Harry Haun may not be a face you recognize but if you have followed entertainment journalism over the last 45 years you have certainly read his features. That is because Mr. Haun has built a prolific career as a writer covering stage and film for some of New York’s most prestigious publications including Playbill, The Daily News, Broadway World and many more. In addition, Mr. Haun is the author of two books “The Movie Quote Book” and “The Cinematic Century: An Intimate Diary of America’s Affair with the Movies,” both of which speak to the encyclopedic knowledge Mr. Haun holds for the arts. Currently, Mr.Haun is writing his own truly delightful column for Theater Pizzaz entitled Screen of Consciousness. Over his illustrious career as a journalist, Mr. Haun has interviewed some of the greatest entertainers of our time. Now, Nectar News has the privilege of sitting down with Mr. Haun himself (over Skype) for an interview about his passion for film, theater and his journey as a writer.
NN: When did your career in journalism begin?
HH: Well, I was born in Texas. I delivered newspapers for The Dallas Morning News. The first day that I delivered a paper, Fred Allen’s obituary was on the front page and that was the beginning of my career so I can put a date on it: 1956. I did that for 3 years. I think I actually won the “Carrier Of the Month” award but it was not a distinguished career. I also used to go to a Saturday morning matinee that my Methodist Church had where they showed Flash Gordon serials. I would go home and write up what happened in each particular episode. I still to this day cave in when I see Buster Crabbe or Ming the Magnificent.
NN: So writing seems to have come to you naturally at a young age.
HH: Yes, I guess it did. I didn’t realize what I was doing when I was doing it but I was assembling information from what I saw and I guess that is journalism isn’t it? That’s actually being a critic too. I’m not so much interested in being a critic now as I am in interviewing people. I really love to do that.
From there, I majored in journalism at SMU and then I went and got a job at The Tennessean. The day that I got a job there on the front page of the paper was the obituary for Jack Carson and Dick Powell, so I can put a date on that too: January 1963. I did 10 years there and then I decided to try my hand in New York. I haven’t regretted it at all. I’ve been here for 45 years and It’s been wonderful.
NN: What was the first publication you wrought for in New York?
HH: In New York, I started at the Daily News on May 5, 1975. Right before that, I was doing freelance work for the LA Times. I had gone back to Nashville to clean up my desk and they were shooting the movie Nashville. So I got to report on that which was a lot of fun. It was a nice way to say goodbye to Nashville.
When I got to New York it was hard at first. My first job interview was at the New York Times for the architect editor which was not the right fit. It took me a long time to get my footing. I had a friend who was working at the Daily News and he got me a job there. I wrote there for 17 years. Around the same time, I had started writing for Playbill. I wrote for Playbill for 37 years. It was great to work there because it is the ‘Creme de la creme’ of theater journalism and I have great respect for them. It is the go-to place for getting information about the theater.
NN: Do you recall the first article you wrote in New York?
HH: Yes, actually I do. It was at the Daily News. They sent me to see Marlene Dietrich in her one-woman show. This image is still with me: a feather from her Boa came drifting down toward me in slow motion and I’ll never forget that. I got to meet her backstage because she wanted some press. She was quite elderly then. This was between two falls she had on stage. The second fall put her out of commission and she became a recluse. She lived in Paris at a hotel and would always pretend to be the maid when people would call her.
NN: You have interviewed some of the best entertainers of our time. Who are some of your favorites and who is on your interview wishlist?
HH: All About Eve is one of the greatest screenplays ever written. One of my greatest thrills was interviewing Joseph Mankiewicz who wrote it. He really understood exactly what he was doing. I interviewed Billy Wilder and that was great. I enjoyed meeting Gregory Peck who I was able to meet several times throughout my career. I loved meeting Anthony Quinn who was very curious, sweet and very humble. I have had some wonderful encounters with people. Bette Davis was absolutely wonderful to me. I am so sorry that Katherine Hepburn got away from me. I would have loved to have interviewed her. I think I would have really liked her. I liked her values. She was a strong person that I had great admiration for and I loved her films. I interviewed Cate Blanchett who won an Oscar playing Katharine Hepburn and I enjoyed meeting her. Did you know that she was half Texan? She is. She has such a great range. Meryl Streep is another one with a tremendous range. I cannot believe she is doing what she does all the time. She sincerely turns into another person when she is performing.
NN: What makes a good journalist?
HH: A good journalist is somebody who is inquisitive and always trying to find answers to things. Someone trying to give exposure to a person by revealing their character. That is the kind of journalism that I like.
NN: Why do you think journalistic coverage of theater and film is so important?
HH: Because it opens your soul. Entertainment defines who you are. What you respond to animates you and makes you a better person. It rounds you out and makes you whole. I love it and cannot get enough of it. There is not a day that goes by that I am not seeing a show and if I’m not seeing a show it is because I am seeing a movie. I write down everything that I see. I keep a spreadsheet of all of the possible things I can go see on a given night or day and if I decide to do it I put an asterisk next to it and that way I know what I’ve seen it.