SPRINGFIELD – Fifteen minutes can either seem like an eternity or an instant when a reporter is interviewing someone and in the last 40 years, G. Michael Dobbs has experienced both.|
A book release event will take place on Aug. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bing Arts Center, 716 Sumner Ave., to celebrate the release of Dobbs’ book “Fifteen Minutes With … 40 Years of Interviews.” Copies of the book will be available for sale at the cover price of $25. The author will be on hand for questions and autographs.
The 318-page book is chock full of transcripts from celebrities such as Vincent Price, Lillian Gish, George Romero, “Weird” Al Yankovic, Leonard Nimoy, Anne Rice, Bill Cosby, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers and many, many more. The title stems from the reality that at best, 15 minutes is the amount of time a journalist has to interview a celebrity subject. Many times, the time is shortened to 10 minutes.
“In many ways, I describe this as my epitaph,” Dobbs said. “But, I don’t mean that in a depressing or fatalistic way. This is my life’s work. I’ve been extremely lucky.”
Dobbs motivation for writing the book was the realization that he had “a whole lot of material” that he thought people would find interesting.
Dobbs, now 60, conducted his first interview was with Buster Crabbe for his fanzine “Inertron,” while he was still in high school.
Dobbs described the experience. “I was extremely nervous. I was talking to Flash Gordon for goodness sakes. I was talking to the guy I watched as a kid. I have no memory of how I contacted Buster Crabbe. I know I wrote him a letter. I have no idea how in the pre-Internet age I got his address, other than I knew he lived in Rye, N.Y., where he was primarily employed as a stockbroker at that point. He was gracious enough to let a kid that was green as grass talk to him,” he said.
When asked to list his top three most enjoyable interviews, Dobbs named Vincent Price, Lillian Gish and Clayton Moore.
His most difficult interview was with comedian Tommy Davidson, who Dobbs described as “very nice,” but who gave “yes” or “no” answers, which is essentially the “kiss of death” for a journalist because there is not material to elaborate on for a story.
He added that many times he has spoken with a celebrity for more than the allotted time frame that comes about because it “usually is a happy accident.”
His interview with Cosby was one example. The public relations person told Dobbs “He [Cosby] will let you know when he’s done” when Dobbs asked how much time he had to speak with the well-known comedian. The conversation lasted nearly 40 minutes.
“It’s really up to the person [you’re interviewing],” Dobbs commented.
“It’s the most satisfying thing in the world to discover your adoration of that person is justified,” Dobbs said. He spent “at least a half hour” speaking to Price with a handful of other journalists. Dobbs described Price as “open, candid and down to earth.”
Dobbs explained, “Price was just talking to us [Dobbs and fellow writer Stanley Wiater] – not as Vincent Price to two young guys that grew up watching him – he was just talking to us. And he was talking to us, ironically, about the nature of fame and the fact that there had recently been a book published about his career and the writer had never approached him.”
Dobbs said, “He [Price] said you get to a certain point in your life, in your career, where they can print anything about you and he just sort of accepted that. I thought that was a great candid admission about the nature of fame. I thought it was really sort of cool that Price was saying ‘You know, I’m a working class guy, this is what I do for a living and I have to acknowledge that there are certain conditions. And, one is people writing stuff about me that may or may not necessarily be true.’”
According to Dobbs, there are two ways to become a celebrity in this modern era. One is to accomplish a work that becomes admired and the other is to achieve fame through “the manipulation of the media.”
“There’s no one in the book who has achieved their fame through notoriety. They’ve achieved their fame through doing something people like,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs offered some insight to budding journalists. “Building a rapport is very tough in 10 to 15 minutes,” he said. There are little tricks to break the ice such as sharing your knowledge of the person’s career or confessing a childhood crush as Dobbs did when he interviewed Maureen O’Hara.
“If interested in interviewing someone, ask. Never be intimidated by someone’s fame. The worst they could say is ‘no.’ Always make sure to check the time frame that you have. Understand that interviewing is about listening and preparation. Bring a rough outline of what questions you want to ask, but be prepared to go off-topic,” he said.
“I go by the premise that an interview needs to be prepared for. The Larry King school of interviewing involves no preparation. That’s not a style I’m comfortable with. I’m much more old school. These are 10 to 15 minute conversations. You don’t have the luxury of wasting someone’s time,” Dobbs said.
What’s next for Dobbs? “I have several projects in the works,” he said, adding that his next book is titled, “Made of Pen and Ink: The Cartoons of the Fleischer Studio.”
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