Monday, July 27, 2020

Bob Crane Interviews Regis Philbin, LA Broadcaster Michael Jackson [March 3, 1965]

Can't listen on YouTube? Click below:

Note: Interview starts around the 51:00 mark.

On July 24, 2020, Regis Philbin passed away from cardiovascular disease in Greenwich, Connecticut. A legendary and much beloved talk show and game show host, his passing marks the loss of yet another Hollywood icon. I've always liked Regis Philbin, and I was saddened to learn he was no longer with us.

After hearing of Regis Philbin's passing, I recalled that in November 1969, Bob Crane had been a guest on his show, Philbin's People. I searched for the episode during the research phase of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography, and I was hoping that since some time had passed, I'd now find a copy. I didn't find the episode of Philbin's People, but I did find something else.

A rare aircheck of The Bob Crane Show from KNX, dated March 3, 1965, surfaced, and to my surprise and delight, I now had over an hour of radio gold I had not yet heard. As if by Fate, Bob Crane's guests that day were Regis Philbin and Los Angeles broadcaster Michael Jackson (not the "King of Pop"). The aircheck was found in an estate sale, and while I don't know the folks over at Brat Productions, I'm happily indebted to their skillful restoration and preservation of this recording, and its transference from reel-to-reel to digital.

Believe me when I tell you, I own many rare recordings of Bob Crane's radio shows, and I've been hunting for them for decades. For me to find one that I haven't heard is a challenge. That being said, locating this particular aircheck, where Regis Philbin is Bob's guest and that Regis passed away just days before, is a little bit remarkable. I'm curiously intrigued by the supernatural and believe strongly in the Afterlife. I couldn't help but grin as this aircheck fell so easily into my hands, when earlier searches never revealed it (note, it was posted on the Brat Productions website in May 2016). I won't question it. I'll simply enjoy it!

Any day that I find a long-lost aircheck from one of Bob Crane's radio shows is like Christmas day for me. In the very least, it is another example of Bob's innovative work in radio, for which he should be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. At best, maybe in those previously lost minutes, he'll tell me something that I didn't know before.

The sweetest part of this aircheck is where Bob talks about going to the movies with his then-four-year-old daughter Karen. Bob took Karen to see The Sound of Music, and when the lights came on at intermission, she believed the film was over! And that was it! They had to leave without seeing the rest of the film! Bob says how he needs to go back to see the second half so he knows how the film ends.

Bob also talks about hosting a a late-night celebrity interview show, and he notes it is not easy (Bob routinely guest-hosted The Tonight Show for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, and even turned down the offer to permanently host The Tonight Show following Paar's departure). Bob says, "I just read a review on the new late-night show on ABC that Shelley Berman was the host for the other night... The review in Variety today says, 'Forget it!' It says, 'Les Crane's show replacement had a mediocre start, and it went downhill from there.' I saw it. It's one of those things—a lot of comics, a lot of actors think that the Jack Paar-Johnny Carson routine is a simple one. They say, 'What do you do? You sit at a desk. What an easy way to make a buck.' And let them try it. And they all fall flat. That's a tough thing to do. As this reviewer says. Those late-night interview things all depend on who the guy is asking the questions. Otherwise you get nowhere."

This is poignant stuff. At the time, Bob was the only radio host to give live, unrehearsed celebrity interviews daily, which he did over KNX from 1958-1965. Bob Crane was very well versed in the topic of how to conduct a celebrity interview (or any interview, for that matter). His commentary here shows his respect for fellow interviewers, but this respect can be extended to our contemporary late-night talk show hosts (Stephen Colbert, you are my favorite!). It should also be noted that Bob had an incident while interviewing Shelley Berman on his KNX show, so I think there may have been a subtle revelry in his decision to include Variety's harsh critical review of Berman in his show.

Another item of interest with this aircheck is that in March 1965, Bob Crane was nearing the end of his radio career, even though he didn't know it at the time. In May 1965, he signed a new one-year contract with KNX, but by June 1965, he knew juggling two high-profile, full-time jobs was taking a toll on his health and well-being. As much as he loved radio, he decided to focus solely on Hogan's Heroes. He rolled the dice, gambled on the series, and he won.

In addition to filming Hogan's Heroes episodes for Season One throughout the spring of 1965, Bob stayed on as the morning drive host at KNX-CBS Radio. It was a grueling schedule—on the air from 6:00-10:00 a.m. every day, rushing to the set of Hogan's Heroes to rehearse or film, and then back to KNX to prepare for the next day's show. Bob usually got home around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., ate his dinner with a newspaper propped up against a milk bottle, and hardly saw his family at all. Then he'd get up at the crack of dawn the next day and do it all over again. I can hear some exhaustion in his voice in this aircheck, especially at the beginning.

Bob Crane's KNX interview with Regis Philbin and Michael Jackson begins around the 51:00 mark, and I'm thinking that there are pieces missing to it because Bob's celebrity interviews typically ran for about 30 to 45 minutes (starting at 9:15 and ending at 10:00 a.m.). But it's so much fun to hear what we've got—Bob and Regis bantering, talking about the industry and telling stories, along with Michael Jackson, whose deep British intonation complements their often-frenetic tones. Regis also talks about the possibility of going into acting. This is not surprising because he had been trying, at least for a couple of years. Earlier, in 1963, Bob Crane and Regis Philbin were vying for the same role—not as talk show hosts, but as actors. Bob had auditioned for and won the role of Dr. Dave Kelsey on The Donna Reed Show. A little known fact is Regis Philbin was the other contender. For details, I'll direct you to our book, Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. (Hey, I can't give it all away!) Regis and Bob also talk about the sudden cancelation of The Regis Philbin Show, which taped its last show on March 5, 1965 (just two days after this interview).

In all, this a beautiful interview, providing glimpses into the lives and careers of both Bob Crane and Regis Philbin, and I'm so glad to have found it. And that's my final answer.

Rest in peace, Regis Philbin.