He was the only person I've ever interviewed who called me “Rosababy” – and got away with it.
That would be Regis.
It was in September 2002 and Regis Philbin, who died Friday, was bringing his song-and-dance show to the State Theatre in Easton, Pennsylvania – think Embassy Theatre, but not as opulent.
I was assigned to interview him in advance. I'd have 10 minutes, a publicist told me. We called the story “Speed Chatting with Regis: Everybody's Best Friend.”
And “Hey, Rosababy!” was how he answered the phone.
I quickly learned that when you talk to Regis, you better become part of the act. Banter is the name of the game. Don't even try to go deep – Regis will dribble the conversational ball over the net every time.
So we talked about how Regis, a big tennis fan, had been out to watch the U.S. Open and Andre Agassi the night before. How he got to hit a few tennis balls with phenom-of-the-moment James Blake that day on the set of “Live,” the morning talk show he hosted for years.
He got to drop Kelly Clarkson's name as an upcoming show guest, and told me how he knew his opening act, PBS operatic tenor Michael Amante, from when Amante was singing “with a boom box” at a restaurant Regis frequented in New York.
Then, of course, he asked me if I was coming to the State, and invited me backstage after the show.
“Well, I don't know,” I said, and then I committed the slip he elicited a gazillion times with guests. I told him something I didn't intend to.
“I'd love to come,” I said, “because, you know, I'm a big Michael Amante fan.”
That set Regis off on a trademark mock tirade. “What! You'd come to see Michael Amante, but you wouldn't come to see me? Rosababy! What's the matter with you?”
He's shouting now, to someone off in the wings. “I go to the trouble to do an interview, and Rosa here wants to come see Michael Amante, not me!”
Well, Reegebaby, ya know I love ya. And I'll never forget ya.
Rosa Salter Rodriguez is a metro reporter for The Journal Gazette.