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Most of the celebrity interviews granted to journalists — at least, journalists for newspapers at second and third tier newspapers — are conducted by phone. They're easier to arrange because the celebrity doesn't have to worry about his or her appearance and often can make the calls from home.

Phone interviews can be more interesting than those conducted face-to-face. I'm not talking conference calls; they are a royal pain in the ass. But going one-on-one over the phone can have a therapeutic effect, like going to confession. The drawback to phone interviews, obviously, is you can feel like you're listening to a disembodied voice. Only one of you has a clue what the other person looks like, but you still can't tell if that person is answering your questions with a straight face.

Well, that's how it was years ago. Today it's possible to be face to face via computer even though the two people talking are thousands of miles apart. At least in my day we didn't have cell phones. Our conversations came in loud and clear, without a three-second delay.

Turns out — in my case, at least — that phone interviews were more forgettable than those in which I actually sat down with the person I was interviewing. When I looked at the clippings I saved — and those saved for me by the Akron Beacon Journal and Providence Journal — I was surprised by the number of interviews that had wound up in the basement of my memory.

That is not the case with the following ten interviews. I remember them well, for various reasons. Three were among my worst interview experiences, and in each case the fault was mine (though two of the actors could have cut me a little slack).

Pat Finley: I think I'm in love
My favorite phone interview is one that could be dismissed as a figment of my imagination — except why would I make it up? Still, I have no proof it ever took place. I remember it happening while I worked in Akron, but a check of this person's credits indicates it had to have happened later, in Providence. The actor in question likely will ring few bells with anyone, especially those under the age of 60.

Her name is Pat Finley (or Patte Finley on her early TV credits). She simply was the most engaging and interesting celebrity I ever interviewed, though I can't back this up with any quotes because the clipping for the resulting story has disappeared. But obviously she made quite an impression on me. Other entertainers, no matter how pleasant and outwardly friendly, all seemed to be living on another planet. Finley was refreshingly real. Had we both been single and not living 3,000 miles apart, I would have asked her out. I can't say that about anyone else I ever talked to in connection with a TV show or movie.

The interview with Finley must have been set up in the middle 1970s in connection with her recurring role as Ellen Hartley, sister of psychiatrist Bob Hartley on "The Bob Newhart Show." Earlier she had made two memorable appearances on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," in 1970 as a character named Sparkle, and a year later as Mary's wannabe buddy, the annoyingly effervescent Twinks McFarland.

It was about this time Finley was given her own series, the short-lived "From a Bird's Eye View," in which she and Millicent Martin starred as stewardesses on an international airline. (Yes, the same Millicent Martin who many years later would play overbearing Gertrude Moon, mother of Jane Leeves' Daphne on "Frasier.")

Later Finley had a recurring role on "The Rockford Files" as Peggy Becker, wife of police lieutenant, Dennis Becker (Joe Santos). She reprised that role in a 1996 TV movie.

Aside from recalling Pat Finley as a warm, wonderful person I'd like to have known better, the only specific thing I remember her telling me is that the first name of the character she played in her 1970 guest appearance on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was the same as her real-life younger sister. That's right, she has a sister named Sparkle Finley.

Their father was Robert C. Finley, who, like his daughter, Pat, was born in North Carolina. However, after a brief career as a band leader, Robert C. Finley turned to law, eventually moved to Washington where he became a justice on the state Supreme Court. Which is why it's somewhat fitting that among Pat Finley's credits are three appearances as a judge in Perry Mason TV movies.

Not surprisingly, I recently received an email from Pat Finley, who retired several years ago after leaving Hollywood to do a talk show in Seattle. She splits her time between France and Palm Desert.

"I went to an audition one day at Universal for a pilot with Ted Something who had done the series with Marlo Thomas. It had a monkey in it. I read the script in the casting director’s office and decided I just could not do monkeys after 10 years of learning the craft on stage."

The "Ted" in question was Ted Bessell who co-starred on "That Girl" with Marlo Thomas, then did "Me and the Chimp," which was canceled after 13 episodes in 1972.

Pat Finley didn't leave the casting director's office, pack up and fly back to Washington, however. Most of the work I remember her for came after 1972, and she continued to act occasionally until 2006. But I got a kick out of her anecdote about working with monkeys. That can be demeaning — and dangerous.

 
Julie Sommars: Curious about my looks

In 1966 Julie Sommars seemed headed for a career on the big screen. She was in her early 20s, starring opposite Brian Bedford and James Farentino in the movie comedy, "The Pad and How to Use It." But while she was beautiful and had a real flair for comedy, Sommars didn't make another theatrical film until 1977 when she starred as a race car driver in Disney's "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo."

In between she kept busy on television, including starring as Jennifer Jo Drinkwater in the sitcom "The Governor & J.J." (1969-70), with Dan Dailey playing her father. It was in connection with that program that she called me at the Providence Journal.

"This is the first time I've ever done phone interviews," she said, "and I feel sort of uneasy about it. For one thing, I'd like to know what you look like."

"I'm a dead ringer for James Farentino," I lied. Well, it wasn't a complete lie, at least not to a co-worker who had noted such a resemblance a few weeks earlier. It was the first and last time anyone ever made such a comparison.

"Then you must be very good looking," she said. "I made a movie with Jim, and he's a very attractive, very nice guy."

Thus we touched upon a big advantage phone interviews. If I were still doing them, I'd claim to be Jon Hamm's long-lost twin.

She told me she turned to television because "The Pad" hadn't created any buzz. "I had only one offer as a result of it — and that was to do a play in London."

She told me that in person she didn't look at all the way she does on screen. For one thing, she said she was virtually blind without glasses. It seemed likely that if we ever bumped into each other on the street we'd wouldn't recognize each other. I'd be looking for Jennifer Jo Drinkwater, and she'd be looking for James Farentino.

Her television series lasted 39 episodes, but she kept working. In addition to the "Herbie" movie, she is best remembered for her role as Assistant District Attorney Julie March on Andy Griffith's hit series, "Matlock." Sommars was featured in 94 episodes.

I also noted in her resume that she had guest roles in two episodes of "The Fugitive," with David Janssen, also also did one episode of the spoof, "Run, Buddy, Run," which quickly bombed. It starred musician-turned-actor Jack Sheldon.

For me, Sommars' most memorable (and chilling) performance was in "The Winds of Death," a chapter of TV's wonderful maxi-film, "Centennial." Sommars played Alice Grebe, who broke down during the unending dust storm that swept through Colorado, killed one of her sons, and destroyed the family farm. She attacks her other children with a large knife before her husband returns and kills her, then commits suicide. It was a character unlike any she had played before, but one she had always wanted to play. Our interview took place almost 10 years earlier, and she told me then she had wanted to be the next Geraldine Page. "Centennial" finally gave her the opportunity.

Sommars was single when she did "The Governor and J.J.," having been married and divorce twice. She married again in 1971 to Stuart Erwin Jr. They had three children before divorcing in 1976. In 1984 she married again, to Jack Karns, and apparently they are still together. Sommars is 70 or 72 years old, depending on which biography you read.

 
Continued
 

 

Also . . .
Don Adams Patty Duke Ricardo Montalban
Herb Alpert Richard Egan George Montgomery
Dana Andrews Jack Elam Joanna Moore
John Astin Linda Evans Mary Tyler Moore
Frankie Avalon Pat Finley Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Barbara Barrie Eric Fleming Hugh O'Brian
Bill Bixby Peter Fonda Pat O'Brien
George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
Leslie Charleson Beverly Garland Carl Reiner
Petula Clark Jackie Gleason Barbara Rush
Dabney Coleman Merv Griffin Robert Ryan
Robert Conrad Mark Harman Henry Silva
Bill Cosby Patricia Harty Julie Sommars
Joseph Cotten Marty Ingels Barbra Streisand
Bob Crane Jack Jones The Three Stooges
Richard Crenna Jack Kelly The Supremes
Ken Curtis Dave Ketchum Dick Van Dyke
Bill Dana Sue Ane Langdon Jerry Van Dyke
Bobby Darin Sheldon Leonard Robert Vaughn
Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
  Martin Milner Henry Winkler
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