“If you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.” — Oprah Winfrey
Oprah’s quote about careers best conveys the passion and pride I have for the privilege to connect with Times readers every day via my column. Whether it’s bolded celebrity news, movie screenings or pop culture, contest giveaways, theater reviews or answering readers’ TV show questions, each day’s column provides a chance for reader interaction.
When the daily Offbeat entertainment column first launched Oct. 30, 2004, it was part of our newspaper’s latest new look and redesign.
The column was inspired by a special two-month span daily “beauty pageant” entertainment column I had previously written for The Times in the spring of 2001 and 2002 when Donald Trump brought his “Miss USA” pageant and telecast to Gary.
And 3,533 Offbeat columns later, it still remains a fixture right above the television listings in each day’s print edition, as well as showcased on the front of our online edition at nwi.com. This week, this feature celebrates a 10-year anniversary.
As for that very first Halloween weekend column Oct. 30, 2004, this was the lead paragraph introducing it to readers:
Welcome to something out of the ordinary. This new column will grace this space seven days a week to give you the latest scoops on celebrities and notables near and far. It’s intended to whet your appetite each day with fun tidbits to share for watercooler talk.
That first column also featured coverage of the Star Plaza Theatre’s 25th anniversary VIP party and five other assorted column items, which included the following bolded names: blues legend Koko Taylor, singer Patti LaBelle, entertainment businessman Bill Wellman, the late, great Liberace, late night legend Johnny Carson, The Times’ music critic Tom Lounges, WLJE radio jock Mike Summers, Monkees singer Davy Jones, ESPN 1000 sports radio jock Carmen DeFalco, actresses Marion Ross and Tracy Nelson and singer Helen Reddy.
During the past 10 years, and through three presidential elections, I’m proud to say this column never has missed a day. (Although during a stretch from June 2011 to March 2014, the Saturday Offbeat column appeared only online, before returning to the print editions.) During my travels, the column has been datelined, written and filed from everywhere, including Walt Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., to the Pillsbury Bake-Off hosted in Dallas, to Columbus, Ohio, Tampa, Miami, San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Jamaica, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Thank you to all of the readers who make this space a part of your daily reading routine.
Today, I hope you enjoy a selection of some of the most memorable, and at times even infamous moments, of this daily column, shared with a smile of gratitude from myself and courtesy of my features editor, Kerry Erickson, and our designer, Kathryn Sesser.
A Sunday Salute
Though this column was billed as a “daily column anchored seven days a week” when first introduced in 2004, it actually only ran six days a week (due to the layout configuration and the placement of ads) for more than a year before it was finally added to the Sunday edition of The Times 20 months later on July 2, 2006. It became the cover rail column of the arts and entertainment section, replacing TV talk show host Michael Essany‘s column when he had to resign during his run for a seat on the Valparaiso City Council.
Not always happy
This column has received some famous feedback during the past 10 years. And not all of it has been complimentary.
Actor Emilio Estevez became upset with a 2005 column I wrote about his new film “Bobby” about the assassination of Robert Kennedy. “When you print this sort of vitriol, whether it’s your own or the opinion of others — everyone is degraded, not simply the intended target. When you give credence to bluster and swagger because it sells, we all suffer. In the final analysis, I’m just a guy making a film for which I have passion and conviction. This passion has been shared by all who join me in this endeavor. From Sir Anthony Hopkins and Ms. Demi Moore all the way to the transportation department. The whole truth and nothing but the truth — there’s an idea!” – Peace, Emilio Estevez
Singer Nancy Sinatra became enraged at a one-line sentence in a 2005 column that referred to Jessica Simpson‘s remake of Sinatra’s classic “These Boots Are Made for Walking” single, where I described the tune as “a remake of Nancy Sinatra’s one-hit wonder song.”
“You have a lot of guts to print something like the item below. For the record and your information, I have had 22 chart hits — a lot more than most female singers — and certainly many more than one. Please get your facts straight before you write about me in the future. Why don’t you visit my website and read my bio. It might enlighten you to my 40-year career,” e-mailed Nancy.
And never make a gun-toting pioneer type mad:
The late actor Fess Parker, best known for playing Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, wasn’t pleased when I mentioned in a 2005 column about the humorous likelihood of hearing gunshots from him because of the media storm surrounding his California property because it was next door to Michael Jackson‘s Neverland Ranch, just as MJ’s court case was attracting press from around the word. “Thank you for mentioning me and the town of Los Olivos in the March 5th edition of The Times. However, your piece is a misrepresentation, insofar as I have not complained about the proceedings involving Mr. Jackson. In fact, the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn Spa, which is a 4-Diamond property I own located here in Los Olivos, has benefited by the fact that some of the people involved in the proceedings have chosen to stay with us. Sincerely, Fess Parker”
And not to be catty, but a 2006 column about Garfield, that fat orange cat featured on the comics page of The Times, mentioned in passing that both the reviews and box office returns were lousy for the first feature film installment after it premiered in 2004. The column included the words “stink” and “litter box” and “reviews” and “box office” all in the same sentence, leading to this email from cartoonist Jim Davis: “Hello, Phil. Thanks for your column on Garfield’s ‘A Tail of Two Kitties,’ but there are two things I would like to mention. 1) Box office returns did not stink for the first movie ‘Garfield: The Movie,’ since it took in over $198 million worldwide. 2) ‘A Tail of Two Kitties’ comes out June 16. That is a change from the June 23 date, which was previously published in press materials. Hope you’ll see the movie and review it again!”
“It’s always better to not respond to anything critically in print or on broadcast. It always draws more attention when you take a slap at someone. And no one wants to read about how great you are,” — late actress Lauren Bacall, when interviewed for a 2005 Offbeat column.
Biggest, best coverage
Of all the subjects I’ve written about in this column, the most expansive and ongoing coverage ranking at the top is the filming of Universal Pictures‘ “Public Enemies,” starring Christian Bale with Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and actress Marion Cotillard as his moll, Billie Frechette. With scenes shot in March 2008 in our own Crown Point and the Indiana Dunes, in addition to Chicago and Wisconsin, readers couldn’t get enough coverage to satisfy curiosity. Since I had a small role in the film as a reporter interviewing Depp, aka Dillinger, (and wearing gossip great Walter Winchell‘s real fedora for the scene), I wasn’t allowed to write about my experiences on the set at the time. But I made up for any lost time once off the set, sharing details and updates for an entire year before the film arrived in theaters in 2009 when I attended the red carpet premiere.
Some great scoops
I’ve managed a few scoops in this column during the past 10 years, which led to items and stories being sent to the wire services.
The first came in February 2007, announcing the death of Angelina Jolie‘s actress mother, Marcheline Bertrand, 56, who died in Los Angeles after battling cancer. Bertrand hailed from the old neighborhoods around Riverdale and Dolton, and the border of Chicago, where she graduated from St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in 1964. After graduation, Bertrand left the region to live in Los Angeles to pursue her acting dream studying under the famed Lee Strasberg and playing minor television roles, like working with Raymond Burr in a 1971 episode of “Ironside” before starring in a few feature films in the 1980s. It was also in 1971 that she met and married actor Jon Voight and had her two children, actor James Haven in 1973 and Angelina in 1975. Bertrand and Voight divorced in 1978.
And in May 2007, just as my second “From the Farm” cookbook was released, written with actor/singer Jim Nabors, I was to do a joint book-signing event with the “Gomer Pyle” star while attending the Indianapolis 500 Race. Just a day before he was to arrive back in the Hoosier state, he contacted me explaining he would have to miss the weekend’s 91st annual Indianapolis 500 Race due to his doctor’s orders. During the years, Nabors, who lives in Hawaii, has missed a mere handful of appearances at the Indy 500 to sing his trademark tune backed up by the Purdue Marching Band. The last time he had to cancel was in 1993, after illness required a liver transplant. When I contacted the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during this 2007 scoop for comment, even they didn’t know yet!