Thursday, February 6, 2014

Jay Leno and me…We go way back

jay-leno-show_l2Tonight is Jay Leno’s final night of hosting The Tonight Show. Twenty-two years. As I start writing this post, I see it is nearing 11:30 on the East Coast. In honor of this occasion, I am going to tell you about my connection to Jay. This is something that I haven’t ever written about. Tonight seems the perfect time. So heeeeere’s my story! (Yeah, I know, wrong host. But Johnny passed the helm to Jay. Ok?)

The year was 1979. Maybe 1978, but I’m pretty sure it was 1979. I was down at the office of my elementary school, Bancroft School in Andover, MA. Mrs. Halbach, the school secretary asked me to take a man, who had just walked in, “up to your loft.” We called our grades “lofts” because they were large open classrooms…Like lofts. Our school was a really cool building. It looked like a modernist castle. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well suited to New England winters and the build up of snow caused the roof to leak in many, many places. As a result, there were a lot of construction workers around during that school year getting ready for a re-engineering project. I was sure the guy I was showing up to my loft was someone involved with the work. He had jeans and a plaid shirt on. I had him figured out. So up we went, I don’t think we talked. I brought him to Mr. Spencer, one of our teachers. All of us kids were called to the center of the loft and we sat on the floor.

Mr. Spencer proceeded to introduce this guy. He said, “This is my friend Jay Leno.” None of us knew who he was. But we soon learned that that he was “on TV” and lived in LA. He grew up in our town, Andover, MA and went to school with Mr. Spencer. He called Mr. Spencer “Billy” and we all thought that was a riot! This guy, Jay Leno, told us about himself, talked about growing up in our town and that his parents lived here. He answered lots of questions. Of course we all wanted to know when we could see him on TV. I can remember exactly what he told us, because I wrote it down and saved the paper for a long time. I’m sure that scrap of paper is still in with my stuff in my parent’s house. I wrote down, “Silver Bears,” Albert, “American Hotwax” and “Hollywood Squares” with two dates that coming July. Jay said he was in the movie “The Silver Bears” playing Albert, the movie “American Hotwax” and would be on the game show “Hollywood Squares” on two consecutive days in July. I asked him if he lived on Rodeo Drive and he laughed and said no. Rodeo Drive was pretty much the only thing I knew about LA at the time. Perhaps I knew Jay was going to make it big? He lives a stone’s throw from Rodeo Drive now! He signed autographs for each of us (about 75) kids. I was so excited to tell my parents I had met Jay Leno! They had no idea who he was. But they were really happy for me.

That summer, my mom allowed me to stay home from camp those two days to watch Jay Leno on The Hollywood Squares. Being that it was 1979, I knew I had a better chance of going to the moon than seeing those two movies he said he was in. But I kept an eye on the TV Guide. On the off chance, y’know?

From there our interactions with Jay were random but fairly constant over the next decade. He always remembered me. The next year or so, my mom and brother were at the McDonald’s in town and my brother spotted Jay. My mom thought it was a hoot because she still didn’t know who this guy was…That my brother and I knew. We would see Jay around town periodically. I got to high school in the late 80’s which coincided with the time he starting being a regular fill-in for Johnny Carson. Some of his teachers were still at Andover High and Jay would come in for visits. He was always such a genuinely nice guy. Joking around and reminiscing about his teenage shenanigans and being “Class Clown.” As his star was rising, local Boston TV stations would come out and do stories. Once I sat in on a staged study hall where he was interviewed sitting at a desk with the rest of us doing our homework. Andover High has a local access TV studio and during my years there, I hosted some shows. Jay would come by and say hi and sign autographs. Once we had a telethon and he called in from California with a very generous donation for the studio. I had friends who lived a couple of doors down from his parents. His mom and dad were super friendly.

In 1992, Jay became the permanent host of The Tonight Show. In 1994, my brother and I visited LA. I put a call in to the Tonight Show and said I knew Jay from Andover and was interested in getting tickets. I had no idea how it worked. It turned out my cluelessness got us put on a list at NBC Studios Guest Relations and meant we didn’t have to wait in line. I remember wearing an Andover T-shirt and wondering if Jay might spot it in the middle of the audience. Original idea, huh? In 1996 I ended up moving to LA. I worked at Disney Studios in Burbank and every day drove past NBC where the Tonight Show is taped. Over those next couple of years, I saw Jay a few times driving in one of his many cars. He was always in a good mood and waving to people. I met three people during those years who were helped by Jay when they were having car trouble. Jay is well known for pulling over to see if he can help someone. I marveled at the “small town Andover” way he lived his life in the huge city of LA. I think it was around 1998 when my friend Anna came out from Kentucky with her friend who had never been to LA. I called the Tonight Show and again said I was from Andover. Without hesitation, we got on the Guest Relations list. The next few times I went to The Tonight Show it was because I had a friend at NBC who got me tickets. I always went not knowing who the guest was going to be. I ended up attending two shows when Bridget Fonda was a guest. What are the odds? Once I went and David Bowie was the musical guest. I. About. Died. Huge fan. That made my year. You are probably wondering if I ever tried to connect with him in person. The first time we went, on the way out of the studio, we asked someone if Jay was around because we knew him from Andover. The guy seemed genuinely disappointed to say that he was leaving right away. Jay is a really hard worker and on many (most?) nights after he tapes a show, he goes and does a gig somewhere. Other than maybe a chance to connect with him after a taping, what was I going to do? Call him to do lunch? Ha, ha, ha! He’s such a nice guy, I bet he would’ve had lunch with me. I lived a few blocks from where he taped his “Jaywalking” segment on Melrose Avenue every week. My husband would drive past him on his way home from work. I meant to make it over there sometime. Life was busy and I never did.

The last ten years or so have been hectic. I got married, had two kids back to back. Time flies. Last year it was announced that Jay would be ending his run in February 2014. I felt sad because Jay’s career has been such a part of my life. He made it to the top. I cheered the whole way. Last Spring, my kids’ school was having their annual silent auction and I was working on auction items. I wondered if after all these years, could I call and say I’m so and so from Andover and get some tickets donated? I called and again, spoke to someone who was so nice. That’s the thing I always experienced when I called or when I was there. Every single person who works for Jay is so NICE! They arranged four VIP tickets and a VIP meet and greet after the show. Of course, they said they couldn’t guarantee the meet and greet because Jay may have to leave right after the show. I said, “Oh, I know. He might have a gig.” I felt that giving my “semi-inside knowledge” might help to legitimize my phone call. I asked his assistant if she would please express to Jay how grateful I was. And if you could tell him it’s Elizabeth and l listed off a bunch of ways we know each other. She was so nice and said she would. So, did I have an in with Jay? Do I still have an in with Jay? Or are they just so nice at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno? Who knows? What we all know though, is that Jay has been top of the ratings for over two decades and he is going out on top. Leaving on a high note as the class act he is.

Here we are. February 6, 2014. Jay already taped the show. It will be airing here shortly. The last show has already been seen in our hometown. I have a feeling Jay isn’t going into retirement. Maybe I could ask him to go to lunch? Maybe he has a little more time now? After all, Jay and me. We go way back.

1 comment:

Rachel J Stevens said...
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