw the light of day. Most of those women were hard-edged. I remember one “actress” who was signing autographs at the Mitchell Brothers after I interviewed her – some poor guy tried to get her to autograph a picture he’d brought – she barked at him “No autograph unless you buy my picture”. He objected and was quickly shown the door by security. Once, I went to a promotional event for some forgettable flick, which featured a woman covered in cheese dip and surrounded by crackers. Cheesy and a little bit creepy. I stayed away from the buffet. Of all the porn actresses I met, Marilyn and Linda were the nicest. But none of them were very “deep”.
Hollywood provided many stars and others to promote their films back then, even to us at little KCBS-FM. Among the stars they sent our way, Kirk Douglas stands out as the biggest bigger-than-life star. The interview was set for Kirk’s wife, Anne. She had produced Kirk’s latest film “Scalawag”, about a pirate. It wasn’t much – just a pirate movie that looked like it was filmed on the backside of Gilligan’s Island. Anne Douglas was the most charming interviewee, and so was her guest, husband Kirk! He began by saying it was her interview and he would watch from the engineer’s booth. My engineer, Alan Bowker, made him comfortable, but it wasn’t long before Kirk was on the intercom, then in the studio with us. His energy was something to behold! He told some great stories about filming “Scalawag” and other great films. Kirk’s son, Michael, was filming in San Francisco at the time, but refused to be interviewed. I missed out on Michael, but interviewing Kirk and Anne was a treat I won’t forget. They ranked the most charming couple from Hollywood until a year or so later, when I interviewed Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I had forgotten that I’d booked him, and had gone to a local park and smoked a joint with some friends. Dumb! So, there I was, stoned, and in walked a Hollywood icon, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and his lovely wife, Mary! I don’t remember the details of the interview, only his professionalism and kindness. It seems I’ve always depended on the kindness of Hollywood stars!
Bruce Dern seemed to always be in character. We did a bit after he’d made “The Laughing Policeman” with Walter Matthau in San Francisco. He showed up looking like a police detective. Then, a couple of years later, he came in to promote “The Great Gatsby” wearing a beautiful long coat with a scarf that told the world how rich he was or seemed to be. He told me at that interview that he had been miscast. He said he should’ve played Gatsby, and Francis Ford Coppola had told him that during the filming. I can’t say he was lying, but the role of Gatsby had been beautifully played by the great Robert Redford.
Not all interviews were fun. Victor Borge once replied to my question about what more he’d like to accomplish (trite question – I know) by saying “end the interview”, which I did, to his surprise.
Ruth Gordon was a legendary multi-talented actress who was known for writing several hit Broadway shows and screenplays in the 40’s and 50’s and had a resurgence of her career in the 1970’s, starring in hit movies like “Harold and Maude”, “Rosemary’s Baby” and a couple of comedies with Clint Eastwood. She’d been in show business since being filmed as a baby in silent films and had been acting since 1915. She was married to Garson Kanin, who co-wrote many of her successes. I’d met Garson a few times before meeting Ruth, and apparently paid too much attention to her husband when she came in for an interview. She was in her 80’s by then and got cranky as we set up the interview. I rolled the tape and started asking questions. Not realizing I’d started the interview, Ruth kept barking at me, finally saying “I’ll answer that when we start the interview.” I told her we had started it. Suddenly, she got nice.
Director John Landis made a name for himself by directing “Animal House”, and I was fortunate to interview him, John Belushi, Donald Sutherland and Karen Allen in New York in 1978. Belushi was fun to interview, as was Karen Allen, who would go on to fame in the Indiana Jones films with Harrison Ford. But Landis was the most fun because he told lots of backstage stories. He said Belushi was supposed to be just a cameo, until he adlibbed the cafeteria scene so hilariously that they expanded his part, making him a sudden film star. Landis also told me that Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were working on “Some goofy musical thing, called “The Blues Brothers” for fun. Landis ended up directing that film, which is notorious for the excesses of Belushi during filming, and the surprise success of the Blues Brothers act. John Landis went on to direct the tragic “Twilight Zone – the Movie” during which Vic Morrow was killed. I can’t say for sure, but I believe that experience took the fun out of directing for him. He’s now a producer.
Some of the more unusual interviews through the years include the mime, Marcel Marceau, who was as whimsical in the interview as he was as a mime, and Teller, of Penn and Teller, who actually spoke of great passion about his great passion, magic. Penn Gillette was fun to be around and a clever guy to talk to, but the best interview with Penn never happened. I was delayed getting to the studio and phoned to let Pann know that I’d be about an hour late. When I got to the studio, Penn was already gone. But he’d left behind an interview with himself playing both parts. He’d ask a question as “me” and answer with comments like “Sam, I can’t believe you’re asking such a stupid question.” He built on that, getting more and more frustrated with “my” stupid questions, until he stormed out of the interview! I called him later, and before he could apologize, told him that it was a lot funnier than the one I had planned. Magic!
Years later, shortly after 9/11, when the TSA took over airport security, I ran into him at Log Angeles International Airport on the way to my new job as announcer for Candid Camera on CBS. I asked him what he’d made disappear lately as he put his shoes back on. His reply: “Only our rights and freedoms!”