I’ve written from time to time of my fifteen minutes of fame – actually about five or ten years – during which I appeared frequently in the media as a pundit, a talking head, on TV and radio political talk shows: over a half dozen Today Show visits, ten or fifteen on (may God forgive me) The O’Reilly Factor, close to two dozen on MSNBC’s Hardball With (he’s mainly into bombast) Chris Matthews, and oodles more.

From time to time I was recognized in public. “Loved the way you socked it to O’Reilly last night,” someone said to me as I made my way down the aisle to my seat on a plane.

More typically, however, people could not remember precisely where they’d seen me. They had a vague sense that they knew me personally, that sometime, somewhere, we had met. “You’re a pulmonologist at Paterson, right?” I was asked at a wedding in New Jersey by a fellow squinting at me, absolutely certain that we were brothers or roommates or tag-team wrestlers.

In such instances I would ask, “Do you watch political talk shows?”

A flood of recognition would fill their faces.

Not only on radio and TV but occasionally also in print I was from time to time referenced or quoted.

My signature issue was Sex and Violence in the Media. Given my retro-hippie look, my progressive affect, my membership in the cultural and intellectual community, that is, a film professor at a world class institution of higher learning, folks might well have expected me to view movie/TV violence as excessive and reprehensible, as sorry evidence of Hollywood’s crass, unconscionable commercialism.
My view, however, was quite the opposite. I argued (and continue to do so) that sex and violence occupy a proper, venerable, honorable place in dramatic narratives.

One day the Los Angeles Times accepted for publication an article I’d written on the subject.

They planned to run the piece on their op-ed page on a particular Friday.

I was due to drive that day to San Francisco to offer a weekend seminar: Screenwriting: The Whole Picture.

My piece would be carried on the op-ed page that same day. The Times was read by hundreds of thousands of souls, among them virtually everybody I knew. I anticipated a torrent of phone messages: congratulations, commentary, and condemnation.

I would love the praise, of course, but the pejorative stuff was okay, too. It made me feel influential. In Hollywood (as in life) the worst pain comes not from being criticized but ignored.

This was still the pre-email, pre-Internet era. Unlike today’s telephone voicemail systems, which can field multiple calls simultaneously, my ancient, analog telephone answering machine, with its twin tape cassettes–one for my greeting, the other for incoming calls–could handle just a single message at a time. Anyone who phoned while the system was recording a message received a busy signal.

Likewise, at any time that I was phoning the machine from a remote location to retrieve my messages, callers would also receive a busy signal.

The day prior to publication, in order to remind myself to attend to a particular chore up north, I left myself the briefest message on my machine. “Be sure to drop by KGO radio to thank Ronn Owens,” I said as quickly as I could, anxious to avoid using too much tape. I wanted to have a maximum amount of time available for the tsunami of messages that, upon the appearance of the column, were sure to flow.

Owens was the most highly rated political talk show host in the Bay Area. He was the sole radio host who consistently whipped Rush Limbaugh in terms of audience size. (If that was going to happen anywhere, wouldn’t you expect it to be San Francisco?)

In the days prior to my San Francisco seminars, Ronn always invited me to appear as a guest on his program. My visits to his show constituted free advertising. May God bless and keep him. At no expense to me, dear Ronn filled my seminar every time.

In this pre-cell phone era, I drove to San Francisco that Friday, making it a point to avoid calling from payphones at highway rest stops along the way to retrieve messages, as I knew that doing so would cut off my answering machine’s ability to take further messages from the hordes of fans who were surely dialing.

At last, from my hotel room on Sutter Street that evening, brimming with anticipation I phoned my answering machine to retrieve the swarm of messages.

The system promptly clicked into action. “You have one message,” it said.

The message rolled.

My own voice say, “Be sure to drop by KGO radio to thank Ronn Owens.”

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