HARWINTON, CT – It was with more than a modicum of curiosity that took me to a bricks and mortar bookstore recently to purchase the just-released memoir of “Cagney & Lacey” star Sharon Gless. It’s titled “Apparently There Were Complaints,” and it recounts portions of Gless’s youth; her acting life, both on and off screen; and some of the friendships she’s enjoyed.
It was the fact we shared a mutual friend that had me wondering if she’d perhaps included the tale of when I visited her on the location set in downtown Los Angeles of the CBS cop drama. This was in the early 1980s when I was working as TV/Radio Columnist for “The Arizona Republic” newspaper in Phoenix.
The odds were minuscule, but because our mutual friend was so colorful, funny and memorable, I thought she just might reveal what happened during the set visit as a crude, hilarious example of our friend’s outrageous sense of humor.
The friend was Jay Michaelis. He was a high-ranking NBC executive in the area of talent relations. Among his duties was handling PR for “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.” I knew that he and Gless – or “Miss Gless” as he called her – were close from what happened before and during the set visit.
It wasn’t until page 129 that his name first appeared, at which point I began read with more anticipation. Gless explained how she came to adore him. “He was a stocky, balding, closeted guy. He walked around in brightly colored Hawaiian shirts and had a very wry and dark sense of humor. He was as irreverent on any given subject as a person could possibly be. Of course, I instantly loved him,” she wrote.,
Gless went on to note, “He called me Miss Gless. Always MIss Gless.”
I just simply called him “Jay.” I first met him when he invited me to have dinner with him at an exquisite restaurant in Studio City, CA. As I later wrote in an “Arizona Republic” column, “Having arrived early, I was seated at his table. It was in a prime location, where he could see everyone, and everyone could see him.
“Throughout the dinner, he waved and smiled at friends and acquaintances. Other diners stopped by the table to offer their hellos. A star from a TV series. A top executive from a rival network.
“We completed our entrees and asked for coffee. It was delivered by a waiter who obviously knew the NBC executive better than I did.
“Cream and sugar were presented on an accompanying tray. The cream was in a pitcher. The sugar came not in packets, but on a tile, the granules having been raked into neat little lines.”
“The executive laughed. I did, too.”
Back then, drugs were everywhere, flaunted and laughed about, although I’m pretty sure that what appeared on the tray were sugar crystals. Or maybe not.
It was maybe a year later that the interview with Gless was arranged. Having some free time beforehand, I dropped by his Burbank office. I mentioned that I was headed downtown to see Gless and asked, “Any messages for her?”
Jay paused and yelled for his secretary to bring him some packets of Sweet ‘n Low. The column recalls, “As he awaited for her return, he quickly penned what I later learned was a bawdy note of introduction for me, a hilarious icebreaker guaranteed to get the interview off on an upbeat note.
“He folded the note, took the Sweet ‘n Low from his secretary, ripped open the packages and poured the contents inside the note. which he then stuff into an envelope and sealed before handing it to me.
“An hour or so later, inside a makeup trailer, I presented the note to Gless. She opened it, and the white grains spilled (into) her lap. She read the note and laughed aloud.”
Yes, the ice had been broken.
The interview inside a makeup trailer in a gritty section of L.A. went well. Gless was warm and friendly. She even walked me back to my car.
It was some time later while working at my desk at “The Arizona Republic” that a short wire story with a Pasadena, CA dateline popped up in the computer noting the death of an NBC executive. My throat constricted and I began reading.
“Cocaine and paraphernalia used to sniff the drug were found near the corpse of an NBC executive, leading detectives to suspect the drug contributed to his death, police say. Jay Michaelis, 50, was found dead Sept. 10 in his bedroom by a servant… A preliminary coroner’s report attributed the death to heart attack.”
In her memoir, Gless recalled learning of Jay’s death from her publicist as she was sitting on a couch in her Studio City home. “He died in his sleep,” she wrote. “I went to stand up and my legs gave out from under me. I fell to the floor.”
She then noted that Jay was irreplaceable, and that it took three people to fill his shoes.
To this day, I have fond memories of Jay and Miss Gless. While I’ve told this story to friends, the only living people who know the contents of the note that I delivered to Gless are the actress and myself. Jay’s words inside that note, carried to her in the envelope addressed with the words “Miss Gless, c/o Dyke Cop Show, Downtown Los Angeles,” will never be forgotten by me.
“This is my friend Bud. He’s a fine fuck. Give him a try.”
Gless didn’t mention our meeting in her memoir. There was really no reason to do so. But her memoir certainly brought back to me in a big way the memory of the one time that our paths crossed and of a friend who died too soon.
As for her memoir, it’s a fine book. Give it a try!
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