Interview archive will speak volumes

Times Staff Writer

Recently, TV host Connie Martinson queried Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz on the urgent question of globalization and explored the Islamic faith with pundit-author Reza Aslan. But her favorite all-time guest -- that might have to remain “Hello, Dolly” composer Jerry Herman, who taped his segment in her Coldwater Canyon living room, where he belted out his show tunes on her baby grand.

Soon, viewers everywhere will be able to relive such Martinson moments on demand, as the L.A.-based host has donated the archives of her long-running cable access program, “Connie Martinson Talks Books,” to the Claremont Graduate University. Included among the nearly 3,000 tapes Martinson has amassed since her show debuted in 1979 are exchanges with George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Rosa Parks, Walter Mosley and Al Gore. She borrowed Charlie Rose’s studio to interview Michael Bloomberg, flew to Tulsa, Okla., to chat about James Joyce, and once got drunk on-air with a San Diego author who home brews 110-proof liquors. Known for her eye for up-and-comers, more than a decade ago she chatted up a young Chicagoan named Barack Obama about his memoir “Dreams From My Father.” Thus far, only John Updike has gotten away, though “he’s still alive,” Martinson is quick to note.

“It’s a pretty extraordinary gift,” said Rick Wartzman, director of CGU’s Drucker Institute, which shares the donation with the university’s Transdisciplinary Studies Program. “There’s a lot of culture in there, both high culture and pop culture,” he said of the collection, which also features 10 appearances by Sidney Sheldon as well as programs with James Patterson and Johnnie Cochran.


Wartzman said the institute has compiled a list of 100 interviews, from Buzz Aldrin to Joseph Wambaugh -- representing the archive’s wide-ranging nature -- to begin digitizing immediately. Eventually, the collection will be cataloged chronologically, an effort Wartzman estimates will take three years. Everything will be made freely available to the public on the Claremont Colleges Digital Library website.

Today, Martinson’s show airs regularly in San Francisco, San Diego and L.A., but she claims a global reach. Martinson once stumbled upon her show while aboard a Turkish cruise ship, and through her website, she says she routinely receives mail from as far afield as Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Martinson said she spoke with her alma mater, Wellesley College, as well as with UCLA, whose satellite station carries “Connie Martinson,” but ultimately decided to donate her wares to CGU because of its eagerness to showcase the collection. Per Martinson’s only stipulation, her archives will be named the Connie Martinson Talks Books Collection. “You can get modest and be stupid,” she said.