From discussing music, cooking and men with Sophia Loren to being the first reporter to interview Elvis Presley, journalist Edwin Howard offers intimate portraits of celebrities in his new book, "Seeing Stars." The book profiles such artists as Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, John Grisham, Martin Sheen, Ingrid Bergman and William Faulkner.
"I think people who have loved these stars will be intrigued to learn more about them," Howard said. "And I have enjoyed knowing these people so much that I want to share what I know about them and from them with a larger public."
Howard returned to his columns, notes, tape recordings and personal archives to create a collage of stories and photos.
"I like it because it is not the stuff that you get at the grocery store checkout lines," said Vince Vawter, news editor and a friend of Howard's at the Memphis Press-Scimitar from 1970-83. "It gives you a very clear snapshot of the people that he had interviewed."
Each chapter introduces a new portrait sketched from Howard's face-to-face encounters at stars' homes, hangouts, backstage or on the movie set.
"[I selected] the material I thought was best and the stars I thought were most enduring," Howard said. John Wayne, Mae West and Sophia Loren are still on TV on "Turner Classic Movies" and "American Movie Classics," Howard said.
After Howard's weekly column for the Best-Times in Memphis became a monthly column in 1998, he had time to spend writing "Seeing Stars." The book was published in the fall of 2002 by Rocky Run Publishing, a new company based in McLean and owned by two local women from McLean and Great Falls.
WHILE WRITING a novel had been at the back of his mind for a while, Howard devoted his career to journalism. The son of the editor for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Howard started playing on a typewriter at his father's office at age 5. In terms of a career, Howard said he never thought of doing anything else.
After high school, Howard postponed college to avoid being drafted for war in the middle of the semester. Instead, he began his first job as a copy boy for the Memphis Press-Scimitar on Aug. 18, 1942. His mornings would begin with trips to the hospitals to record the deaths and births, and his day would end by calling in the returns from the Memphis stock exchange.
"It was the best journalism school you could possibly go to," Howard said.
He was soon promoted to beginning journalist and would cover different beats when a reporter had a day off. His plans were interrupted, however, when he was called to report for duty in April 1943. Howard attended basic infantry training at Camp Croft, S.C., and was sent to an infantry replacement depot in Oran, Algeria, on the liberty ship John Stephens.
Howard was assigned to the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division as an infantry replacement just before the four-month-long Battle of Montecassino.
"That was my baptism by fire," Howard said.
His division was then sent to Anzio Beachhead, where soldiers were under artillery fire for four months before liberating Rome on June 4, 1944. Fortunately for Howard, he found an opportunity to put down his rifle and pick up a typewriter.
The commanding general of the 5th Army, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, wanted a combat correspondent in each regiment to write about the soldiers in his regiment. The story would then be sent to the soldier's hometown newspaper. Howard also recalls doing radio interviews with a wire recorder, a forerunner to the tape recorder.
"They were the most maddening things to work with," he said.
In addition to having a combat correspondent, the commanding general of the 1st Armored Division wanted a weekly paper for the division. Howard, therefore, co-founded and was the editor for The Warrior, a small newspaper featuring everything from histories of the various war units to pin-ups.
Howard returned to the states on a luxury cruise ship in December 1945 and was mustered out at Fort Knox, Ky.
HOWARD RETURNED to the Memphis Press-Scimitar but took a job with the Associated Press one week later. He wrote radio newscasts for Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. and earned $40 per week. Six months later, he returned to the Memphis Press-Scimitar and simultaneously entered Southwestern College, now Rhodes College. Though he was not working toward a degree, Howard spent two years studying geopolitics, philosophy, French, German, English and American literature and European drama.
For the Memphis Press-Scimitar, Howard worked as the entertainment and book editor until 1983. Vawter said that he set the tone for the arts in Memphis during that time. In 1962, he started his column "The Front Row," where he did the interviews that are the basis for his book "Seeing Stars."
"He never had a bad experience interviewing the stars," said Corinne Howard, wife of 27 years. "They have all been real people, and his interviews show that they open up to him. He is really interested in who they are and how they work and not in the gossip."
He reviewed motion pictures and live theater and attended film premieres during the Golden Age of Hollywood. In 1964, Howard received an award from the Motion Picture Association of America Inc. for the Best Motion Picture Pages in America.
"I have always thought in America that stars are so revered because we have never had royalty," Howard said. "They have been our kings and queens."
Howard began working for the Memphis Business Journal in 1983 and created the paper's Arts and Leisure section called "Life at the Top." He covered film, restaurants, wine and travel. In 1991, Howard and his wife moved to Washington, D.C., to be closer to their grandchildren, but Howard continued to write a weekly column. When the Memphis Business Journal was sold in 1997, Howard began writing the travel column "Being There" for the Best-Times.
Today, Howard continues to write for the Best-Times and also spends time doing radio shows to promote his book.
"When you read books by a journalist, a lot of times it is a rewrite of their previous columns, but I think what Edwin did in this book was kind of go back to his notes and memory," Vawter said. "All of this is fresh. This is a fresh look at people from the ‘60s and ‘70s."
"Seeing Stars: Memoirs of a Professional Celebrity-Seeker" has a list price of $24.95 but is available at amazon.com and borders.com for $17.47.