So what was a mild-mannered, middle-aged librarian doing on the Today Show in the first place?
I'd written an essay, At Ease With A Body Fighting Gravity, about the fact that I'm more comfortable in a bathing suit at age 58 than I was in my youth, when I actually had the body to rock a Speedo. This, apparently, was so unusual that after it was published in the New York Times, a Today Show producer invited me onto the show to talk about it.
"I'd love to," I replied. "But not in a bathing suit."
I had my doubts about whether a librarian gabbing about an essay would make for riveting TV. While I can be funny on paper, I'm no dazzling wit. You'd never use the words "life of the party" to describe me. Plus, the prospect of being national television was, to put it mildly, terrifying. At work, I'm always ready to entertain a crowd of toddlers with "The Wheels on the Bus" or "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." But entertaining millions of people on live TV?
That sounded more like an Itsy Bitsy Heart Attack.
My library colleagues assured me that I could do it. "If you can handle Tiny Tot Story Time," they told me, "You can handle anything."
Telling people that I was going to be on Today quickly became my favorite passtime. (I enjoyed watching their jaws drop.) Still, in my heart, I knew it would never happen. Me? On the Today Show? No way.
But then it did.
So what's it actually like to be on the Today Show?
It wasn't my usual day.
A limo turned up at 5 a.m. to drive me and my entourage (my sister Diane) from my suburban Philadelphia home to 30 Rock. (Trust me, this isn't how we librarians usually roll.)
After arriving we were shown to the Green Room (which isn't green. It's actually orange and purple). There was yummy-looking brunch chow I was too nervous to eat, wall-mounted flat screens playing the show I was about to be on (YIKES!) ... and Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley sitting together on a corner sofa, filming a promo.
"Toto," I said to my sister, "We're not in Kansas anymore."
For the next 90 minutes, I was efficiently passed from one ear bud-wearing, clip board-wielding young staffer to another, each of whom filled me in on what was happening and what to expect next.
"Roz Warren? You'll be here for 20 minutes, then we'll take you to hair and make-up."
Hair and make-up, it turns out, is just a beauty salon, but at warp speed. Fifteen minutes after I hit the salon chair, my straight blond hair had been transformed into something with shape and body, and my face spackled with glamorous gunk, including burgundy lipstick and heavy mascara, a look my sister pronounced "garish" when I rejoined her.
"But I'm sure it'll look great on screen," she said. (It did.)
We waited in a new lounge with a random assortment of other garishly made up strangers, again watching the Today Show. A woman who'd been with us in the Green Room earlier was now onscreen, promoting a parenting book.
I was, I realized, on a TV Guest conveyor belt, swiftly carrying me toward my three minutes of fame.
"Your segment is scheduled for 8:35," a staffer told me. "It's a beautiful day, so you'll be out in the plaza instead of in the studio."
At 8:15, I was taken to a "dressing room" to change into the Eileen Fisher garb I'd brought with me. To my surprise, it wasn't a room at all, just a curtained-off corner of hair and make-up. I ducked behind the curtain, stripped down to my undies and suited up.
Once in Eileen Fisher, I felt more confident. I might soar on my segment or fall flat on my face, but at least I'd be well dressed. (And my local EF store had given me a whopping "She's wearing this on the Today Show" discount!)
My producer turned up to wish me well. My segment, she said, would start with an upbeat clip of AARP-aged women talking about feeling beautiful. Not only that, but staffers had offered any woman in the crowd watching the show who was over 60 the chance to "background" my segment, if she'd stand behind me holding a brightly colored placard proclaiming her age.
Sure enough, when I took my place on a chair out on the plaza, I was cheered by a happy group of middle-aged women (my peeps!). They had no idea who I was, of course. All they knew was that, thanks to me, instead of being stuck at the back of the crowd, they, too, were about to be on national television.
Two minutes before air time, Savannah Guthrie, a slim woman in a stunning turquoise cocktail dress, took the chair opposite mine, and shook my hand. (Folks have since asked if she looks as good in person as she does on TV. You'd better believe it.)
"I'm Savannah," she said. "I liked your article!"
A writer I know who is often on television had advised me to look as upbeat and animated as possible. "You may feel as if you're grinning like a crazy person," she said. "But it'll come off great on camera."
I wasn't finding it difficult to grin. This was pretty amazing.
Somebody was counting down. Five... four... three... two...
We were on the air.
Savannah Guthrie, is, without question, worth every penny they pay her. I am now her biggest fan. Guthrie made damn sure I didn't make a fool of myself on national television. Every question was calibrated to make me sound as if I had a clue. And when it became clear that I'd never finish my final anecdote in time, she zipped in, nailed the punch line, and ended the segment on a laugh from the crowd.
Okay, so maybe I'm biased, but I think it was terrific television.
The cameras stopped. Guthrie moved on. "Great job!" said my producer.
Twenty minutes later my sister and I were back in the limo, headed home. (And by five that night, I was back at the circulation desk, checking in books.)
It was an amazing, incredible, once-in-a-life time adventure.
And I'm really glad it's over.
If you ever get invited onto Today, here's my advice.
Get plenty of sleep the night before. Bring your sister. Wear Eileen Fisher. Hope that Robin Sindler is your producer. Don't expect the Green Room to actually be green. Smile like a crazy person. Enjoy yourself.
And give Savannah my best.
Actor, director, producer and writer Tom Hanks has two Oscars under his belt thanks to his brilliant performances playing a gay lawyer in "Philadelphia" and the loveable, mentally challenged young man in the comedy-drama "Forrest Gump." He has many other mega hits including "Apollo 13," "A League of Their Own," and "Sleepless in Seattle." Before he became an academy-award winner, he got his start doing small-change parts like this cute performance on "Happy Days" in 1982 where he challenged "The Fonz" to a fight.
Betty White, who is a slam-dunk superstar at the age of 90, has entertained the masses for many moons -- best known for her roles as Sue Ann Nivens in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and Rose Nyland In "The Golden Girls" -- and of course she's still going strong today in "Hot In Cleveland." She actually made her television debut way back in 1954 on "The Betty White Show" when, most likely, only one in five families actually owned a TV set. This clip from her show is a must-see! Who knew Miss Betty White could sing? This could be the clip that goes viral.
Jack!! This 75-year-old superstar thespian, who has been "cool" his whole life it seems, has a body of work that would knock your socks off if we mentioned all of his films in this space. Along the way he picked up Best Actor Oscars for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and "As Good as It Gets," plus Best Supporting Actor for "Terms of Endearment." Before he became a household name, he had to start somewhere. One of his first acting gigs came courtesy of Andy Griffith. Check out this cameo on "The Andy Griffith Show," in 1967.
Jerry Seinfeld burst onto the scene -- big time -- when he starred in his own television show from 1989 to 1998 after spending many years as a stand-up comic making his rounds on the comedy club circuit. He called his show "Seinfeld" interestingly enough, and it went on to become one of the best sitcoms of all time. Before that big break, Jerry put in some time on the sitcom "Benson" (1980-1981) and here's a great example of his early work.
Marlo Thomas will forever be "That Girl" (1966-1971), and that's just fine with us. Being the daughter of the legendary comedian Danny Thomas, it would seem that she just waltzed into the role of aspiring actress Ann Marie on the popular sitcom, but, believe it or not, daddy didn't pull the strings. Marlo worked her way up the ladder with hard work and determination building up countless credits in both film and television roles. This clip from "Bonanza" called "A Pink Cloud Comes from Old Cathay" in 1964 -- where she plays Chinese mail order bride Tai Lee -- was one of her more challenging early roles. (She appears about two minutes into the clip -- but watch the entire thing to see a very young Jodie Foster.)
When Henry Winkler signed on the do a one-shot role, playing Fonzie "The Fonz" Fonzarelli on an early episode of "Happy Days," his character proved to be so popular, he became a regular cast member. The Fonz is one of the best characters on any sitcom in any generation. We all had a Fonzie type in our school (the "leather clad greaser") growing up. Just prior to getting the biggest role of his career at that time, he made a guest appearance on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- "The Dinner Party" -- in 1973. (He appears about three minutes into the clip.) Check out the hair.
Harrison Ford has given us so many memorable performances including: Han Solo in the "Star Wars" trilogy," the title character in the "Indiana Jones" film series, and Jack Ryan in "Patriot Games." He managed to grab the role of Cullen Tindall in a 1967 episode of "The Virginian," in "The Modoc Kid" episode. The man in the black hat is almost unrecognizable as the Harrison Ford we know today.
Tom Cruise is almost beyond superstar at this point. He's titanic! Where do we begin with his film credits? "Risky Business," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Top Gun," "Mission: Impossible," "The Color of Money," "Rain Man," "Days of Thunder," "A Few Good Men." Stop! We can't go on. We're out of breath. What you'll love about this clip from his first movie role in "Endless Love" is: he's raw, but still adorable!
Diane Keaton is one of our favorite "seasoned" actresses. From her first major film role as Kay Adams-Corleone in "The Godfather," to Woody Allen's "Play It Again, Sam," and her Academy Award winning role of "Annie Hall," Keaton has proven that she's a keeper. At the age of 66 (when most actresses are looking in their rear-view mirror at their acting careers), the "Something's Gotta Give" actress is still working. Her first taste of "acting," came in 1969 in this Hour After Hour deodorant commercial.
Caryn Elaine Johnson, who went on to become Whoopi Goldberg, is a household name because of her incredible talent as a stand-up comedienne, her unforgettable film roles ("The Color Purple," "Ghost," and "Sister Act,") and her gift for gab (she's currently a co-host of "The View"). This triple threat talented Academy Award winning actress gave us a glimpse of what was to be in this classic "Whoopi Goldberg: One Woman Show" on Broadway back in 1985.
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