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.