1978. It was a very good year. "Good Morning America" was enjoying a successful run as the nationally telecast morning show for ABC. Its host, since its inception in 1975, was David Hartman, well known on the Broadway stage and in the land of T.V. series. He was a tall, impressively handsome man, radiating charm and confidence. He was a star.
Through the connection of friends, I received a call, one day, inviting me on the show. The scheduled topic was "Should Negotiations Be Had With Ransom-Demanding Kidnappers." I chose the side of "yes". I was excited as hell, over the prospect of being on national t,v. LIVE!
Three days before THE date, I began prepping myself. Gotta be cool. Gotta look sure. No dry mouth. No wet palms. No stumbling for words. No upper lip sweat. No blanks on a reply. No heavy water drinking before showtime ("Alch Takes A Pee On ABC"). Stay focused. Banish nerves. Blue shirt for the lights. Make the world mine, like Tony Montana. Look like a champ. Act like a winner.
Flew to New York, the night before. Stayed at a five star hotel. All comped. Picked up by limousine at 5a.m., the morning of. Driven to ABC and escorted into the "Green Room". It wasn't green , at all. Just a guest depot offering coffee and Danish. None for me, thank you, sir. Chance of food on my teeth? Forgeddaboudit!
My name was called for make-up. Didn't want to look made-up. Sat in the chair, cloth bib under my chin. "Just take off the gleam", as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. A young man appeared, waiting at my side. "You're all set" from the cosmetician, "We're ready for you, Mr. Alch", from the young man, who escorted me onto the set.
It resembled a large warehouse. Like a huge furniture showroom displaying different room settings. Only the settings were sets, from which various segments would be televised. I was seated and miked. Three sound checks and I was primed for prime time. Waiting and fighting anxiety. Out of nowhere, David Hartman appeared and sat beside me. Should I ask for an autograph? No way! The last thing I wanted was to look like a fool. He introduced himself and we shook hands. Very warm and friendly. But I was an unsprung coil. My look of composure was a sham. Hold it together. This is the big leagues.
Then, sixty seconds from air time, the canyon-like room was immersed in bright light. Like when an outside door is opened while the movie is showing. My eyes followed the source. There, closing the door behind him , stood Howard Cosell.
He was an icon in the annals of sports broadcasting. A legend in his own time, exclusively associated with ABC. I had seen him, countless times, analyzing football, boxing, track meets--you name it. I was truly in awe. He spotted David Hartman sitting way across the room, beside me. They were social and professional close friends. He raised his right arm, as far as it would go, broke out the widest grin, and shouted,"Hi!"
Me, schmuck that I was, stood up, nearly breaking the mic cord, extended my own arm and shrieked, "Hi", in response.
If only the next moment had been captured on film. Hartman, Cosell, the techs, the grips, the people in adjoining sets waiting to be reached, everyone in the entire goddamn building looked at me with the same reaction-look on their faces. The signs all read: WHERE DID THIS FREAKIN' A--HOLE COME FROM? I slowly lowered my arm.
I'm not an overtly religious man. But, at that moment, I prayed, with all of my heart and soul, for the ground beneath my feet to open and engulf me forever. Alternatively, could I do the interview in a hood? Could I transform myself into Lamont Cranston and exercise my power to cloud men's minds so that they could not see me? (Don't fret, young folks. Ask your elders about "The Shadow".)
Most perplexed of all, was the big guy himself, Mr. Cosell. But to his credit, he was hip and remained cool, greeting Hartman with a handshake while politely, and ever so slightly, nodding to me.
What followed remains a blur. I sleepwalked my way through the interview while Hartman, the pro, generously extended himself to make me feel comfortable. I'm told I did well, in no way reflecting the pre-live catastrophe. But, it was one for the book.
Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. Once a fool, not necessarily always a fool. Whatever. I took it with me and relate it with a laugh. So, how bad could it be? Not at all.
We live, look back and learn. And we laugh.