My Biggest Career Mistakes, Part Two (A 500-Part Series)


Let’s go back to the very beginning, way back in the Civil War, when I was a fledgling reporter for my Ivy League school’s paper, The Columbia Daily Spectator. I had been assigned to interview Carole Shelley, the British actress who was giving a Tony winning performance on Broadway in The Elephant Man and who was also beloved for her flawlessly funny and compassionate turn as one of the Pigeon sisters in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. (Carole, who was in the original cast of Wicked, is all set to come to Broadway again in Billy Elliot. Yes, she sings too!)

Anyway, I was so tongue-tied by this, my debut interview, and so in awe of the first Broadway star to ever sit that close to me, that I simply asked her a succession of questions which I dutifully read off my prepared sheet, stammering out the queries, then glazing over in a reverent daze as she tried to reach me with her replies. I thought I was pulling one over on the woman, but she, a tough cookie laced with arsenic, was totally wise to me. “What are you majoring in?” Shelley wondered, deadpan, as our q&a wound down. “I hope not journalism.” Yikes. I gulped hard as if swallowing a quarter chicken. This was supposed to be my triumphant entree into the theater, not an act of humiliation by drama queen. “Er, actually, yes, I AM pursuing journalism, Miss Shelley. Why?” I stuttered, sweating buckets. “Because,” she informed, “during the whole interview you looked like you couldn’t wait till you could go home and hear my answers.” Ouch! Fuck! Shit! Crapcakes! That hurt so bad! And yet, the bitch was right. I learned very quickly that when you conduct an interview, you should listen to every word–not just when they read you to filth.