Heaven, a TV commercial would have us believe, is a limitless white cloud bank on which we are all to recline, clad in spotless nightshirts, extolling cream cheese, presumably forever.

No thanks.

I have my own idea of heaven: it will be a place where things that went wrong the first time around can be made right, over and over again. A sort of eternal second chance.

If that turns out to be the case, I know what I’m going to be doing a lot of up there: interviewing people, some of them famous. Only this time I’ll get it right.

I won’t let Marlene Dietrich savage me as she did in a Montreal hotel that afternoon in 1967, and I’ll ask John Ford a question that has nothing to do with John Wayne. (What was it about film folk and me? I fumbled an interview with John Cassavetes, too, but the actor-director helped me recover.)

I’ll come prepared. I’ll approach Gregory Peck with a bottle of beer in my outstretched hand because that’s what he asked for the first and only time I met him. I couldn’t oblige him then because they didn’t serve anything even vaguely alcoholic anywhere in Winnipeg’s airport in the nineteen-fifties – even to a Hollywood legend in the making.

I’ll have a different offering for Donald O’Connor: a modern-day cell phone. I caught up with the actor and dancer at the same airport only a year or so after Peck. As I was packing up my interviewing gear, he asked for a favor: would I help him to get a message to a lady friend in Hollywood? O’Connor had a telegram in mind, but think of the impression I would have made whipping out a working telephone from an inside pocket!

My only interview with René Levèsque here on earth centered on – what else? – Quebec politics. Given a second chance at him, I’d take a different tack: I’d approach the controversial politician in silence, holding out to him what most people would take for an ugly green breadbox. Levèsque would know better; he was once photographed carrying the contraption on his head to ford a stream in Korea.

René Levèsque was a broadcaster long before he was a politician, and it’s curiously comforting to surmise that he struggled with that balky green tape recorder just as I did. The very sight of it will break the ice between us and make for a flood of vignettes from his days as a war correspondent in Korea and wartime Europe, which will segué effortlessly into his account of how a bitter strike transformed him from Quebec’s Walter Cronkite into a would-be Simon Bolivar.

I don’t think I’ll remind any of these people that I had interviewed them before. In my heaven, the slate – make that the tape – will be wiped clean, ready for a more successful try.

There were people I met during my nearly forty years in the game I never attempted to interview, often out of pure awe. The first to come to mind is Gabrielle Roy, the enduring author and my teacher in Grade One! Another untouchable would be the jazz violinist Joe Venuti who punctuated our brief conversation in a Toronto nightclub by turning to my host for the evening with the question: “Is he for real?”

And who could forget the drunk who came weaving out of the indifferent crowd gathered at a meeting hall in Arvida, Quebec, to ask me: “Are you that asshole on the radio?”

That Asshole On The Radio: it was my first choice as a title for this book. My second choice was what Marlene Deitrich sent my way across a capacity crowd ten years earlier: “I Am Not That Oldt!”  God rest her soul! She was just as concise as the Arvida drunk and infinitely more effective: it brought the house down and should have done wonders for my recurring attacks of foot-in-mouth disease. I wish.

But then I settled on something more descriptive, as you will see above.


6 Responses to “Foreword:”

  1. Alec Bollini Says:

    I’ve only read the intro (to use radio talk) but man, I can’t wait to read the rest. Good stuff Pat…

  2. Patrick McDougall Says:

    thanks, Alec . . .

  3. Anand (aah-nund not uh-naand) Says:

    As someone who has read your other works but only a part of the memoires… way to go! Pat.

  4. Margaret Piton Says:

    As a fellow journalist I know all about awkward interviews, and look forward to reading about someone else’s blunders.
    Margaret Piton

  5. David Gutnick Says:

    Pat, this is lovely. Say would love to hear from you.

  6. David Gutnick Says:

    Pat here is my email:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: