Bongo Bailey was perfect
for my first interview
Once upon a time, many years ago, I dated a young woman who surprised me with an unusually thoughtful gift — a scrapbook she had filled with clippings of stories I had written for the Akron Beacon Journal. This required extra effort because she lived in Columbus and subscribed to the Akron newspaper, which was mailed to her.
My stories appeared in the newspaper’s television supplement; most of them were based on my interviews with celebrities who had visited to Cleveland to appear on “The Mike Douglas Show” or phoned me from their home or from wherever they might have been working that week.
The first performer I interviewed — during the first week of January, 1962 — was a chimpanzee, Bongo Bailey, and his owner, Don Hunt, known as Bwana Don on his Detroit TV show. When given the assignment I thought my boss was joking. Much bigger celebrities awaited, though only a few would prove more intimidating. As I recall Bongo and I had a pleasant conversation, but the story I wrote may be lost forever.
ANYWAY, the girl and I broke up a few months later. She moved to California, but I stayed in Akron and kept accumulating clippings, though not in any neat and organized fashion. (I piled ‘em up on top of the scrapbook in a cardboard box.)
That box went with me from Akron to Pittsburgh, then to Rhode Island in 1969. Soon I had a second box, filled with newspaper pages and stories from the Providence Journal. Both boxes, plus a few more that contained family photos and other memorabilia, were put in the basement or the attic of our home in Cranston, RI. More likely, the basement AND the attic ... because while I’m terrible at organizing my things, I’m terrific at moving them from place to place. All the while I told myself that some day I’d go through all my stuff, probably after I retired.
Retirement arrived late in 2001. A few months later my wife and I moved to South Carolina so she could care for her widowed mother without flying back and forth. Like everyone who has ever moved after being in one house for more than 25 years, my wife and I – and our three children – discovered we had been saving a lot of stuff for no good reason. Even after discarding enough to fill a huge dumpster, and then some, we took approximately 152 boxes of various sizes to South Carolina, where about 20 of them remained unopened for at least four years.
THAT CHANGED after a visit from my wife’s dearest friend from high school. She and her husband asked about my newspaper experience. When I mentioned the interviews, I was very surprised to find them interested, perhaps because they were old enough to remember most of the people I had talked to. (Previously I had been asked about my job by several Bluffton neighbors in their 30s, or younger. When they asked who I had interviewed, most of the names elicited a blank look ... because there wasn't any Brad, Angelina or Leonardo.)
Since her friend had been interested, my wife made me promise to put copies of those interviews on a disk, my computer or my website ... any place that would be safer than those cardboard boxes.
When I finally opened those boxes, some of the clippings crumbled at my touch. Most are nearly 50 years old. At lot has happened since then. (Who would have guessed that Betty White would be more popular today than she was when I met her in 1963?)
GOING THROUGH these clippings has been a tune-up for my memory. I can’t help but wonder how much better the interviews (and my stories) could have been if we had had Google back then. Anyway, this explains why I’m name dropping on my website.
And thanks, Laurie Loverde, wherever you are.