By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com September 21 2012 2:57 PM ET
Clockwise from top left: Natalie Wood, Michael Feinstein, Eva Gabor, Dusty Springfield, Brooke Shields, and Maya Angelou.
Paul Ryan is a spritely, energetic man, who's gotten up close and personal with many of Hollywood's elite. Throughout his three-decade-long career, Ryan sat down to chat with Hollywood legends like Rock Hudson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dusty Springfield, and close to 700 others on his celebrity interview program, The Paul Ryan Show.
And now, Here TV subscribers can get an exclusive look into this treasure trove of celebrity conversations with Legends from Here, which premiered earlier this month.
The Advocate sat down with Ryan to reminisce about his favorite, most memorable interviews, and get the scoop on the insider info Paul was privy to when he delved into stars' personal lives in intimate, 30-minute interviews.
The Advocate: Why should our readers watch Legends from Here?
Paul Ryan: Some of the most delicious people in the world, some of the shows that are going to be on Here, some are celebrities who happen to be gay. And some are people that a lot of gay folk would enjoy. It’s a combination of both. A lot of them didn’t talk about [being] gay, but we know — Gay folklore.
Right. Perhaps Rock Hudson?
Rock Hudson is one of those people who we just took [one look at and said] "A-ha!" He was not used to an in-depth interview. He was brought up in a time where he had [protection from] a manager… A couple things that come to mind about the interview: I said, "you turned down Ben-Hur" and he said, "you’re not supposed to know about that." Like, years have gone by Rock. I mean in his mind, the protection thing was always there....
Something that was very revealing was [asking Hudson] "Did you have a good relationship with your mother?" He grew up above a candy store in Indiana. And this was more about the energy and not so much the words, but when I asked him the question he said, "No." And here I was, and I just looked at him for about 30 seconds and then I followed up by saying, "Would you have liked to have had a good relationship with your mother?" And here was the rub: he said, "No." Who ever says that? So you got an idea [that they] weren't so rosy above the ice cream store.
Things weren't so sweet above the candy shop, it sounds like.
Roddy Mcdowell, a Hollywood icon, was friends with everybody and shot everybody, photographically. He had one of the greatest photo collections of all time. I got to work with him in a movie as an actor. [We worked together in] a movie called Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. It was kind of this amazing cast with Peter Ustinov, Charlie Chan, and Roddy Mcdowell was in a wheelchair in his character. I did two interviews with him. Everybody knew in Hollywood that he was gay, but the world didn’t. He was just, you know, iconic Roddy McDowell. Peter Allen, one of the greatest performers going, and legendary also because of what Hugh Jackman did on Broadway, was just an outlandish character. The thing about doing in-depth interviews with people is you get the full side of them. The outlandish, the real, the vulnerable.
How long did your interviews usually last?
You got all of that in just 30 minutes?
Yeah. And it seemed like it just went like this [snaps fingers].
I believe that.
You know some of these [other] shows [are just] five minutes, so what happens when you do a half hour interview with somebody? You have a lasting friendship… I learned about life through interviewing these people. Life lessons. I’ve had the best conversations in my life on camera, which says a lot about my personal life. [These were the] best conversations, because it’s a heightened intensity. I would always do my homework with them, and so we’re talking about things that I think are substantive going in… I teach hosting now. And many parts of your brain are working at the same time, so there’s the listening — but I mean razor-sharp listening, for not just what they’re saying, but the energy that they’re in… And sometimes people just want to open up and talk. When I first started I thought, "Hmm, I wonder if I should ask them what not to talk about." After about 10 shows I thought, "Stop that. Don’t even think about it." Because people do [talk], if they trust [you]. I love the people that I’ve interviewed. You know, out of 675, there might have been a few that I didn’t love as much, but that happens.
Who are some of the most memorable women you've interviewed?
Well, Dyan Cannon and Sophia Loren. There’s only one Sophia Loren. I said, "How do you feel about your femininity? And she said, "How is it working for you?" And I was going, "No, no, no, yes, yes, yes!"
Dyan Cannon was just interesting. [She said] "I don’t get out of bed until I am I am totally clear." You know, working on herself spiritually. … Just some beautiful ladies [like] Linda Gray. When I interviewed her a couple of times, I found out it was her leg across the album of The Graduate. And now she talks about it in her PR. It’s interesting. Because she was a little, "Oh, don’t bring that up." Now she’s on Dallas again and they look for stuff to talk about....
I got to interview Zsa Zsa a couple of times, and it saddens me. And Zsa Zsa has got one leg and was one of the most glamorous ladies going. We had a very interesting relationship, because you know she was very temperamental, tough on people. [She] chewed up assistants like it was breakfast. And people would say to me, "She won't come in to the studio!" And I would walk in and go, "Zsa Zsa come on, let’s go! Follow me, [snaps fingers]." It’s a thing that you nurture, this thing that they know, they can trust me and I’m in charge. She was a characters. She would go to a department store, buy a very expensive dress for a show, and they’d return it the next day. That was par for the course. And there were a few guests who who expect[ed] a lot of money for hair and makeup. Ridiculous amounts of money - $1,500, $2,000!
...So I always gravitated toward substantive guests… On one of the shows, we had Dusty Springfield. Part of my childhood was [spent] living in England. And so her song, "You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me," simply pulls at your heart. And she was an artist who died way too young. But she was gay. Couldn’t talk about it. Didn’t choose to talk about it. People in the industry knew. One of her long loves was Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas.
What were some of your most memorable interviews overall?
I love people who make me laugh and [make] others laugh. It’s the gift of joy. So with Charles Nelson Reilly and Dom DeLouise, they’re elves. They’re the elves bringing funny, funny, funny. There’s a part of my world that’s very comedy-oriented. I’ve wrote a book called The Art of Comedy: Getting Serious About Getting Funny, it’s published by Random House….
Shelley Winters! Oh my God! We offered limousines to the stars if they wanted one… So the limousine company says, "Can you call Shelley Winters and tell her that we’re coming a half hour late?" When we called up, she panicked. She took her friend, who she was with her, they got in the car, looking for the studio. They went right to Paramount — we were next to Paramount. Somehow she showed up with a big cowboy hat and a fur coat. The producer met her, she was in the passenger seat. [The producer] said welcome, and she says, "we’re not staying," but she came back. So after she did another TV show, she said, "Don’t ever invite me on the show in the morning." What an amazing guest [she was]. I remember saying something to her about her mother, and she was completely vulnerable....
That’s the exciting part of interviewing certain people, is getting through the walls. The walls are gone, and it’s visceral… There’s something about spending a half hour with somebody. You know about their life so fully that when Marvin Hamlisch passed, I felt something… because I loved, deeply, the gifts that people have and the stories people shared. A lot of times, it’s a love affair. And they feel the respect. I don’t come off as sycophantic, I don’t come off like a fan. I come off as an equal. And we’re having a great time together. I want to show different sides of somebody. Getting an interview with these different sides of a celebrity makes a difference for me, them and for the viewer.
Legends from Here is currently airing on Here TV, which is owned by The Advocate's parent company, Here Media.