Ladies, gentlemen, sports writers, token right-wingers, ombudsmen and sex columnists:

I want to thank you for flying me here from Los Angeles on your private jet and giving me the SUN’s penthouse suite at the Statler with its simulated waterfall.  Yes, very nice, that lavender water.  But in truth, standing here, I feel like Robert Shaw, the victim in the film “The Sting,” who was the only one not in on the scam.  Are you all going to jump up in a minute and yell “Gotcha!” and bring on a real journalist as your speaker? 

No hook coming out to pull me off? 

OK, let me add that I’m particularly grateful for the free meal and the chance to pass on a lifetime’s journalistic wisdom, which I will summarize in two words: Get paid.

I see some of you uncapping your pens and taking notes--stop!  As that great man of Elmira, Mark Twain, almost said, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this speech will be prosecuted.”

Being a student journalist today rarely involves getting paid.  When I, as a senior, served as the Ithaca correspondent of a Binghamton radio station and a Syracuse TV, I earned enough to meet my room and board bills and buy beer and pizza.  That would be impossible now.  I had summer jobs after my sophomore and junior years at the Roanoke, Virginia, Times, and the Ithaca Journal that paid $60 a week, and I was able to save money. 

Nowadays, my generation rarely hires your generation for anything more than an unpaid internship.  Even the few SUN staffers who are paid are paid late and get less per hour than a Cambodian shoemaker.  But when you leave the world of parental support and enter the market economy, if you wish to buy those Nikes that are marked up to equal the Cambodian’s annual wage, you’ll need a job.

Or not.  You could become a freelancer.  And that’s the lifestyle I want to tout to you tonight.  I want to give you a few simple rules for success as a freelance writer--or as we independent journalists are known to the world at large, unemployed hack.

Some of you have already tasted the seductive fruit of early freelance success.  I enjoyed Mark Zawel’s piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago about the website that teaches clueless Harvard students how to party.  But Mark and others who have sold freelance pieces, beware.  One or two checks don’t pay the rent every month.

So let me offer you a few precepts that will help you build a life in which you take naps whenever you like, own a million-dollar house, pay your children’s Cornell tuition and retire before you’re 60.

Step one: Be lucky.  Go to Cornell, compet for the SUN, learn to write, make contacts, use them, but above all, be lucky.  After I left Cornell, I found myself in the United States Marine Corps.  If I were running for president I would attempt to conceal the fact that I avoided serving in Vietnam by talking my way onto the staff of the Marine Corps Gazette, where my chief duty was listening attentively to the editor, Col. Hammond, recite Kipling.  Col. Hammond liked the idea of having a pet Ivy Leaguer who could appreciate his taste in poetry.  Whenever I got orders from headquarters to fly to Asia, Col. Hammond got them rescinded.

Came time to muster out.  I sent letters to the top 10 journalism companies.  I got written offers from most of them on the strength of my SUN experience--Newsweek wanted to send me to Chicago, McGraw-Hill wanted me to start in Pittsburgh, the New York Times wanted me to be a copy boy.  But beyond writing to me, only one company called me, Dow Jones.

It was one of those “remember me?” calls.  The caller was Mary D. Nichols, class of ’66.  She had been a frequent critic of mine on the faction-ridden SUN of those days--I understand you’ve risen above all that now.  I still recall Mary writing an op-ed knocking my “rough and ready ways.”

Now she was calling from New York, where she worked for the guy at Dow Jones who interviewed job applicants.  So I was lucky enough to get my first job in journalism by antagonizing someone.  Blind luck.  So, step two: be antagonistic.

I luckily antagonized Nancy Dunhoff, features editor of the SUN.  She voted against me in the editor-in-chief election of March, 1963, which was decided after a three-hour wrangle by a single vote, which I think of as hers.  Nancy hung out with the intellectual faction of SUNnies, whose candidate for editor was Dick Denenberg.  Dick used words like “recrudescence” and “egregious” the way I used “a” and “the.”  Despite our Shaq-and-Kobe relationship, Dick turned out to be a fine editor and he luckily reappeared in my life later.

Yes, it was lucky that I antagonized Nancy Dunhoff, for we got married three years after graduating.  The general reaction was like the question ever-present on the SUN website ad: “They got married?”

        Aside from the wonderful freelance life we’ve had together, there’s another reason I got lucky with Nancy--she clued me into my first regular column.  We were in New York, she flying high at Scholastic Magazines, me toiling on the night shift, copy editing for Dow Jones’ international news wire.

        I would straggle home at 8:30 a.m. after a hard night checking Pakistani jute prices and Bavarian auto output and give her a quick squeeze as she set off to glamorous midtown Manhattan.  I’d sleep all day and get up when she got home.  One day she arrived with the news that Scholastic’s teen magazine, called Co-Ed, had decided it needed an advice column written by a man, like the one Glamour Magazine had by Newman and Benton, who later got out of the advice business and wrote movies like “Bonnie and Clyde.”

        As I rode the subway downtown to start my midnight shift, I thought of advice I’d give 14-year-old girls.  I avoided thinking of the advice I would have given them as a 14-year-old boy.  At 3 a.m., during my lunch hour, I tapped out 800 words of light-hearted advice, passed it to Nancy as I came in the door and she was going out, and went to sleep.  When I got up, I had the job.  This is my third piece of wisdom: Act fast.

        Soon enough, editing economic news all night palled.  To prevent me from quitting, Dow Jones offered me a chance to keep on editing economic news, but during the day while living in London.  Everyone should have a chance to live in London during the 1960s.  However, soon enough, editing economic news came to seem a high price to pay for the privilege.  Freelancing full-time beckoned.

        I’d always been entranced by movies, though never by movie stars.  I had as many dreams about meeting Lois Lane as Marilyn Monroe--they were equally fantastic creatures to me.  But I noticed reading the English newspapers that stars were the subject of many articles.  I glimpsed what would become the central truth of my career: mortals like me could meet stars, write about them and, most importantly, get paid.

        One Saturday, I was alone in the office monitoring the flow of vital information about Danish steel tonnage when a telegram arrived addressed to our shipping correspondent, Wayne Lintott.  It was from MGM, not known for having many ships at sea.  I opened it.  It read, “Please come to the American Bar of the Dorchester Hotel on Monday next at 1:15 p.m. to meet Mr. Michael Caine on the occasion of the release of his latest film, ‘Get Carter.’”

        I thought, “Why should Wayne Lintott meet Michael Caine when I could?”  So I went along to the Dorchester Hotel, and I joined a dozen or so other ink-stained wretches huddled around Caine.  After a very short time, the other journalists, being British, went to get more drinks, leaving me alone with Caine.

        My tongue was tied, I dropped my tape recorder, but somehow Caine didn’t notice my obvious incompetence and even believed me when I said I was from the Philadelphia Bulletin.  He gave me enough quotes for some sort of article, which I mailed off to the Bulletin and they naturally didn’t buy. 

        Fourth precept: Keep trying.  My next move was to enlist my partner in crime, Nancy, to pose as my secretary and call the agents of all the stars in London, saying that the distinguished movie writer from the Philadelphia Bulletin, Bart Mills, was going to be in London and could he have an interview?

        Amazingly, they all said yes.  Alan Bates, who died, sadly, just a few months ago, was my first victim.  I interviewed him between a matinee and evening performance of “Hamlet,” managed a good impersonation of a professional, got the quotes, wrote them up, sent the article off to the Philadelphia Bulletin and got a rejection letter back.

        I cried, I admit it.  But I kept trying.  I sent the manuscript to the Los Angeles Times, which did buy it.  Not only did I bank the princely sum of $50, I got a tearsheet with my byline, which I could send everyone in town to announce that I was legit.  I felt like Michael Corleone in the second “Godfather,” and I didn’t even have a trail of dead bodies behind me.

        I left Dow Jones and never again worried about the deutschemark-rupee exchange rate.  Aside from some freelance work writing about the oil industry, which I accepted in case this interviewing-the-stars lark didn’t work out, I began living the dream I advise you all to pursue: Step five: have fun.

        I began getting assignments from the New York Times Arts and Leisure section.  One of my first articles for the Times was a story about Michael Caine on the set of “Sleuth.”  The Times, characteristically, cut my work to shreds, and I wondered vengefully what I could do with all those great unused quotes.  This led me to my next great discovery, Step six: As I am doing here tonight, recycle your material.

        I had been a great reader of British newspapers, even before the SUN, the British SUN, began picturing nude women on page three every day.  I had noticed that one paper, the Guardian, stood out for the quality of its writing and the percipience of its liberal editorial outlook.  I determined to get published in the Guardian.

I studied British style.  I learned the tricks of irony, indirection, understatement, facetiousness.  I sold the Guardian an article comparing American Top 40 radio to the single British radio station at that time in the entire country that broadcast rock music.  The only hiccup came when the arts editor queried my byline.  “Bart Mills?” he asked.  “Is that your real name?  Because it’s too good to be true.”  After that I began looking at myself in the mirror funny.

I was paid 18 guineas.  The guinea was a typically British unit of currency that did not exist, like a baker’s dozen.  It was a pound plus one shilling.  You have no idea how much satisfaction I got from being paid in the same units as Samuel Johnson.  This was truly Getting Paid, with capital letters.

        So when it came time to recycle my Michael Caine quotes, I added some British style twists, sent it off to the Guardian and awoke one morning to find it in the paper.

        After that, I wrote hundreds of star profiles for the Guardian, traveling to Malaysia to meet David Niven, Libya for Anthony Quinn, Budapest for George C. Scott, back to Malaysia for Nick Nolte, Helsinki for Charles Bronson, etc., etc.  I took most of my Guardian stories and removed the jokes and big words and sold them to American newspapers.

        At the same time, I couldn’t let go of writing about the oil business.  I was perhaps the only person in the world equally conversant in the location of North Sea oil rigs and the location of motion picture units around the world. 

        To drum up sales of my recycled Guardian material, I went back to America to visit newspaper offices.  One of these was the New York Times.  I had some satisfactory dealings with the Arts and Leisure editor and got in the elevator to go down, and whom should I bump into in the elevator but Dick Denenberg, the SUN editor who got my wife-to-be’s vote 10 years before.

        I told Dick about my dual expertise, and he said he was working on the Times’ News of the Week in Review section.  It was 1973, which history majors among you may recall was the year of skyrocketing oil prices.  Dick informed me that his section was looking for someone who could make sense of this mess.   All this took about two floors to communicate.  We got out at his floor, I met the editor of his section and sat down and banged out 1,000 words that were in the paper that Sunday in the approximate order in which I had written them.

        I repeat, in order to succeed, you must be lucky.

        You must also go to parties.  That’s how I met the editor who indirectly made me a rock critic.  This editor ran the Listener, the highbrow BBC weekly that commented loftily on current affairs.  Between gin and tonics, he commissioned me to be a guest critic covering a week’s worth of TV. 

        This I did, commenting on several programs, including a documentary on David Bowie.  Nancy had the bright idea of buying 25 copies of that issue of the Listener and sending them to magazine and newspaper editors seeking more commissions.  Two replied.  One was Punch, the late lamented humor magazine, which asked me to write an article about cricket from the standpoint of an American who knew nothing about cricket.  This I was only too glad to do.

        The other reply came from the Daily Mail.  Their features editor said they were recruiting people for two freelance positions, ballet critic and rock music critic.  I volunteered to do both.  She said that was not possible, even for someone who already straddled the worlds of petroleum and motion pictures.  I chose rock and roll, as who wouldn’t.

        It’s very easy to write about popular music.  You don’t even have to fake knowing anything about it.  You don’t actually need to know anything at all.  You just have to write what you feel.  No, the problem in this job lay in the necessity to listen to the music.  This was the era when disco was being supplanted by punk.  One night I would be subjected to Donna Summer, the next the Sex Pistols.  When I wrote after seeing the Sex Pistols that they were so bad they were good, the editor spiked my prescient article.

        My star waned at the Daily Mail when the successor to the editor who hired me demanded that I “do” Roger Daltrey of The Who.  By “do” he meant malign, impugn and otherwise badmouth.  I had no problem with writing negatively--in the Guardian I’d exposed Sammy Davis Jr. as a strutting ninny and Andy Warhol as a vacuous con artist.  But I didn’t do ambushes.  This is a character fault I beg you to overlook.

        After dinner, people usually ask me, “Who’s the most interesting star you’ve interviewed?”  I reply that I used to regularly fall in love with the beautiful women who sat on couches with me, leaning forward in their low-cut dresses.  But our affairs always ended when the PR person who was sitting in the corner said my hour was up.  Where are you now, Michelle Pfeiffer? 

I spent three hours discussing theology with Don MacLean of “American Pie” fame.  Sylvester Stallone is actually a great conversationalist.  Michael Caine always gives good quote.  Bruce Willis can’t stop wisecracking and girl-watching.  Rock Hudson was very straight with me.

        James Woods is my nomination for Most Interesting Subject.  I first met this MIT dropout nearly 30 years ago when he snarled and threatened everyone standing between him and stardom.  After he attained stardom, he still snarled and threatened, as I found out one day in his trailer on the set of an HBO movie about a child molestation scandal at a preschool in the town where, coincidentally, I lived, Manhattan Beach.

        Woods played the attorney for the defense, whose argument was that the proprietors of the pre-school didn’t molest any children.  Woods said he had a special connection to this movie because his mother had put him through school with the profits from a chain of pre-schools she owned in Providence, Rhode Island.  He added that if Mom ever had any problems she had only to call on the local Mafia Don, Vittorio Zappardino, a.k.a. “The Cement Mixer” for obvious reasons, who was very concerned about the welfare of children.

        Now, all of you journalists in embryo in the room know what I asked next.  Any guesses?  Yes, I asked Woods if his mother ever needed to call on the Cement Mixer because of any trouble she might have had at the pre-school, any molestation trouble.

        Woods sat a moment, then said to the PR person, “This interview is terminated.  Please leave my trailer.  Get out!  NOW!”

        The PR woman and I scuttled out and stood fanning ourselves about 20 feet away.  What set off that explosion, we wondered.  Suddenly, Woods came leaping out of his trailer and ran up to me, yelling, “How dare you?  How dare you say such a thing about my mother?  I know some people.  I know a few top people.  You’re going to find it hard to work any more in this town, just leave it at that.”

        And he ran back into the trailer, slam!  The PR and I just looked at each other in shock.  But before we could speak, out came Woods again, in my face, I mean literally nose to nose, shouting profanity and abuse.  I stood there, talking back, saying I didn’t mean to suggest…, I don’t have anything against…, I’m sorry if you took it…, etc., but not backing off.

        Woods stalked back to his trailer.  A moment later he came out again and said, “Come on back.  Gimme your notebook.”  I gave him my notebook.  He tore out the last sheet of my notes and said, “Let’s go back to before this sheet.”  So we did.  We talked cordially for another 45 minutes, and he gave me a hug on my way out.

        A year later, I was in New York for the junket plugging Oliver Stone’s film “Nixon,” in which Woods played Bob Haldeman.  In junkets, the personalities rotate among tables filled with journalists, except for one empty chair.  Anthony Hopkins, Bob Hoskins, Stone and finally Woods came to my table.  Woods ignored all the other journalists sitting there, including the correspondent for the Syracuse Post-Standard, who had asked Stone whether there was special significance in the fact that when Nixon went to the Lincoln Memorial to talk to some anti-war students sitting-in there, one of the peaceniks was wearing a “Syracuse” sweatshirt.  Woods leaned over the table to shake my hand, said, “Hi, Bart, long time no see,” and directed all his remarks, no matter who asked the questions, to me.  Strange man.  The lesson from this story: Hang in there.

        OK, I’ve had a fun career, but I know you want to know, “How do I get there from here?”  For one thing, you have to make the most of your chance on the SUN.  I’ll close by recalling a couple of formative incidents from my own SUN days, 39 and 41 years ago.

        The SUN has never published on Saturday, except once, as far as I know, on November 23, 1963.  Does the date ring a bell?  No, but you might remember the day before.

        I was asleep at noon on that Friday the 22nd, when Joel Sussman, the SUN’s photo editor, burst into my room at von Carmm Co-op, yelling that President Kennedy had been shot.  A minute later, as I was running down the stairs, I ran into a friend who was from Dallas, who laughed as if I’d told him a preposterous joke when I gave him the news.

        Joel and I raced downtown to watch the AP ticker, the one that’s preserved now in the SUN’s office.  The other staff leaders and I went to the Ithaca Journal and negotiated a deal to publish an extra edition of the SUN on Saturday.  Back in the office, we put together a12-page paper, heavy in AP copy, naturally, but also full of campus reactions.  It was tough duty, and I’m glad we did it well.

        Enough solemnity.  Laughs from here on.  Two years later, in February, 1965, we on the SUN did something we also regarded as a duty, and again we did it well.  We hijacked the Daily Princetonian and replaced it with a bogus made-in-Ithaca version.

        Background: Bill Bradley, before he became a Senator and a presidential wannabe, was a great basketball player.  That year he took Princeton to the Final Four of the NCAA’s.  So he was the main target of our trumped-up Princetonian, and the date of our attack was the day of the Cornell-Princeton game in Princeton.

        I had graduated the year before, but my successor as managing editor, Sol Erdman, enlisted me in the anti-Princeton plot while I awaited induction into the Marines.  I was the advance man.  I drove to New Jersey and camped out where I could see the rear of the building where the Princetonian was printed.  I watched as the pressmen plunked the whole print run on the loading dock and a truck pulled up and loaded the papers.  I followed the truck as it dropped off bundles at various campus locations.  Later, I doubled back and inspected the bundles for size and distinctive markings.

        Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, Sol and the rest of the staff were creating a fake Princetonian.  They paid special attention to the typefaces and worked with the men in the Ithaca Journal pressroom to re-create the Princetonian’s unmistakable over-inked, smudgy look.

        Two or three carloads of SUNnies came down from Ithaca on Thursday night and holed up in my motel room.  Somewhere around 5 a.m., we moved out, each car with its bundles of fakes destined for particular drop points.

        The switch went off without a hitch, and the student delivery boys didn’t suspect a thing.  We met triumphantly in a townie diner, where Sol went to a phone booth and called in the story to the New York Times, which printed it the next day on the front Metro page.  We went to a student dining hall, where we eavesdropped on pitiful Princetonians talking tearfully about the shattering of all their hopes and illusions: the news of Bill Bradley’s season-ending injury, Woodrow Wilson’s downgrading among U.S. presidents, and the sad secrets of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s personal inadequacies.

        That was fun, but the most fun came when we went to the Princetonian office to gloat.  For some reason, they didn’t think our joke was funny!  They spluttered about legal action.  We were ready to return the real Princetonians, but that wasn’t good enough.  We only mollified them by agreeing to deliver their papers for them.  Which was also fun, because we got to gloat all over again all over campus.  Unfortunately, Bradley played and Princeton won.

        I understand that in 1989 or thereabouts, a new generation of SUNnies performed the same stunt at Yale.  They did it the easy way, by just taking the press run off the loading dock and putting the bogus papers in their place.  It was riskier, since one wide-awake night watchman could have foiled the whole operation, but it worked.  Back in the 1950s, Syracuse was the SUN’s victim.  I wonder who will be next, and when?  If the game’s afoot, call me.

        Thank you.