Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Dukes of Hazzard: Meeting Daisy Duke

 One of the first pieces on this blog focused on the unique circumstances surrounding an interview with Tom Wopat for my Dukes of Hazzard book. That piece received some of the most positive feedback of anything on Comfort TV thus far, so here’s a follow-up, about my interview with Catherine Bach. 

Some people may assume that when a writer signs a contract for a book on a TV series, he or she is automatically granted access to the stars of the show. I must confess that, for a brief moment back then, I thought so myself. After all, I wasn’t “just” a fan anymore, I was a professional with a job to do.
But since my book contract for The Dukes of Hazzard: An Unofficial Companion did not come with a list of phone numbers (and this was pre-Internet), I began my quest by finding home addresses for the stars through agency contacts, and a research library in Los Angeles. To each one I sent a cover letter with a copy of the book proposal. I had no idea what the rate of response would be, but I was pretty sure of Catherine Bach, because I had met her before.

In 1981, almost 20 years before I was offered the book, I waited in an autograph line at a Las Vegas car show to have my picture taken with TV’s Daisy Duke. That photograph appears on page 87 of the Companion

So obviously, I had nothing to worry about. I’d just say “Hey, Catherine, remember me? We met for 30 seconds 19 years ago at a car show. I’m doing a book now. Can I interview you?” But my letter was not answered. Apparently, those 30 seconds didn’t have the same lasting impact on her.
Turns out I had the wrong address anyway. That happens a lot. Celebrities move so often you’d think they had trouble paying the mortgage. Back then, two or three letters to different places (office, home, agency) were fairly standard when trying to reach someone in the Hollywood community, and I was still waiting for a response from Ms. Bach when I flew to L.A. for my interview with John Schneider.
The details of that day will also be covered at some point in the future, but I have to mention it now because it was through John Schneider that I was at last able to reach Catherine.
We were about a third of the way through our interview, which was being conducted in his dressing room, during a break from his hosting chores on the short-lived series Ordinary/Extraordinary. I had the car show picture with me, and while we were chatting I pulled it out to show him. To my surprise he really enjoyed seeing it. Looking back, I think that photo upgraded my status from a writer doing a job to a fan who once cared enough about The Dukes of Hazzard to stand in line for the chance to meet one of its stars. Being “just” a fan meant something after all.
John asked if I had talked to Catherine, and I told him I wrote to her but hadn’t received any response yet. He took out his cell phone and called her.
“I’m talkin’ to a guy who’s doing a book on the show,” John said. “He really knows his stuff. He’s even got a picture that he took with you at a car show. You should talk to him.” Then he handed me the phone.
Now, I like to prepare for things like that in advance. I admit, I’m one of those people who actually writes out answering machine messages before I leave them. Had I known I’d be speaking to Catherine Bach, I’d have had my pitch scripted. My first talk with her would also have been easier if I wasn’t in a room with John and about ten other people, all of whom thought this might be interesting and stopped what they were doing to listen. 

Fortunately, I kept my stammering to a minimum and Catherine was wonderful. By this time she had plenty of practice patiently talking to guys my age who thought about her legs the way my dad’s generation recalled Betty Grable’s. 

We scheduled the interview for a week later, at her home in Encino, which worked out well as I was heading back to L.A. anyway to interview the series’ creator, Gy Waldron.
A maid let me into her spacious ranch home;  as I walked through the foyer into the family room, I spotted the large painting of Catherine that appeared in the Dukes episode “Heiress Daisy Duke.”  I was offered a drink, and told that Catherine would be with me momentarily. A few minutes later she appeared, wearing a black dress with a knee-high slit. She was accompanied by a very large black dog who appeared ready to swallow my tape recorder while my hand was still attached to it. I believe this was her way of saying, “I don’t know you yet, so watch your step.”
She sat down in the chair next to mine and said, “Okay, so where’s this picture of you and me?” (again with the picture!). She laughed at seeing it, and gave me the first quote I used from her for the book, about how she loved doing the car shows because it took her mind off the marital problems she was having at the time. That broke the ice, and we spent the next three hours looking back on her life and times in Hazzard County. The giant dog was quickly dispatched to the backyard, and when the interview was over I got a hug from Daisy as she walked me to the front door.
One other story should be told here, about how Catherine came to write the book’s Foreword. My first thought was to ask John Schneider to do it, as his enthusiasm for the show was still so palpable during our interview. However, my only access to him was through the email address of his assistant, and I wonder to this day if he actually received the request. He seemed to have such a wonderful time talking about Dukes that I couldn’t imagine him turning this down. My suspicion is that John’s the kind of guy who would say yes to almost every call for help from a friend or fan, and his assistants are there to screen these requests so their client will have enough time to do the jobs that pay the bills.
So I approached Catherine next, with the advantage of being able to call her directly. Without hesitating she said “Sure, whatever you need.” Having agreed so quickly, however, she later discovered that the task was a little more difficult than she had anticipated. She called several times over the next few weeks, to read her latest draft and ask for suggestions. The final result was certainly worth the wait.
Every guy who grew up with The Dukes of Hazzard fell a little in love with Catherine Bach, and I was no exception. The chance to meet and spend some time with her ranks among my favorite experiences in writing the book. That’s why I couldn’t resist sending her flowers after our interview. Daisies, of course.  

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