Conquering My TV Phobias

Television can be a scary thing for the uninitiated. The red light goes on, I play with my hair just a second too long. The camera hones in, I look at the wrong one.

I trace it back to the first time I ever appeared on TV. It was on WGN. The year was 1965. And OK, I was not the featured guest on Bozo’s Circus that day, but I had air time. And it was not pretty.

I went to the show with my mother and my sister, tickets courtesy of my Uncle Norman, who I think had some unsavory connections. My older brothers got to come home from school during lunch hour to watch as TiVo had not quite been perfected yet. I think my dad even came home. All the makings of a future Brady Bunch episode.

Considering that at age 4 I was deathly afraid of clowns in any form, the idea to go to the show was probably ill-conceived. The fact that Bozo wore your typical size-24 clown shoes and had your typical fire-engine red clown hair, did not help.

I’m told I trembled as we walked into the big top.

At home, my brothers gathered closer to the set in anticipation of the show’s big moment – choosing contestants for the Bozo Buckets with the magic arrow. The magic arrow, seen only by the television audience – hence the magic – zipped through the grandstand, landing on the lucky head of a little girl or boy. If it landed on an adult, Ringmaster Ned or Bozo or Oliver O. Oliver would yell disappointedly, “Oh, it’s a mom,” and then the magic arrow search would commence once again.

Try to imagine, if you will, two boys, ages 11 and 13, watching from home as the arrow landed on their 16-year-old sister, only to hear Bozo yell, “Oh, it’s a mom.” And then, just as that humiliation began to die down, to see the arrow settle on their younger sister, who could have come down and at least hit two buckets given that they had practiced all week, but instead burst into tears. On television.

Ringmaster Ned and Bozo and.Oliver did not have anything to say for kids bawling, other than to once more set the magic arrow in motion and move on. Needless to say, we slinked home in disgrace – after I cried through the Grand Prize March, of course.

I have been back to the WGN studios since then and I still get the shakes.

Thursday night at WTTW was considerably easier, I must say. For starters, there were no clowns. Also, I am getting much better at TV. And in the hands of an interviewer such as John Callaway, whose “Chicago Tonight” show I taped Thursday night for airing on Channel 11 Friday night, I would have had to be legally mute to fail completely.

Of course, if I had been someone with something to hide, like a politician, for example, Callaway would have eaten me for lunch and then flossed whatever remained. Callaway is to the interview what Sir Georg Solti was to conducting; what Emeril Lagasse is to the kitchen knife. And in his hands, I was butter. Or to continue this really fun game of never-ending analogies, he was the Lion King (complete with the James Earl Jones’ voice) and I was little Simba, knowing I could be crushed at any moment and yet feeling safe and secure as I tried to trot after him.

We talked about my book “Sweet Lou,” and about my website and about being fired, rather laid off, in the prime of your career. It was about this point that I tried to remember exactly what the non-disparagement clause said in my Tribune severance agreement. 

As a journalist, just hearing John Callaway introduce you by name must be what it feels like for a baseball player to have Bob Costas do it. I left his set Thursday night feeling exhilarated and extremely fortunate, even without remembering a single word I had said.  

It was not the first time I had been interviewed by the master. I hope it will not be the last.

The Bozo demons, I can confidently say, are nearly behind me.

Watch Melissa on WTTW-Ch. 11 Chicago — Chicago Tonight with John Callaway. 

11 Responses to “Conquering My TV Phobias”

  1. Susie

    Beautiful, just beautiful. You are the master of analogies and writing. I remember the Bozo day like it was just yesterday.
    Your once 16 year old “mom” and your incredibly proud sister.

  2. joseph goldenson

    I am way too old for your Bozo comments but I can just picture the fear in the mind and face of a four year old. Can you imagine running into Bozo in a dark alley with his makeup on? Not really!
    I find your writing style and your subjects fascinating and as a daily reader, when able, please continue to be your own person, not that I ever thought you would become someone else! Gettin’ warm in Scottsdale and in the desert in general. Keep up your incredible writing style that keeps me smiling. I know that the subjects will keep on flowing in, too!

  3. Don

    Well, we took our 3 daughters to Bozo’s Circus on 2 occasions. I also went to Lane Tech, so the area was very familiar. I think we waited for nearly a year for the last set of tickets and then that wait period went to nearly a decade.
    Thanks for sharing,

  4. Colleen

    Great job with Callaway tonight. Your description of him is so vivid and accurate. You were terrific in the interview in talking about yourself, your parents and the book. Found your blog thanks to the show. Glad to see you are still writing.

  5. Charlotte

    You were wonderful on the show tonight. I think it gives us a sense of what it is like to be so successful and then dropped so quickly like a ball. I have always enjoyed your writing in the Tribune. I miss your columns.

  6. Mark Gallagher

    When the interview on WTTW tonight was over, I turned to my wife and said – “that was riveting”. There is so much drama, sadness, happiness, and uncertainty in people lives today and your interview captured that in a very honest way.

    Hang in there. We are pulling for you and our other friends and family that are not in the place they expected to be during this crazy economy.

    Your buddy, Mark

    Mark Gallagher
    Wheaton, IL

  7. Karen

    You’re an honest, articulate gem! Great interview with John tonight. Love this blog and that I can continue to enjoy your writing.
    I also loved the Patrick Kane article and personal stories that you share about our young sports heroes! I’m from Buff, living in Chicago 25 years now and know the commitment that many make to the game. For many years in my youth, I delivered the Buffalo Courier Express (long gone) to Spinner, Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and others. Thank you for so many great stories. I look forward to the new ways in which we will read your perspective. Thank you.

  8. ruth

    just watched last night’s show (on my laptop 🙂 you were great. looking forward to your visit in july!

  9. Kim

    I confess I’m not a regular Tribune reader so I wasn’t as familiar with your writing. I very much enjoyed your interview with John Callaway, and now I’ve marked your site as a favorite. You came across as a very earnest individual. Thanks for all you will do in the future.

  10. john

    Missy, And the Trib wonders why they are losing readers. Your apperance on Chicago Tonight was terrific.Keep writing anywhere, it is what you do.

  11. gary

    Melissa, just read through most of your stories. Good stuff on here. You really are talented. Too talented for our business, which really sucks nowadays.


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