The call came in November 1979. It was the secretary to Joel Goodman, a producer at CBS News. “Look,” she said, “we just wanted to give you a heads up. John J. O’Connor reviewed the show in the Times today and he wasn’t kind. But he never likes anything we do.”
“Okay,” I said. I was 20 years old, my photograph was in the New York Times and the accompanying review described me as “nervous but determined.” I was pretty blase about it.
But you probably need to know more.
In my first two years at Northwestern, my part-time job was babysitting for the daughter of journalism professor Emily Soloff, who had worked at CBS. In the spring of my sophomore year, a producing team that had worked on CBS Special Reports and “30 Minutes,” the kids version of “60 Minutes” launched a nationwide search for a show called “Going Places,” which was to be the kids’ Charles Kuralt. Emily asked if I wanted to interview; she had been impressed with my rapport with her daughter. (Believe me, no one in the Medill School of Journalism was going to recommend me based on my schoolwork.) I assumed it was a P.A.’s job and I bopped down to Fiske Hall, where I met producer Pattie White. We talked for a while and she asked if I wanted to audition. “Audition for a P.A.’s job?” No, to be a co-host, she explained patiently. They wanted young, college-age hosts, male and female. Sure, why not? I had the afternoon free.
It was a cool, rainy Chicago spring. I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, they pointed a camera at me and I chattered away. I said I wanted to explore the country to find out what other people took for granted about their lives and regions. “I’m from Maryland,” I said, “so I assume everyone has steamed crabs and crooked governors.” I said that if I didn’t get the gig, I was going to spend the summer waitressing in a French restaurant in Winnetka. At the end, I said as I had been instructed: “I”m Laura Lippman and I’m Going Places!” Patti’s producing partner, Michael, said: “You sure are.”
A month later, I was in New York with Jim Stewart, chosen from the open auditions at the University of Missouri. They took was to Elaine’s, where I saw Philip Roth. We did some more taping, so they could be sure we were camera-ready, and headed home. That summer, I spent two weeks on the road, going from Mesa Verde to Missoula, driving a white van emblazoned “Going Places.” The hardest part? Trying to drive a van at a steady 5 mph while looking out the window at the camera following me from another vehicle and speaking scripted lines.
The show’s premiere was fun. My roommates and I borrowed a color television set and watched it with a group of friends. Most people said I did not seem particularly nervous or determined, just natural. And the show was generally well reviewed. But it was shot on film, which was expensive, and the gas crisis was under way. The show was simply too expensive to produce. I met with Dan Rather’s agent, who told me to go get a couple of years in newspapers and then break into television. I went to Waco, Texas, where I watched a young television reporter comb and spray her hair when arriving at a breaking news story and thought: No way. That was it. I turned my back on television and stuck with newspapers.
And I never spoke of it. The experience was simply too odd. Plus, it doesn’t come up in conversation that often. (“Ever been chosen from a nationwide search to host a television show?” “Who hasn’t?”) So the story somehow became a secret — until I readily confessed all to Anthony Mason of CBS, when he inquired about doing one of his CBS Sunday Morning reports on me. My hunch was that the discovery of that old show would provide such hilarious footage that it would be irresistable.
So there I was, on national television 20 years later — “I’m Laura Lippman and I’m Going Places!” My secret life was outed. With absolutely no consequence, although I did get a lot of inmate mail for a while.
Anyone here have an accidentally secret life, a story too weird to tell? Ready to out yourself? Go for it.