Terry Gross + Doris Day = Fresh Air?

If you’re a devotee of NPR, it’s likely you’ve enjoyed the interview skills of Terry Gross, who’s hosted “Fresh Air” for the past quarter century. Even if you’re one who believes NPR stands for “Nationalized Pinko Radio” (you know who you are), you should give Gross a chance because, first, you will find she has no agenda, and, second, she attracts a range of individuals who open up under her subtle probing and offer insights that are both entertaining and informative. In other words, you might learn something and have a good time in the process.

Gross is the subject of the always enlightening final-page “Proust Questionnaire” in the September issue of Vanity Fair, and several of her answers were sterling:

What is the trait you most deplore in others? The inability to stop talking about themselves when they’re not being interviewed.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Entrepreneurialism.

What is your current state of mind? Like someone is hitting the Delete button on the things I’d like to remember, and putting the things I wish I could forget in boldface.

How would you like to die? Swiftly, painlessly, and old.

What is your motto? “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” (Thank you, Mel Brooks.)

After spending too many hours with NPR several years ago while doing time as an extreme commuter (90 miles each way), I had somewhat lost touch with Gross and her program. However, I was handling some outdoor painting chores one balmy afternoon last April and brought along NPR for company. That day, Gross announced she was about to interview the reclusive Doris Day on the eve of her 88th birthday. My initial reaction was, “Really? Who cares?” Not that I’m a Doris Day hater, but we’re talking about a woman who left the stage in 1968 and stepped completely out of the spotlight. I also consider “Que Sera Sera” to be perhaps the most feared of all earworms.

However, once Gross started the interview, I was amazed at how she patiently coaxed this very private person into talking at great length about her life and career, and in particular about her devotion to rescuing animals—a commitment that once found her with up to 30 dogs living in her house. “If I come across a doggie who needs a home, that’s when I take them,” Day told Gross. “They’re in a special area—an outdoor area— but the ceiling is all glass and they look up there and see the trees. They have two big rooms inside and then one outside. They just love it.”

It turned out to be a charming conversation that accomplished exactly what I believe Gross intended: celebrating the life of a singer and movie star who also proved to be a regular and admirable person. It’s precisely what makes Gross a star in her own right, though you can be assured she’d sidestep that description. But her show provides just what its title implies, and it’s always worth a listen, no matter what you think the letters NPR stand for.

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