Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview Bloopers and Strange Settings

by Jean Henry Mead

I've interviewed hundreds of people as a journalist and, if awards were given for bloopers, I’m sure I would win a trophy.

Most of my bloopers were the result of malfunctining tape recorders. While interviewing sportscaster Curt Gowdy during a bank reception one evening, the batteries fell from my recorder and rolled under a massive desk. They were unretrievable and I had no spares, so I returned the following day to conduct the interview in the middle of a busy lobby. Talk about distractions!

Equally distracting was my Gerry Spence interview in the lobby of the Ramada Inn where he had previously delivered a lawyer’s convention speech. His western boots rested on a coffee table while he held court as I was trying to interview him. His wife sat knitting nearby while a number of people stopped to exchange pleasantries. Spence bought the three of us Cokes and I was forced to reach over his legs to get at mine, without spilling a drop on his new Lucchese boots. (Of course, I did.)

He must have liked what I wrote because I was given permission the following year to interview his client, Ed Cantrell. The Wyoming safety director had killed one of his undercover agents by shooting him between the eyes in the backseat of his patrol car. The four-hour interview was conducted in Cantrell’s garage with his family present. So I had the honor of conducting the only interview with him before the trial, for which I took a lot of flak. Although he was later acquitted, most people considered Cantrell a murderer. His law enforcement career was ruined as well as his reputation, but I still believe he thought he was shooting in self defense.

Another tape recording blooper happened in 1987 when I flew to Los Angeles for an interview with Louis L’Amour. My equipment was stolen at the airport and I grabbed a recorder at Wal-Mart on the way to his home in Bel Air. I was unaware it was voice activated and much of the interview was garbled. Fortunately, L’Amour agreed to answer my questions by mail when I discovered what had happened. His interview is among my favorites and is featured @ Jean Henry Mead's Web Page

My first book was a collection of interviews with Wyoming’s V.I.P.s, including Dick Cheney, then a congressman. Traveling the state alone, I reached Jackson at night during a mortician’s convention, and those people know how to party. All night long! Next morning I reached Yellowstone Park in the middle of tourist season, and followed a road stripper nearly the length of the park at 5-10 miles an hour. By the time I reached Cody, I was exhausted and subsequently pushed the wrong button on my tape recorder when I interviewed artist Conrad Schweiring. A visiting Texas artist, sitting in on the interview, remarked, “You don’t want to miss a single word this man has to say.” Once again, I had to return the following morning, for an even better interview.

I’m not sure whether it was the ‘luck of the Irish” or dumb beginner’s luck, but I managed to survive as a journalist. I’m now content to write mysteries and western historical novels, leaving celebrity interviews to the young journalists with much better recording skills.


Beth Terrell said...

Jean, one of my favorite books of all time is REILY'S LUCK by Louis L'Amour. I've read three copies of it to shreds.

I envy your having met that great man. I'd love to have been an invisible fairy at some of your interviews (not a fly on the wall--bleah).

Chester Campbell said...

Your reminiscences about interviewing various subjects was really interesting, Jean. Brought back memories of my own newspaper career in the late forties and fifties. I may do a blog on that. Things were quite different back then.