A little over a month ago, Joni and I went with Bette and Steve to The Book Passage in Corte Madera to see Regis Philbin. I wasn't that anxious to go. I didn't watch any of his talk shows, although I did see him on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. And I'm certainly old enough to remember when he was the right-hand man for Joey Bishop's late-night talk show, from 1969-1971. But other than that, I had no real connection to Regis. Bette and Steve suggested we go so we said sure. This turned out to present a couple of big surprises for me.
The format of this author event was a little different than most. Normally, the author takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes to give a little background information, read from his/her book, and answer questions. After they are done with all of that, then they sign their books. I saw quite a few big-name authors this past year: John Lescroart, Robert Crais, Jodi Picoult, Harlan Coben, Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone), Erik Larson (Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Alex Kava, and George Martin (Game of Thrones). They all have mostly the same routine. Regis's was different. 15 minutes before he was scheduled to sign books, he came out to warm up the audience." He took a few questions and told a few stories. He's a very funny guy, but at 80 years of age, and on a national book tour, I would guess that his PR people didn't want him doing a 60-minute routine followed by another 60 minutes of book signing. I get that (by the way, he looks fantastic).
The fact that he's very charming and funny in person was surprise #1. Surprise #2 came when I read the book. Many of you may know by now (assuming you even care) that I'm not a big biography/ autobiography/memoir guy. But because I went to see Regis, I decided to read his book. I was hoping for a few good anecdotes among, what I assumed would be, a lot of boring stories. Boy was I wrong. It was really entertaining and well-written. It definitely has his "voice," and seems to have been written by him. What he wrote was 30 chapters on different people who influenced his career. Most of them I had heard of - Bing Crosby, Steve Allen, Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Cary Grant, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, among many others. Some were behind-the-scenes people that I didn't know. For those of us who are baby boomers (you all know who you are), it was truly fun to read about celebrities that we grew up seeing and hearing about.
There's one story that's worth repeating now. When Regis was Joey Bishop's second fiddle, over 40 years ago, one of his things was to go into the audience before a show and engage one or two of them in conversation. On one occasion, he approached a young man in his late teens and basically asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. The young man was tongue-tied. He simply couldn't speak. Finally, Regis told him to think about it, and he moved on to somebody else. 40 years later, he was at a function, and the publicist for the event told Regis that she wanted him to meet someone. He went over to a very well-known man and got introduced. The man said to Regis that he was the kid from 40 years ago that couldn't think of anything to say to Regis, and that he always regretted that incident. The man's name? Steven Spielberg. Cool, huh?
Obviously, I can't personally relate to any of the people in Regis's book - except for one. Many years ago, Joni and I went to Tahoe (that's Lake Tahoe, for you out-of-towners) with Diane and Steve. We thought it would be a kick to go see Don Rickles. Then we had the bright idea of palming a $20 bill to the maitre d' to get up-front seats (this was a common practice back in the day - now, they'd probably arrest you for bribery). He put us right at the edge of the stage, about 3 rows from the center. Needless to say, we were all a little bit scared. We ended up getting through the night okay, except for 2 comments he made to me. The first comment was: "While you're laughing, your business partner is stealing you blind back home." The second comment, which I can't quote in a family blog, questioned my masculinity because I had a couple of pens sticking out of my shirt pocket. I mean, come on, it was football season!
The postscript to this story is that the 4 of us decided to go see him again a couple of years later. We sat in the very last row in the theater. Joni and Diane would have throttled us if we tried to sit up front. As it was, they were nervous just being in the same theater as Don Rickles.
For anybody in their fabulous middle years, I highly recommend Regis's book, How I Got This Way. It's an entertaining read.