Beginning Monday, March 7, we replay some key archival moments from the show over the past 20 years. Click on the titles to listen to the audio clips.
The Pegeen Years
While Leonard may be celebrating his 20th Anniversary, it wasn't always his show. Five years before he arrived, it was called Senior Edition. Marty Wayne, Kate Borger, and the legendary Pegeen Fitzgerald were the stars of the show. It was quite casual. Kate Borger represented youth, Leonard was somewhere in the middle, and Pegeen, at that time, was already in her eighties. The show lasted four hours—an hour and a half with Pegeen, Kate, and Leonard, and the rest of the show featured Leonard doing the sort of the thing he does now. Here's a clip from 1985, his first year on the show.
The Yevtushenko Factor
Here's a clip from Leonard's conversation with his first famous guest: the Soviet poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko. He was a very important guest for a number of reasons. First of all, he was coming to us at a historic moment. It was before the fall of the Soviet Union, and perestroika was just happening. His coming on the show allowed us to get other kinds of guests. When we tried to book John Updike for the first time, the publisher said: "why should he come down to your station?" We said, "well, Yevgeni Yevtushenko just came here." And we wound up with John Updike. We kept on doing that until we got to a point where the list was too long, and anyway...everyone knew who we were. In this clip, from 1986, we talked about Mr. Yevtushenko's impressions of life here in New York.
Leonard interviewed the Nobel Prize-winning radio-astronomer Arno Penzias on the show in the spring of 1989. Mr. Penzias was one of the two men to first hear the echo of the Big Bang. He seemed like your typical New Yorker, who just happened to have been the first person to have heard the echo of the creation of our universe. Here is a clip from the conversation.
Over the years, Leonard has interviewed many people before they made it big: Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino came on the show to talk about their first films, and Shaquille O'Neal was here when he was still in college. And it's always been interesting to listen to those interviews again, knowing what happened afterward. Here is a clip from an interview with Robert Mankoff and Matt Groening in 1989—before The Simpsons became a series. They were here to talk about their books, but Matt Groening revealed something else along the way.
Many listeners want to know which were Leonard's best and worst interviews over the years—and Leonard always answers by saying: "I really don't know," or "I can't remember." And it's true, because the really good ones, we hope, number in the millions, and the bad ones, we don't want to ever think about again. But one interview does stick out as particularly bizarre. Lasse Hessel, the creator of the female condom, came in to talk about his invention back in 1993. What followed may seem like a comedy routine, but we promise, this is real. Here's a clip from that interview.
Leonard has met some really wonderful people over the years–people who were very open, and who he assumed would be back again and again. When Arthur Miller passed away recently, Leonard remembered the time he visited the show. One of the great things about the experience that Leonard had with Arthur Miller, and some of the other great guests on the show, is that it remains captured on tape. Here is an excerpt from Leonard's conversation with Arthur Miller from October 30, 1995.
Because radio is not a visual medium, Leonard sees a lot of things that don't get conveyed to the listener. Strange things have happened over the course of the history of this show. A woman once brought in a dog who had terrible gas. And the dog sat at Leonard's feet and, while you didn't know it, I was suffering from what was coming from that dog. One time Ben Kingsley was here, and he had obviously had something for lunch that was not sitting well – and, while he was talking, he started clutching his throat, and put his hand to his chest. In this conversation, you will hear, perhaps, a sigh in the middle of one of Leonard's questions. What is most amazing here is that his answer is quite eloquent – because Ben Kingsley is a brilliant performer. Here is an excerpt from that conversation that Leonard had with Ben Kingsley back in 2002.
Sometimes it's really difficult for Leonard to maintain his composure, because the things that his guests are telling him are just so emotionally compelling. That's what happened in 2002 when Angelina Atyan came on to talk about how her teenage daughter, Charlotte, had been kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. Tears were in her eyes...tears were in Leonard's eyes...and we imagine that many people who were listening to that interview had tears in their eyes as well. Here's a clip from that interview in 2002.
Leonard was not the most confident science or math student. At times, he’s been really terrified while interviewing scientists on the show. His big fear is always that he’ll be exposed as a fraud during those interviews. Here is a conversation he had with theoretical physicist Michio Kaku about string theory on January 2, 2004.