• Elton and I were all smiles after the interview. Then my piece ran on CNN and his publicist went ballistic
• Matt Dillon and Art Garfunkel walked out in the middle of my interviews
• I really blew it with Courtney Love
So, who did I have trouble interviewing?
John Travolta, for one. The junket for the film, “Michael” was held in Chicago, I suppose because the story was about two Chicago newspapermen who investigate an angel who has turned up in Iowa. Travolta played the angel. Not during the interview.
The two-camera shoot was set up in a hotel suite. Behind the actor, the room made a dogleg to the right, where handlers and stylists sat and a spread of food was laid out. The cameras rolled, I started to ask my first question, and around the corner a fork hit a plate with a soft “clink.” Travolta blurted, “People! We’re doing an interview here!” I was taken aback because I had heard the noise and knew it wouldn’t be a problem. I wouldn’t be using the footage of me asking that first question. It was not to run as a full interview anyway, just sound bites in a taped package about the film.
We re-started, and this time, again while I was asking the first question, the cameraman behind me, focused on Travolta, did something on the body of his camera that created a slight “click.” Travolta really erupted this time, angrily asking the poor guy, “Are you kidding me?!”
Once again this was happening while I was doing the talking and it didn’t bother me at all. Imagine if Travolta had actually been answering a question when these abominations occurred! I decided I didn’t like him much. I didn’t like the film at all, and neither did the critics.
Two guys actually walked out in the middle of an interview with me.
Matt Dillon was promoting a film and the morning I was set to talk with him an Associated Press story came over the wires about a fit of temper he had the day before. A friend of mine, Dana Kennedy, was the AP reporter and during her interview, Dillon had grabbed her notebook and thrown it across the room. I don’t remember what it was that prompted him to do that, but I was certainly going to ask him about it. Waiting until the end of the interview, I asked him why he had that little tantrum the day before. He turned angry, saying “Do I seem comfortable to you?” He stood up and said, “Cut the fucking camera.” Took off the lavaliere mic and dropped it on the chair. He walked around behind his chair as I said, “Now you don’t seem comfortable.” “Yeah, now I’m not comfortable,” he said. “Because it’s like, I mean, I don’t want to get into it.”
Surprisingly, he calmed down quickly, sat back down and finished the interview. I let the incident play out in the taped piece that aired. So what was it all about? Beats me. But I’ve always suspected he had gone into that week of promotion with the intention of making some waves, and succeeded.
In 1991 Art Garfunkel came into our CNN studios at 34th and 8th to talk about an unusual project: the singer was walking across America, a few days at a time, over the course of a year or so. Walking a stretch, flying home, flying back out and picking up where he left off. The day before, the New York Times had run a story about how Art’s nose was out of joint because Paul Simon was holding another giant concert in Central Park and didn’t invite him. So, once again waiting until the end of the interview, I asked him about the snub. He got angry and said he didn’t want to talk about that. I said, “Wait — you talked about it with the Times; it’s in today’s paper. Won’t you talk about it with CNN?” He took his mic off and stepped down from the platform our chairs were on. In the dark beyond the studio lights, my executive producer, Scott Leon, had been standing, watching. He tried to calm Garfunkel down. In the control room, the techs swiveled the cameras to record the negotiation in the shadows among Art, Scott and me. I think it was a highlight of that year’s Christmas party blooper reel.
The one time I didn’t wait until the end of an interview to ask the dicey question I paid for it dearly. Courtney Love was being honored at some event, a fashion awards show of some kind, at Madison Square Garden. The night went long, we waited in a tent city outside with our CNN camera crew. We had to get our two minutes with Love, the woman of the hour. As we waited, I was putting together my piece in my head. I wanted to make the point that just a few years earlier, when we interviewed her backstage at an MTV Video Awards show she had been a hot mess.
She had subsequently gone through rehab and kick-started her career in film and music. I wanted to get that on tape: me saying, you were in bad shape then – look at how far you’ve come. I meant for it to be positive and congratulatory. I also wanted to get it done and go home, and so did the tired crew.
But when she sat down and I started saying my little piece, I noticed a flurry of action off to the side. Love’s PR person was motioning for her to get out of the chair and get out of the tent. She bolted. I was distraught.
The next morning, Scott called me into his office. He was royally pissed off. “You started an interview with Courtney Love by asking about her drug problems and rehab?” he asked incredulously. “What were you thinking?!” The PR firm, one of the biggest in show business, had called him and read the riot act. They told him that at their morning meeting all the agents were saying, “Mark Scheerer did that?” “Holy shit!” The firm threatened Scott with a shut-out: none of their clients would do anything with “Showbiz Today” going forward. He ordered me to call the top flack at the firm and apologize. I did so abjectly, embarrassed and chagrined. It eventually blew over. I had no excuse. I knew the rule about saving the tougher questions to last, but flouted it.
Nonetheless, I got chastised anyway when I had played it correctly years earlier with Bruce Springsteen’s drummer, Max Weinberg. Springsteen and the E Street Band were opening the Born in the USA tour in St. Paul, Minnesota. I got there a day or two in advance and went to the Civic Arena, where they were rehearsing and shooting a music video. It was for Dancing in the Dark, the one where Bruce pulls a girl from the front row onto the stage to dance with him. (The actress was Courtney Cox, later one of TV’s “Friends.”)
Springsteen’s PR rep, Marilyn Laverty, spotted me sitting high up in the stands, in the dark, not dancing, just watching. She was nice enough not to kick me out. Later, at the hotel where the band and I were staying, by prior arrangement, Max stopped by my room to tape an ABC Radio News interview about a book he had published of his conversations with the great drummers of rock & roll. After we covered that, I asked him, “So what’s new this tour? What’s Bruce got cooked up? Anything different, unique?” He got really indignant and chewed me out for having the nerve to ask about that. Geez, he was angry! I thought it was a pretty innocent line of inquiry. Nothing ventured nothing gained, right? Funny – years later when I was doing entertainment news on CNN, he contacted my boss, Scott, about how he wanted to start a TV career, reporting on music for Showbiz Today. Sorry, Max. That job was mine.
Tangentially, when I did a Good Morning America piece in 1989 from the palatial digs of the Bee Gees in Florida, Maurice Gibb made a point of letting me know that he had once briefly been the music correspondent for GMA, the job I then held.
Finally, while I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and interviewing Elton John, to this day I am mystified about what happened that triggered his anger. It was around 1994, probably concurrent with his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The day of the interview, a story appeared in USA Today (it always seems to involve something like that, doesn’t it?) in which Elton said he was in a relationship with one David Furnish, a Canadian ad exec and filmmaker. I asked him about it and he gave me a sound bite about being happy and in love. The piece aired at 5:30 that afternoon and then . . . the phone rang in Scott Leon’s office. It was Elton’s PR person, demanding to know why I had used Furnish’s name. The name USA Today had used! Elton was said to be furious. I had to re-track the audio so the piece could run across CNN and Headline News . . . without the name of Elton’s lover.
I was pleased to read the other day that they are still together, united now in marriage. When you don’t know what for, sorry seems to be the hardest word. But I’m still standing.