When I was just 18 years old, I got to interview the great Cloris Leachman. The story of how I got that interview, is one of my personal favorites.
It was 1993 and I was a TV reporter for the campus news program, at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. I saw a poster advertising a one-woman show, starring Ms. Leachman. As a fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Facts of Life, I was astonished that such a successful actress was coming to our little school, to do a live stage production. It was a play about the life of the artist known as Grandma Moses.
Having such a big star on campus, was a big deal. And I wanted to an interview with her.
But, at just 18 years of age, and with very little journalistic experience, I had no idea how to go about securing this interview.
So, I brainstormed. She'd have to be staying at a hotel, while in town, right? At the time (many years ago) there were really only 1 or 2 nice hotels in the city. So, I called them up. And, lucky me, the first one I tried was a success!
I asked; "could I speak to Cloris Leachman please". "I'm sorry", they said, "she hasn't checked in yet". Jackpot!
"Could I leave a message please?" "Sure", they said.
I left my name and my dorm room phone number and hoped she might call.
And wouldn't you know it…she did!
About 2 hours later, my roommate said: "Darren, there's some lady on the phone for you."
Could it be? An Academy Award winner is calling me, in my smelly dorm room?
I grabbed the phone. "Hello?", I said.
"Yeah, this is Leachman. Did you call me?" (I'll never forget her introducing herself by just her last name)
"Yes, Ms. Leachman, thank you for calling me back. I'm a student reporter and I'd love to interview you for our tv news program. Would that be possible?"
"Well, I'm heading right over the theater, so there's not really any time. But, if you want, you can come backstage with me while I get ready and we can talk then."
Wow! What an offer. Of course I jumped at the chance. I put on my best suit and ran over to the theater. I somehow even cajoled my roommate into acting as my camera man.
We made our way backstage and there she was. Oscar winner, 8 time Emmy winner, 22 time Emmy nominee (according to Wikipedia: making her the most nominated and, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, most awarded actress in Emmy history)…Cloris Leachman!
To Mary Tyler Moore Show fans, she was Phyllis. To Last Picture Show fans she was the "jaded wife". To Mel Brooks fans she was Frau Blücher (insert horse noise here). And here I was a dork, in a suit, hanging out with her in her dressing room.
She was wonderful! She talked with me, non-stop, for the next few hours. She told me stories, asked me questions and at one point demonstrated on my face how she did her own 'aging' makeup for the play. (see photo below)
At the end of the evening, as she was about to head on stage, she grabbed my face and kissed me right on the lips! It was one hell of a kiss! (see photo below)
She didn't owe me any of that. With the success she had had in Hollywood, she didn't owe anyone anything.
But it was a night I'll never forget. It was a gift.
Tonight I was heartbroken to read, Cloris passed away at the age of 94.
She was one of a kind. And most importantly…she was kind. And she was funny and brilliant and sexy and strong.
I'm so grateful our paths crossed. And I'm even more grateful for the movies and tv shows she left behind for all of us to enjoy.
Thanks for the memories, Leachman. May you rest in peace.
Cloris Doing My Makeup
Darren Garrett 1993
Cloris Kissing Me
Darren Garrett 1993