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Saturday, April 10, 2021

In Market: TMZ, Fort Worth style

Me, Mario Lopez and Nancy O’Dell

Just hanging out, covering the stars

I’ve had interesting times covering various stories over my career. I waited for hours and hours with a fellow reporter to get one small comment from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. We would switch off taking bathroom breaks so we wouldn’t miss him.

I’ve forgotten what burning question of the day we were asking him, probably something like, “How will the new TCP/IP standard affect Windows 98?” I do remember that his answer was something profound like, “I don’t know, ask Steve Ballmer.”

I was a crime reporter in Grand Prairie and got called out to a crime scene. It was gruesome. Our photographer wasn’t available so I got my camera out and took some images. It turned out to be a suicide and it took the guy several attempts to get it right. The chief of police was there. When we got the body identified, it turned out he had no real connection to Grand Prairie, which at that time had a reputation as the dumping ground for anything bad that happened in the D-FW area.

“Damn it,” the police chief said. “Guy is born in Dallas, lives in Irving, works in Arlington and so of course he comes to Grand Prairie to die.”

I forgot that I had taken the photos, which I did not just for the paper but in case the cops wanted them later. So when I later developed the film, it gave me nightmares for years. I can still see the images.

Grisly crime scenes were also tough on the clothes budget, particularly since I didn’t have one at the time. If you went to a dead-body scene – particularly a well-aged body – it could be weeks before the smell came out of your clothes. Eu de crime scene does not attract the ladies.

Covering technology, I went to a company party for a computer firm back in the day in Vegas. It was held at the then-late Liberace’s Vegas home. It was as over the top as you would imagine. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was recreated down his hallway. God’s finger reaching out to Adam was interrupted by an air vent. The hallway had a sunken tub in the middle. Of course. I probably got a story about the computer company out of that, but I remember the house, not the story.

Yet, even though I did some movie reviewing early in my career at both the TCU Daily Skiff and the University of Maryland Diamondback campus papers, I had never covered a movie opening. My best line was in a movie review of Jill Clayburgh’s An Unmarried Woman, where I wrote: “The leads all acted their tails off. Alas, there just wasn’t very much there to wag.”

Despite gems like that, I ventured into less high-minded news coverage. So doing a movie premiere was new territory for me when I ventured to the AMC Palace 9 a couple of weeks back to cover the Fort Worth opening of The Iron Orchard. No slight to the hardworking filmmakers and stars here, but there was no De Niro, Pacino or Lady Gaga in attendance. There also wasn’t a horde of reporters or TMZ crew members jousting for embarrassing quotes.

Still, I got to see the process. First, the movie people wanted my name and title early. They also told me what time to be there and called or texted me when I was inevitably late. I got there just in time to take a few photos of stars exiting some classic cars. I then got my badge and a press agent took me to the velvet rope. It wasn’t a long one. At our feet were plastic signs with our names and company affiliations. They were there so the stars could glance down and see who they were speaking with. How clever and efficient they are. And it worked. Even though I was late, I was one of the first reporters there, so they moved me to a prime spot. How late do you have to be to be early?

And that was it. It seemed remarkably easy compared with chasing down a city councilman to ask an embarrassing question or going to a crime scene where your clothes stank so badly afterward that you hated to donate them to Goodwill.

When TMZ opens a Fort Worth bureau, I’ll be ready.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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