MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and if you type this phrase into Google, "Washington powerbrokers," here's what happens. Whoa, 1,950,000 results. Seriously? Power, and the folks who wield that power, get a lot of attention in our fair city. And given that they already have, what, nearly 2 million web pages devoted to them, we thought we'd bring a show about a different kind of powerbroker, individuals who have played significant roles in D.C. to be sure, but often in an unsung, behind the scenes sort of way.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So, we're calling today's show, "Lifetime Achievement." And over the next hour we'll meet some older Washingtonians who are leaving a lasting mark on the D.C. area and beyond. Like a dancer, who found her calling helping psychiatric patients at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a harmonica player who's been making music for 88 years, and the man who became the nation's very first African American director of the National Park Service.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
First though, if you're listening right now I'm going to assume you're a big fan of radio. But if ever you have the TV on and you're flipping through the channels, and you happen to be in Northern Virginia, then you might come across this…
MR. RICH MASSABNY
Welcome to "Conversations with Rich." I'm Rich Massabny.
We'll be back with our "News for Seniors File," right after we hear from Rich Massabny and his reviews.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2
Thank you, boys. Thank you. Thank you.
Or even this…
Hello, and welcome to "Rich's Place." I'm Rich Massabny. About a week ago or so, you know, I'm an oyster nut, people that know me. And I heard about Rappahannock Oyster Company, it's out in -- off New York Avenue, Northeast 5th Street. And so I ventured out there.
For more than 25 years Rich Massabny has been gracing television screens across Northern Virginia with his local cable shows. On "Rich's Place," his cooking program on Fairfax Public Access, he was recently whipping up grilled oysters and crab cakes with the general manager of Rappahannock Oyster Company, Jean Paul Sabatier.
Jean Paul Sabatier. I like to say your name.
MR. JEAN PAUL SABATIER
I like to say my name, too.
I bet you do. Sabatier.
It's a famous-person name. Hopefully, I'll be famous one day.
And be able to use it.
All right. So Jean Paul is kind of joking around here, but in all seriousness, when it comes to famous people, 77-year-old Rich Massabny is no stranger.
I interviewed a lot of big people. Carol Channing, Phyllis Diller, Nelson Eddy, and just so many others.
It all began back in 1961…
April '61. Don't ask me why I remember April.
…about seven years after Rich had moved to Arlington, Virginia, from his native Brooklyn, New York.
You still have a bit of that Brooklyn accent.
Everybody tells me that. And I can't understand it, after 60 years.
So Rich was in his mid-20s, and he was looking for a job. And he ventured to the offices of the Northern Virginia Sun newspaper. Little did he know he was about to have his big break.
I walked in the door and some guy coming out the door, he says to me, "Kid, do you know showbiz?" "Yeah, I know showbiz." I didn't know showbiz. So he takes me by the hand and walks me, oh, several feet over to a guy named Ed Campbell, who was a boss there. And he says, "Ed, I'm leaving. I'm going back to New York." It was the first that Ed had ever of that, that he's leaving town. So he was stuck. So Ed looked at me and says, "Can you go to the Shoreham Hotel?"
That was a big, big place, a big venue in town. "Can you go to the Shoreham Hotel tonight and interview Sophie Tucker?" Which was the last of the Red Hot Mamas. You know, she was big. And I said -- what do you think I said? "Sure." So we go there. They give you -- you had a sit-down dinner and there was the three important people, the big paper then, you may know, was The Evening Star, then The Washington Post, and then there was the daily news tabloid, Scripps Howard Paper.
And then this kid from Brooklyn was there, too. So Sophie Tucker, she came to the table and put her fists on her sides like this and she says, "Okay. I'm going to have a corned beef sandwich with a bottle of beer. Where's Rich Massabny?" And I tell you I almost wanted to slide under the table. You know, who the hell am I to be with her, you know? She invited me up to her room. And we had corned beef sandwiches and Budweiser beer, I remember. And she was a two-fisted babe. And then I reviewed the show, too. So that's the way it got started.
And I understand that your big break with television -- that was also kind of a luck story. It was kind of a serendipitous, almost accidental thing. Can you tell us that story?
Oh, yeah. With television, it was about 30 years ago, every year in Arlington they have a county fair. And one time I was walking around and in those day I had black, wavy hair. Just -- can you picture this, Rebecca? Black, wavy hair and I didn't look so bad. I'm looking for a compliment, come on, come on, give me something.
You look great.
Oh, okay. Great. But anyway, so there was a monitor there. And I was walking by and a guy says, "Gee, you look good on the screen. Do you do television or something like that? And I said -- he said, "You understand about interviews and whatever it is?" And I says, "Yeah." So I go Wednesday, we're taping this thing Wednesday and I'm going tonight, as I have for now 30 years, to the Arlington Cable Station. The same guy who's the boss there, Don Hammond.
He's the one head of the Arlington Weekly News. So I went up to see Don Hammond. He wasn't too impressed. He said, "Okay, get back to me in a couple of weeks," you know, I figured that's dead. And then some guy comes running out of the control room and he says, "Don, what's-his-name didn't show up. And we've got six minutes," that's exactly what he said. "Six minutes we've got to do something with." So Don then turned to me, "Can you do six minutes?"
So he said, "What do you want to talk about?" And I always liked restaurants, you know. And so I says, "How about restaurants in Northern Virginia. And I did it all off the top of my head. And he said, "Well, come back next week." So I've been coming back next week for the last 30 years. See, in those days, everybody wasn't a critic like today. Almost everybody I meet's a reviewer or something or other. It wasn't that way then. It was just a few of us. And I was one of them.
And when I was at the Sun, and I'd get called into the switchboard operator, you know, where you pull the thing out of the wall, you know, and stick it in? That's the way it was. She came over to me, her name was Billie Fatally (sp?). See, I had a column, "At Sundown," in Northern Virginia Sun. "At Sundown," with Richard J. Massabny. She said, "What's your middle name?" I said, "Joseph." She said, "Okay, from now on, you're Dick Joseph." So I was known around town as Dick Joseph and I couldn't go to a restaurant or a theater thing where people didn't know me.
I was also had a radio show on WAVA, by the way, which I had a show there about the same time as with the Sun, "Inside Showbiz with Dick Joseph." And after the Northern Virginia Sun, you know, it -- there was some wealthy man in our community who wanted to start up a magazine -- that was before Washingtonian -- Playtime Washington, 1963 I think. And he wanted me to become the entertainment editor. And do the same thing with restaurant and theater columns. And I did that for maybe, I don't know, three years.
Gee, you know it, just thinking of those days I'm getting awfully nostalgic about this, you know. I don't know if it's because I was younger or whatever it was, but people were more accessible. I could see anybody I wanted. You know, I can't today.
Well, but you've also interviewed -- what did you say -- 4,000 people in 30 years?
Yes. Yeah, it might be over that, but 4,000 is a nice figure. I've got good memories. I wouldn't trade it. You know, I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing.
That was TV host, reviewer and interviewer, Rich Massabny. You can catch Rich on a handful of TV stations on a handful of days at a handful of times. We have links to all of them on our website, metroconnection.org.
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