No one knew quite what to make of Linehan or City Lights
when the show started. By the current media standards, this host was hardly an eight-by-ten glossy. Impeccably groomed, he displayed elegant manners and didn’t look or sound like anyone else on television. He also looked like he had just won the Irish sweepstakes; had we ever seen anyone on television, ever
, who looked so thrilled to be there? Viewers who tuned in found themselves strangely attracted to the show, almost mesmerized by the presence of its off-kilter host. He was different, something to see.
Across town at the public broadcaster, legendary entertainer Juliette — still Canada’s favourite blonde — was fascinated by cbc alumnus Moses Znaimer’s progress with Citytv, and was particularly taken with Linehan. “People were amazed at the way he looked,” she says candidly. “He wasn’t your normal tv interviewer type. He had a look that was quite different, a look that probably some producers couldn’t come to grips with. He didn’t have the looks for his times.
“Today, of course, his looks would be completely accepted and not even questioned. I mean, look at Mick Jagger! That ain’t no beauty, my dear! But back then Brian looked almost as if he had been in a car accident. His face wasn’t a well-chiselled face. He looked like a boxer who had had his face bashed in a couple of times. Looking back, I think maybe he was darn lucky to be doing what he was doing at that time.”
Linehan’s friend and former acting teacher Janine Manatis was thrilled for her pupil. “I would never have thought that Brian would be a tv ‘personality,’” she admits with typical candour. “Absolutely not.” As his teacher she saw aspects of his personality that she believed people would not ﬁnd appealing. “What overcame that, in my opinion, was the brilliance of his ability, which was to me absolutely unique. How he investigated, found out, looked into, and came up with information. Information
. Not gossip. Gossip is the conversation of cowards. What Brian came up with was not
What Brian came up with was research. And yes, he really did do his own research. Not just in those early years, but for all the years that followed. “I thought that you went home at night and you had a big folder and you read a book and you did your homework,” he said later. “I’d never heard the term researcher
s. This was Citytv! Everybody had three jobs. It never, ever dawned on me that there was anything unusual about it.”
If the stars he interviewed were dazzled by him, and they were, it wasn’t just because of his research. It was the way he used it to connect the dots to take them places they had never been before in an interview, regardless of what book or ﬁlm they had come on his show to sell.
“You went into the Navy,” he told Peter O’Toole. “You came out of the Navy two years later and applied for a scholarship at rada. Which you indeed won. You came out of rada and went straight to the Bristol Old Vic. What was happening to you during the two years in the Navy as a signalman and a decoder in the submarine services?”
O’Toole stared at him, obviously intrigued. “You’re a very interesting man,” he remarked.
Peggy Lee listened politely as Brian spoke about the rigours of touring. At least, that’s what she thought they were going to be talking about.
“Someone asked you,” he reminded her, “if there was any place you hadn’t been, and you said, ‘Paris, unless you count standing at Orly, waiting to get on another plane.’”
Peggy nodded knowingly.
“And yet you wrote a song about Paris . . .”
Peggy’s eyes ﬂuttered in surprise. “Why yes, I did! . . .”
“. . . after looking at a painting . . .” he continued.
Peggy’s eyes lit up. “I’m impressed with you. I really am.”
Jane Fairley was constantly impressed by Brian’s ease with visiting stars. “He was so captivating to those guests. He enveloped them in a feeling of security and safety. They weren’t going to be pounced on. They were actually going to be asked about their craft. Brian was so good with people.” Interview subjects were so taken by his manner, and his questions, that they remember it as being the fastest half-hour in show business. “You were on, you were off,” Carole Shelley says.
Shooting Linehan’s show, Jane Fairley recalls, “was slightly complicated by the fact that we didn’t have any money.” She still remembers novelist Peter Benchley coming in for his interview and excitedly handing her a tape of exclusive footage from Steven Spielberg’s future blockbuster about a monster shark.
“I’ve got this two-inch tape from the movie version of my book Jaws
that we can play,” he told her, his eyes dancing.
“Sorry,” she told him, “we’ve only got two machines, and they’re both playing back commercials.”
“So we didn’t play the tape,” says Fairley, with a rueful chuckle — “the tape that would have captivated the country — because we only had two machines.”
For most of his years on camera, Linehan’s interviews were live-to-tape. No editing. No sweetening. One time, after Brian and I had become friends, we spotted Barbara Walters in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire hotel in L.A. “She does very good interviews,” said Brian matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” I agreed, “she does some very good work. But, you know, she should be good — she’s shooting ﬁve-to-one.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, “I suppose you’re right.”
Later, in my rental car on our way to dinner, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “All right, I give up: What’s ﬁve-to-one?”
I explained that shooting ﬁve-to-one meant you shot ﬁve times as much tape as you needed. So if you needed twenty minutes, you would shoot about two hours of interview, and take the best twenty minutes from that.
?” He had never done anything that wasn’t live-to-tape. “Is that really how Barbara Walters does her interviews?”
“Brian,” I told him, “the joke here in Hollywood is that they cry to get her to leave
!”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Starring Brian Linehan by George Anthony. Copyright © 2007 by George Anthony. Excerpted by permission of Emblem Editions, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.