Before the Internet was born, fact-checking had to be done in a variety of more exhausting ways, sometimes involving tracking down your subject and just plain asking them for the facts!
In the ’80s, I was running an item about Rose Marie, the child star who went on to another round of fame in The Dick Van Dyke Show and later on Hollywood Squares.
My item said that Rose Marie had dated a mobster (let’s call him Joe Mazzulo, since I can’t remember the name and am too lazy to fact-check it, lol).
My libel lawyer was very firm about me having to double-check this piece of information, and in fact to make sure Rose Marie herself confirmed it.
Rather than fly myself to L.A. and hop from one greasy spoon to another looking for the dame, I miraculously managed to get her home number from an agency that dealt in celebrity contacts. (I had an in there.)
I thought they’d maybe give me her agent’s number — but no, it was hers! She’d listed it with them, this being a more innocent time with some trust in the air.
So I called and still figured I’d get an assistant, a maid, or a “wrong number.”
But the second I heard the gruff, raspy voice on the line, I knew it was Rose Marie herself.
“Yeah?” she shot out.
She sounded cautiously pessimistic.
“Um, I’m Michael Musto from the Village Voice newspaper,” I gurgled, “and I’m running an item that you dated Joe Mazzulo and I just wanted to confirm that with you, if that’s at all possible. So sorry to bother you at home.”
“Yeah,” she barked.
I could have then tried to engage the woman in a two-hour conversation about showbiz, but she really didn’t sound like she wanted to talk much.
Besides, I had gotten what I needed — not to mention a memorably weird encounter with someone I love.