Monday, August 13, 2012

Ringing Up Roberta Shore

 I have interviewed more than 1,000 people in my life, 90% of whom were not famous. But whether it was a celebrity interview for a book or a q&a with a bank vice-president for a business magazine article, I still get a little nervous every time.

Usually, my apprehension results either from not wanting to ask a stupid question, or finding out after the interview that the tape recorder didn’t work. Both have happened more than once. I remember a time when I worked for a real estate publication, and had just finished a substantive interview with a broker about the Las Vegas property market. When I got back to my car I rewound the tape just to make sure it was there. The tape was blank. I still do not know what happened.

After sitting in silence for a few moments. I calmly got out of my car, placed the tape recorder behind my left rear tire, and backed over it.

Every interview brings its own unique concerns, but one that generated more excitement than any I’ve faced in more than a year was with an actress and singer named Roberta Shore. The opportunity arose from an article I was offered on a 50th anniversary cast reunion for the western television series The Virginian. The publicist was willing to set up time with any cast members I selected, but after the obvious choice of top-billed series star James Drury, I immediately inquired about Ms. Shore, though my interest had nothing to do with The Virginian.

I wanted to speak with her because Roberta Shore, billed as Jymme Shore, appeared in the “Annette” serial on the original Mickey Mouse Club, as well as the Disney film The Shaggy Dog. In both projects, she played essentially the same role – a sophisticated teenage temptress whose mission in life was to make Annette Funicello miserable.

I first experienced the Mickey Mouse Club when it aired in syndication in the early 1980s, and rarely missed it when it was featured in the “Vault Disney” segments on Disney Channel. There’s something magical about it. Yes, it’s corny and antiquated, but I want to live in a world where people don’t scoff at this kind of entertainment. As Lorraine Santoli writes in her book about the Club, “It was a great time – innocent and full of the notion that it was a beautiful and uncomplicated world.”

The “Annette” serial in particular is a remarkable depiction of idealized teenage life in a small but affluent Midwestern town. Dance parties at someone’s home required donning suits and dresses, the local malt shop was the big meeting place, and there was nothing more exciting than singing “Polly Wolly Doodle” on a hayride.

And yet, as wholesome as it may seem to us now, there were also class distinctions, cliques, and worries over fitting in, the same type of issues that high schoolers deal with today.

As Laura Rogan, Roberta Shore was adolescent elitism personified. She mocked the simple manners of farm girl Annette and even accuses her of stealing a valuable necklace. The entire serial is on YouTube – if you start watching the 10-minute segments, don’t be surprised if you’re in for the duration. There is still something compelling about this Eisenhower era 90210, and about the remarkable Annette, who had a naturally sympathetic underdog quality rarely associated with a beautiful young woman. I will never have the chance to speak with her, or tell her how much I’ve enjoyed her work. So I treasured – and fretted over – the chance to interview one of her costars from the Mousketeer days.

I wish I had a great climax, or an unexpected twist, or even a decent punch line to this entry. It would be better for the story if Roberta and I hit it off like old friends and she shared wonderful memories of working with Annette, and asked me to look her up next time I was in Utah. Or if I could reveal how rude and abrupt she was, just like the snotty characters she played. 

But life is rarely like a sitcom, with a big act three climax. The interview lasted about 15 minutes. She was distracted at the beginning by some stuff going on in her home, answered my questions politely, if not enthusiastically, and thanked me for my praise of her Disney work but didn’t have much to say on the subject. She did her job, and I did mine. Sometimes that’s all that happens with an interview. Most of the time, that’s all that happens.

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