Two years into my reporting career, I was about to do my first interview with an accomplished actor from Hollywood. I made sure, darn sure, I was at the Mayfield 15 minutes early.
Then, from almost nowhere, I heard: “You must be Cam. I’m Jamie.”
Guess who, M*A*S*H fans?
Jamie Farr was in town at the dinner theatre at the Mayfield, called Stage West.
I was writing for a small monthly newspaper, The Spokesman, which featured stories and issues for people with disabilities. And, 1981 was declared International Year of Disabled Persons by the United Nations.
I thought, maybe, since M*A*S*H was set in a Korean war in an U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, there might be some actors with physical disabilities — which would echo full participation, the theme of the International Year.
We got settled in a small office in the hotel. Thirty minutes: that was how much time I had with Jamie.
My first question was about actors with disabilities on M*A*S*H.
Jamie thoughtfully paused for five seconds.
“No, I don’t think there are,” he said.
My mind raced. Major panic set in.
I had over 29 minutes left with Jamie and … nothing to talk about.
Or, so I thought.
Although he never admitted it, he could have sensed I was scrambling.
Because he started asking questions about me.
After a few minutes I devised a new plan and started asking about his career, and about himself.
At one point of the interview I asked him how he handled the notoriety of being on one of the biggest television shows of all-time.
“How do you deal with people coming up to you all the time to say hello?” I asked.
His words still ring clear as a bell with me today. “It depends how I’m feeling,” he said. “If I’m well-rested, I really enjoy it. But I always try to treat people with respect.”
Jamie and I kept in touch over the years when he made visits to Edmonton. Jamie is an avid golfer and was at the Edmonton Country Club in 1987 to play in the Wayne Gretzky Golf Classic.
We last had an in person visit in 2010 when he was at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre and was absolutely brilliant in the two-man play Tuesday’s With Moire. He played Morrie Schwartz, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I don’t want to retire,” he told me as we had a visit one mid-morning.
He’s back in town for his seventh show. Jamie is in The Last Romance at the Mayfield that runs until early August.
Jamie is also celebrating his 80th birthday next week.
I’m going to see the show tonight and am really looking forward to seeing him again.
If I’m lucky enough to see him after the show I will try to think of a good opening question for him so I don’t bomb — like I did 33 summers ago.