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A totally wasted life without selfies

Jeff Simon

"What? No Madonna? No Redford? Not even Leslie Fiedler? His wife was a family friend for pity's sake, which means he came to one of your daughter's birthday parties. You didn't even take a picture with him then?"

Well, no. I didn't. It's worse than that. My first interview with Fiedler was a long one – about 90 minutes in his home on Morris Avenue, all of which was brilliantly photographed by a veteran News photographer. Photos of the two of us yammering were no doubt abundant.

Unfortunately, that photographer is long dead and was neither sentimental nor historically inclined. The photos – splendid though they might have been – are all gone with the wind.

Obviously, I've been doing my job all wrong for 50-plus years.

I've interviewed just about everybody, it seems to me, whether one-on-one (as journalists call it) or at small tables with a few other journalists. I have been at news conferences with major figures so imposing journalists afterward crowded around to get, yes, autographs or pictures taken of themselves next to the Famous One.

There I was at the time walking out the door with nothing of the sort. Nothing, I tell you, except for exhaustive notes and an audio tape to be laboriously transcribed later, which would then turn into a piece of journalism of varying length in The Buffalo News. (The Robert Redford interview I did in his trailer after "The Natural" wrapped Buffalo shooting in 1983 remains one of the longest published by The News.)

All those years I thought that was my job. It turns out I should have been introducing myself afterward (if necessary) for a selfie in famous company – "Hello, how do you do, I'm Jeff Simon of The Buffalo News. Will you take a picture with me?"

But no, there I was being occupationally pure for 50-plus years. So there are almost no pictures to show for a life talking to the famous and celebrated. Not even alone in a hotel suite with Madonna for 20 minutes while she sat on a couch/throne elevated 6 inches above a succession of peon supplicants.

Who else? Well, here is a short list off the top of my head of people I've fired questions at in rooms large and small: Redford, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Robin Williams, Steven Spielberg, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bernardo Bertolucci, Anthony Burgess, William H. Gass, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Lejaren Hiller, Michael Tilson Thomas, Paul Newman, Joe Namath, Paul McCartney, Dionne Warwick, Don Rickles, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Albert Brooks, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Altman, Annie Ross, Lauren Bacall, Blaze Starr, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Dwight Macdonald, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte and on and on.

We're not even talking about long phone conversations I've had with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Keith Jarrett, Billy Gibbons, Tony Williams, Milton Berle, Alan King, Mel Blanc, Chuck Jones, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck and on and on.

No selfies with them. No photos. Not a one.

In this age of insanely authorized people screaming "fake news" at journalistic "lifers" right and left, all I'd have in a court of law to show for all those quotes in newspaper pieces is my right hand on a Bible and my sworn pledge they're all punctiliously accurate to what was said.

Getting answers to questions was, so help me, what I thought I was doing – not building up a gallery of selfies with the great, the near great, the not-so-great and the downright miserable but still widely known.

I have nothing to show for it. It's ridiculous, I tell you.

An old friend of mine has been regaling me recently on Facebook with a long succession of closeup selfies with undeniably great figures. George Harrison was the latest.

Great, but what do I have to show – besides a long newspaper piece – for 45 minutes sitting next to Paul McCartney in a New York hotel suite while journalists asked him about his life, music and his failed movie "Give My Regards to Broad Street." (He was particularly frank and touching about his life with his late wife, Linda.)

Nothing.

So what ones do I have, you might ask?

Exactly two, as far as I know.

One is with Cheektowaga's delightful William Fichtner, who is featured now with Allison Janney on the CBS Sitcom "Mom" and was the director/actor of the locally filmed movie "Cold Brook." I interviewed him publicly for an hour. Mayor Byron Brown was there. So were Don Postles and Rich Newberg. They're witnesses. I don't know about anyone else, but I had fun.

Who else do I have a picture with? Well, Nick Park, the brilliant British creator of the Wallace and Gromit cartoons, who found photographing interviewers a merry pastime on his American visit to publicize his movie "Chicken Run."

His attitude through it all was the great American custom of the publicity interview was as exotic as a South Sea tribal dance so that he wanted proof of all those interlocutors to take home with him to show friends. It was his merry guess he'd want them more than they'd want one of themselves.

He seemed to have an entirely fresh understanding of it all.

When the time comes, no doubt, he'll have some collection to reflect upon.

Of who and what I couldn't tell you. Only he knows.

This much I know – I'll be in it.

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