Reading about the $50 million remodel of the Sears building on Colorado, originally built in 1947, I was pleasantly reminded of the late Ralph Story, the beloved CBS broadcaster. Among numerous programs, Story hosted Things That Aren’t Here Anymore, a nostalgic look at Hollywood and Los Angeles of old and the Sears tale would have been right up his alley. More years ago than I care to admit to, I actually interviewed for an entry level writing job with Story, though the details are somewhat embarrassing.
I was 20 (going on 12) at UCLA when I enrolled in a Theater Arts class “Broadcast Speech,” which was every Friday. (Ironically, just like these columns.) The other 9 students were all serious T.A. majors and didn’t seem fond of my surfer/hippy attire.
Actually, I overheard a preening actor type whisper to his buddy, “What’s with this clown?” I felt like responding, “When you get to know me, then you can call me a clown.” The point is they were serious about acting and I was serious about the beach.
The class took place in a wooden shack studio on campus which featured a huge TV camera mounted on wheels that had video capacity and a soundproof booth up above. Students were given 5 minutes each week to perform whatever they wanted, which was videotaped and added to their portfolio.
Most did serious soliloquies from Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams. Dressed like a priest, my first “performance” was a 5-minute eulogy commemorating the tragic death of Sepulveda Boulevard following the recent grand opening of the 405 Freeway.
As each student performed the rest watched from the soundproof booth. Afterwards the student received a critique from Professor Kingston who was similar in looks and manner to the late James Lipton, host of the long-running TV show “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”
At first I was terrified and terrible but with help of my sardonic writer friend, Cary, the copy improved and so did the delivery. Though soundless to me, I was gratified by classmates in the booth laughing at my jokes. (Eventually students showed up to see my “act” who weren’t even in the class but were invited by some who were.)
To my surprise, one day Kingston asked me to meet with Fred Friendly, a Professor Emeritus on campus who was looking for an entry level writer for Ralph Story. Unfortunately, I went wearing my college “uniform,” Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt.
However, as soon as I entered the plush office filled with photos of Friendly on the walls with everyone from Eisenhower to Sinatra, I knew I had made a poor sartorial choice. Yet Friendly couldn’t have been friendlier (pardon the pun) and quickly phoned CBS to arrange a meeting for me.
Lesson learned, I wore slacks, dress shirt and tie and a sports coat. Nervous as hell, I was also thrilled to meet the gracious on air staff including Story and the news anchor, who shall remain nameless. (You’ll soon see why.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job due to my draft status as they didn’t want to train someone who then gets drafted. (If only I’d had a rich, criminal father who bribed a podiatrist who rented an office from him into writing a bogus letter stating I had bone spurs.)
Despite not getting the job, I went from clown to mini-celebrity in class. Professor Kingston gave me an “A” for the course and encouraged me to take the class the next semester to keep improving.
Meanwhile, months later at my part-time parking cars job for the Slate Brothers nightclub on La Cienega, the news anchor and his young blond wife came to see a new comedian in town…Don Rickles! The anchor remembered our meeting and even ever-sour Henry Slate, owner of the club, was mildly impressed.
Later that year, via a close friend, I was invited to a Christmas party at a luxurious house off Mulholland Drive hosted by the anchor’s son whose parents were out of town. He was intrigued by my CBS meeting but not so about the Slate Brothers encounter. Crestfallen, he said, “My mother doesn’t have blond hair.” Ouch! On the drive home my friend jokingly commented, “Remind me not to invite you to another party.”
Cut to 2005 when I watched the brilliant movie Good Night and Good Luck starring and directed by George Clooney who played … Fred Friendly! (All these years later, I had no idea Friendly, later President of CBS News, was originally the producer of the iconic Edward R. Murrow!)
Frantically, I called Cary. “Did you know Friendly was Murrow’s producer?!” “Yes,” he said matter-of-factly. “Then how did you let me go to that meeting in Bermuda shorts?” After a pause, he replied, “I didn’t think you owned a pair of pants.”
For more, go to YouTube and type “Ralph Story” and Google “Historic Sears store in Santa Monica returns.” Jack is at: facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org