By Michelle Trauring
If you happen to see Bill Boggs talking to himself in public over the next few days, do not be alarmed.
Chances are, he’s just running through his upcoming performance of “Talk Show Confidential,” staging Thursday at Guild Hall in East Hampton—a nostalgic mash-up of his near five-decade-long career interviewing a wide range of characters for the likes of PBS, Food Network and WNBC.
“Much to the chagrin of Joe Brondo, the director, there is no script to the show,” Mr. Boggs explained during a recent interview. “It’s in my head, so I rehearse it mentally while walking around the block or swimming laps at East Hampton YMCA. If you see me walking around town talking to myself, I’m rehearsing, so put it on Facebook to make me look a little more wacky than I already am.”
From proposing to Martha Stewart on air to stopping Richard Nixon from going on camera with his fly down, Mr. Boggs has just about seen, met, interviewed and produced them all, from Whoopi Goldberg, Morton Downey Jr. and Frank Sinatra to Miles Davis, Fergie and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The 75-year-old entertainer has conducted countless interviews—easily into the thousands—and for a kid from Philadelphia, who grew up playing games like wire ball, stick ball and step ball in the streets, this is a reality that still gets the better of him on occasion. A life that he can’t believe has panned out the way it did, but one he envisioned from a very young age, nonetheless.
“I think I would have clearly failed at a lot of other things. I wouldn’t want to be in a plane I was flying, or live in a house I built, and, notably, I made a deal with myself around age 6 that whatever work I was going to do in life would be fun,” he said. “I never wanted to be trudging home weary and tired like the men I saw coming home from work when I was a little kid. Of course, there’ve been plenty of days when it’s been work, but most, pure fun.”
The first person he ever interviewed was Colonel Sanders—“so I got a taste, no pun intended, of guests plugging their products,” he said—followed by Jimmy Stewart.
“He said, ‘Nice interview, young man. Thanks,’” Mr. Boggs recalled, though he noted it wasn’t even that interview that got his career off the ground. “Surely, the 60-minute conversation with Frank Sinatra on ‘Midday Live with Bill Boggs’ ranks, for me, as a launch-pad interview.”
“Frank came and did it after we’d met at 4 a m in Vegas. We hit if off somehow,” he continued. “So, he came and gave me that gift. I never asked him, or tried to book him. He volunteered. Sinatra was, literally, my dream interview. Literally. The night before I went to Vegas for a long weekend, I had a vivid dream that I was sitting in a chair having a conversation with Frank. I woke up and felt I had a dream, and actually said to the executive producer of the show, ‘I have a feeling I’ll be meeting Sinatra this weekend and he’ll come and do the show,’ and it happened.”
Not far from his home in Springs, where he has lived for the past three years with his “long-suffering, beautiful girlfriend” Jane Rothchild, he said he will always remember spending the day with Itzhak Perlman at his summer music camp on Shelter Island, where he watched the violin virtuoso teach his students and conduct.
“What a warm and wonderful giant of a man he is. That was for my last TV show on PBS, ‘My Generation.’ When I say I’m lucky, I got paid to do that. There’s a nice clip of him in ‘Talk Show Confidential,’” he said. “And I’ve never forgotten interviewing Philippe Petit the morning after his walk between the Twin Towers—an accomplishment like none other. He was so cool. He said, ‘I could have been 10 feet up to 2,000 feet up. I was attached to that wire.’ That’s great!”
The sheer breadth of talent, personality and character Mr. Boggs has encountered is not lost on him, he said, even after half a century.
“I am constantly shaking my head in disbelief that I somehow pulled some of these things off. I had no idea all those years while doing this stuff that it would add up to what it has,” he said. “But I think it’s sort of—as John McEnroe said to me on the Food Network show—‘The older I get, the better I was.’
“But to go back to Sinatra, my favorite line in his iconic ‘My Way’ song is not “I did it my way,” he said. “It’s, ‘to think I did all that.’”
“Bill Boggs’ Talk Show Confidential: Confessions of a Talk Show Host” will stage on Thursday, August 25, at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Tickets range from $20 to $40, or $18 to $38 for members. For more information, call (631) 324-4050, or visit guildhall.org.