EVERYBODY HAS his brush with greatness. I guess I've been blessed to have had a few more than my share. Maybe it's luck, pure and simple. Maybe it's some sort of crazy sixth sense. I like to think that the hard-nosed reporter in me just seeks out the right place at the right time. Regardless of the reason, the stars seem to shine when Eric Morris comes out. A couple of the luminaries who have happened to cross my path over the years:
Number one: William Shatner. My first and perhaps greatest triumph. I was clever enough to intercept the legendary Captain kirk at my local Toys "R" Us, guided only by the posters and newspaper ads announcing his arrival. Unfortunately, a few thousand other reporters managed to beat me to the punch.
Standing in a long reception line, I was too preoccupied watching Geoffrey, the Toys "R" Us giraffe, dance by to notice a dinky little man in his wake. Before I had a chance to penetrate his baffling disguise (Shatner was out of regulation Starfleet uniform), the great one was gone, leaving only a trail of hair from his rapidly balding pate behind. No story this time, but it was well worth it to bask in the aura of greatness.
Number two: James Brown. I finally caught up to Brown at New York's Carnegie Deli in January, 1986. The hardest workin' man in show business was workin' hard to polish off a sandwich with some sort of white stuff (perhaps turkey or tuna) inside.
Surrounded by his people and bedecked with jewelery, the godfather of soul surprised the experts by failing to break out into spontaneous song and dance numbers--instead choosing to eat his sandwich and quietly talk with his friends. Just as I was about to nail him with a few hard-hitting questions about the intimate details of his personal life and his work, my check came.
NUMBER 3: JIM McMahon. The Bears' punky QB was no more than an untested rookie when I spotted him in the clubhouse of a golf course in suburban Northbrook, Illinois. All his familiar trademarks were there: the sunglasses, the cocky walk, the letters "McMAHON" printed on his golf bag. I immediately marked McMahon as a man destined for future greatness.
From the determination with which he ate his hot dog, to the Super Bowl Ring-sized finger, to the agility he showed reaching into his pocket to extract the money for his greens fee, he had the tell-tale signs of a champion. But I did notice something odd; he seemed to favor his right rotator cuff when he lifted his golf bag. I wasn't surprised when, three years later, an injury to that self-same area knocked Jimbo out for the season. McMahon slipped out the door ostensibly because his tee time had arrived; of course, he was simply trying to avoid having to answer my searing, gut-wrenching inquiries. I let him go. I had already pierced to the man's soul; no need to make him squirm any longer.
Number four: I don't much like to talk about the time I met Angela Lansbury. It was the summer of '83; I had just watched this paragon of the American theater complete yet another tour de force, in the revival of unreasable). A friend of mine happened to be in the show, and as I searched around backstage for his dressing room, I came across her room.
While standing in front of the closed door of Angela Lansbury's dressing room, I learned more about the woman than any interview could have revealed. It was a door like any other door, just as the woman it shielded was, under the tinsel of Broadway, made of flesh and blood--the same as the rest of us. But what the closed door truly conveyed was the sense of isolation at the top. Lansbury proved an essentially private woman, who needed to close her dressing room door to escape the prying eyes of the public. The kind of woman who would close her dressing room door to insulate herself from the moral wasteland that is the entertainment world.
There was a magic moment of communion between that woman behind the door and me; it lingered a moment, and then I passed on. My friend later offered to introduce me to Lansbury, but I knew it would never happen. The moment was gone. A brief spark struck between two kindred souls illuminated the night and was gone as quickly as it had come.
Number five: As a five year old child I sat on the lap of the original, five-million-year-old Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore. 'Nuff said?
I COULD PUT all of this into a book one day. A book of stories as true as what you've just read. I could regale you for pages with tales of my brushes with the high and mighty: Bill Madlock, Cloris Leachman, Howard Cosell, Placido Domingo, Ronald McDonald. The list goes on and on. But I just don't know if I could sleep at night upon the wreckage of the broken careers, the shattered lives that would result from such a work.
But then again, the public does have a right to know, even if satisfying that right makes me millions of dollars in royalties and gets me on the Tonight Show. Get me Random House on the line.