I was a cub reporter for Entertainment Weekly. Now and then, I got juicy feature assignments such as the review of Saving Private Ryan on video or a rare interview with Christian Bale, but as a cub reporter, I was more often asked to create those little sidebars and boxes that the more experienced staff writers had no interest in doing. Today, twentysomething idealists sweat at long benches, hammering out posts to chase the day’s hot search terms. But then, I worked the phones for “Rent Check,” in which I asked famous people what movies they had rented recently. It was a grind and pretty dumb stuff, but there were fringe benefits.
I talked to some good people. Jerry Springer told me about his family’s tragic history with the Holocaust. Alex Trebek cryptically alluded to a dark period in his past. Don Knotts passed, saying he’d let the younger folks have their say, but my favorite “get” was Ann B. Davis.
In her own way, she was more reclusive than even Christian Bale. She had found God, retired from the rigors of television, and spent most of her time dwelling with an Episcopal community in Pennsylvania. She seemed mistrustful of secular life. This interview thrilled me: In middle school, I watched 90 minutes of The Brady Bunch every day on Channel 56 in Boston. I could tell you within two lines of the opening which episode it was. I even kept a handwritten checklist of them all. Ugly Aunt Jenny? Hatch mark. Bobby loves Jesse James? Hatch hatch. Cousin Oliver the Jinx? Hatch. (I hated that one.)
Anyway, I interviewed Ann and asked what she had watched recently. One of her answers was Tender Mercies, and the reason she gave was that Robert Duvall plays a man who faces difficult choices and makes the right one. Duvall was a good Christian man, she told me, and being a Christian woman, she admired his work and would see anything he was in. Her sense of faith, decent but not preachy, permeated her responses, which I appreciated, since I knew there were millions of Americans that would identify with her thoughts. Her movie selections felt as nurturing as Alice herself.