After the show, I went around to the stage door, and Hope came out, a Cadillac waiting to take him to the Cornhusker Hotel. He came tripping down the stairs, elegantly it seemed, and I said, “Fine show, Bob.” He said, “Hey, thanks, son.” And it just went to me, through me, as he got in the Cadillac and drove away. I wanted to go with him.
On ambition: My dad wanted me to check out the fine dental college at the University of Nebraska, and maybe the law. “Your cousin Bob has done very well in that,” he said. “You’re never going to make any money in show business.” What do they say, one in 10 million makes it? I didn’t pay much attention to that.
When I got my Yale acceptance, I remember feeling, “That means the East, where New York is.” I didn’t think of Boston. I didn’t think of anything but New York, where “The Jackie Gleason Show” and “Your Show of Shows” and “Mister Peepers,” and all those shows I watched live in Nebraska, were. I eventually made it to all of their studios, and usually went right into the stars’ dressing room, in my pushy way.
On the New York party scene: I didn’t do a lot of that. It seemed like I didn’t do hardly anything, except the show. I remember going into the office around noon, taping wasn’t until 7 p.m., and when I finished a 90-minute show, halfway home I would start descending into sleep. It seemed like every time my picture was taken, it appeared, but I think that gave an impression that I was out more than I was. About five years into being recognizable and known, I started to hide.
On regrets: Two of the greatest guests I ever had were David Niven and James Mason. Superb. Talk about good talkers. I have found letters where they invited me to see them next time I’m in Europe — “Here’s my phone number, and my house in Switzerland.” And I didn’t. It’s insane. So many regrets.
On interviews: What makes a good talk-show host comes up an irritating number of times in your life. And you know you’re going to say, “Well you have to listen.” Which, by God, is hard at first because you’re distracted in four directions at any given moment: a sign is up, oh I missed it. And there’s a disturbance in the audience and you don’t know if a gun is going to go off. And you try to remember what they told you to be sure to say to Mr. X and you forgot. Will I ever learn to write these things down?