Saturday, April 14, 2007

Celebrity Snippets: Marilu Henner

Once a week long-time radio producer and author Rick Kaempfer shares his favorite brushes with greatness in a feature he calls “Celebrity Snippets.”

Marilu Henner celebrated a birthday last week. The multi-talented actress is probably best known for playing the role of Elaine in the hit television series "Taxi" from 1978-1983.

One of our all-time favorite guests on the John Landecker show was Marilu Henner.

Over the ten years the John Landecker show aired on WJMK, Marilu was probably on a dozen times. She was always entertaining, friendly, and personable…in short, a dream radio guest.

Marilu is a Chicago girl, born and bred, and has never taken on the airs of Hollywood. Her Chicago roots still run deep, and we found out just how deep that first morning.

“This is my niece,” Marilu said, introducing her to John. “She used to baby sit for you when your daughters were kids.”

“You paid me in record albums,” her niece replied. “I thought that was so cool.”

With that immediate connection established, Marilu had guaranteed smooth sailing for any and all interviews on our show.

Some of those interviews were truly memorable, too. I tell a story in the Radio Producer’s Handbook about one of those times.

The first thing John said to her on the air was: “We’ll be right back after these commercial announcements. Marilu and I are going down to Michigan Avenue in a taxi and we’ll be conducting the interview from there.” Marilu was completely thrown off, but went with the concept. She still got to plug the book she was promoting, but she also talked to a taxi driver about her show Taxi and had a wonderful time doing an interview that was completely different from the ten other interviews she had to do that day.

The taxi bit was so memorable we actually released it on our final CD: Landecker & the Legends, 20th Century Hits & Bits. The taxi driver was from Nigeria and had never heard of the show, so we gave him a Taxi multiple choice test. We played a clip from the show, and he had to guess the next line of dialogue among three possible choices. Marilu was not only a great sport about it, she really seemed to have a great time.

After that interview, she gave us her cell-phone number and told us we could call anytime. I only took her up on that one time—on John’s 50th birthday. She was pumping gas in LA when I reached her. I told her it was John’s birthday, and without prompting, she sang Happy Birthday To You ala Marilyn Monroe. The visual of her doing this sultry song in front of the other customers at the gas station was something that still sticks in my head all these years later (John turned 60 this year).

I have memories of one other Marilu interview, too, but only because it was so personally embarrassing. One year when Marilu came into town, John thought it would be funny to see if she did any nude scenes, and if so, to play the audio on the air and see if she could identify the scene.

This was in the days before celebrity nudity internet sites or YouTube or Google. I had to go to the video store and rent all the R-rated movies she appeared in to see if there were any nude scenes. On my last choice, The Man Who Loved Women, I found her only nude scene. She was topless in a scene with Burt Reynolds for about five seconds. I dubbed off the audio and brought the clip into the show so John could play it on the air.

However, I hadn’t considered that I would also be sitting right across from her when this audio clip was played. It took her only a split second to figure out what was going on, and she looked right at me.

“So, which one of you sickos watched that videotape to get this clip?” she asked. I’m told that she had a smile on her face, but I can’t confirm that because there was no way I could look her in the eye. She guessed correctly anyway. “It was Rick, wasn’t it?”

“He insisted,” John replied helpfully. “He said he had to watch it a dozen times just to make sure he got it right.”

Marilu thought that was funny, and I laughed too, but I must admit…that was an awkward moment.

(Marilu was so nice she even did an endorsement for my advertising agency: Marilu for A.M.I.S.H. Chicago Advertising)

For hundreds of additional celebrity and radio stories, check out my book "The Radio Producer's Handbook," which is still available at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

If you missed any of the previous Celebrity Snippets, click here:

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Suburban Man: Man vs. Squirrel

By Rick Kaempfer

Editor's note: This spring's early warm weather, followed by unseasonably cold weather, killed my tulips. I never thought I would fondly recall last year's battle with the fluffy-tailed rat...but alas, I do. Hence, the encore presentation.

Last fall I went to the florist with my three year old son Sean. I’ve always wanted some tulips in my flower garden, so I let Sean pick out a half-dozen colors, and we went to the register to pay.

“Be careful with these,” the woman at the register said.


“Squirrels love them,” she said. “You can’t even leave the slightest tulip bulb residue in your garden because they’ll dig up the whole garden until they find the bulbs.”

I eyed her suspiciously. It sounded a bit extreme. “What do you mean by tulip bulb residue?” I asked.

A tulip bulb looks a little bit like an onion, complete with a paper-like peeling. She pulled off a tiny piece of the peeling, and crumbled it into even tinier pieces, then held out a microscopic piece of that crumble at the end of her finger.

“C’mon!” I said.

“I’m serious,” she said.

That advice just sounded so ridiculous, I didn’t give it a second thought. Sean and I went home, and after giving great thought to the color scheme, we inserted the bulbs into freshly dug holes and covered them with dirt. We went inside and sat by the front window trying to imagine how great those tulips were going to look. I couldn’t wait until spring. It would be a moment that Sean and I could enjoy together, a beautiful merging of nature and nurture, two men and their flower garden; a Norman Rockwell painting.

My bliss was disturbed only moments later by a little rat with a cute fluffy tail. Disregarding my feelings entirely, he hopped right into the garden and started digging. I pounded on the window. He didn’t scare easily, but I finally got him away. When Fluffy was safely gone, I went outside to see what had attracted him to the garden in the first place. Sure enough, just like the florist had warned me, a tiny tulip bulb peeling rested at the edge of the garden like a flashing neon welcome sign.

I had to get to Fluffy before he put the word out. All witnesses had to be eliminated. I saw him in the nearby bush and charged at him like a wild boar. I was screaming at the top of my lungs like a Yoko Ono record, trying to be so menacing and intimidating that he would let squirrels know far and wide that this garden was strictly off-limits. Only a crazed fool would dare try to eat one of those delectable bulbs. Not with Yoko the charging boar ready to attack at any given moment.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite pull it off. Fluffy just stared at me for a few moments before calmly running about ten feet away. I didn’t stop charging until he ran another twenty feet or so. He wasn’t scared of me (or Yoko) in the slightest. He ran onto my neighbor’s driveway and held his ground.

I realized that this technique wouldn’t suffice. I had to take further action. If I couldn’t kill the squirrel or scare it away, I had to make my yard so unpleasant that he wouldn’t come back. I researched on the internet about the best ways to do this, and the first suggestion sounded like genius to me. Squirrels mark their territory like many other animals. If they smell of another, they will stay away. I could do that. I could produce markings. I did it successfully in the backyard to keep the skunks away a few years earlier.

But this time marking my territory was a little more difficult. Did I mention this garden is in my front yard? The direct approach was out of the question. (I didn’t feel like going to jail.) So I re-created a typical doctor’s office visit and “produced” a sample into a plastic cup. I then went outside and nonchalantly spread the sample around the garden.

About ten minutes later the squirrel returned. This time, instead of hopping right into the garden, he walked back and forth a few times. He seemed genuinely repulsed. Sean and I were elated and started celebrating, but Fluffy killed the self congratulatory celebration mid-high-five when he hopped right back into the garden and starting digging again. I had to run outside and do the wild boar-Yoko routine until he ran away, but I knew I was just buying myself a few minutes.

Now down one perfectly good plastic cup, I went back on the internet. The same website gave me another idea. It said to sprinkle red cayenne pepper all over the bulbs. The squirrels will still dig them up, but they won’t eat them. It was worth a try. Sean really enjoyed the digging up process, and I even let him sprinkle the red pepper on the bulbs. We went back to our station at the front window and watched. It only took a few minutes for the relentless Fluffy to return to his prey. This time Sean and I let him dig. Fluffy got the bulb out of the ground and started carrying it away to his lair, when he suddenly dropped it on the sidewalk in front of my house, and ran away. Apparently the undamaged bulb was not to his liking.

For the next few days, we went through the same process. Squirrel digs up bulb, squirrel drops bulb, Rick and Sean re-bury bulb. One morning there were a dozen bulbs on the driveway. But we never faltered, never gave up. Each time we calmly reburied the pepper-laced tulip bulbs. We knew we could outlast him. We were more resilient than Fluffy. Our life expectancy was more than 20 times his life expectancy. We were bigger, stronger, and smarter. He was just a squirrel and we have opposable thumbs. He was no match for us.

But here’s the thing about tulips. Your gratification is delayed for months. It wasn’t until last week when I saw the green sprouts emerge from the ground that I realized we had officially won the battle.

“Victory!” I screamed. I looked around for the sneezing squirrel. “Take that Fluffy! In your little face!”

Next time I’ll listen to the florist.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: