A revealing and often delightful insider’s look at the heyday of network television
Shelley Herman is an Emmy-nominated writer whose career began as an NBC Page in Burbank, CA. A graduate of Agoura High School and California State University, Northridge, Shelley has written over 1000 hours of television shows, contributed to numerous books for Dove/Phoenix Books, starred in the TV series Off the Wall, and Night Rap, and co-hosted ESPN's Battle of The Monster Trucks and Mud Bog Spectacular. In addition, Shelley has guest-starred on numerous TV shows and hosted eight infomercials and national talk radio programs, and is a member of SAG/AFTRA, Writers Guild of America, West and The Television Academy She and her husband, actor Randall Carver, live in Los Angeles, where they feed every stray animal in their neighborhood
"I'm not ashamed of anything," says showbiz veteran Shelley Herman about stories recounted in her new book, My Peacock Tale: Secrets Of An NBC Page. "There's nothing in this book that anyone should be ashamed of, because the lessons we learned, the people we met, made us who we are now. We had a lot of fun and if we could, we'd do it all over again!"
More than a memoir, My Peacock Tale is a playful mix of "Sex and the City" and "Mad Men" – set against the backdrop of Hollywood (and beautiful downtown Burbank!) in the 1970s. It's not just about the stories and memories of Herman's own time as a 20-something NBC Studios Page in Burbank - handed "the keys to the kingdom" and assigned gatekeeper to showbiz royalty. It's also about the lifelong friendships she formed with fellow Pages, whose own wild and crazy formative experiences are also tastefully recounted and unabashedly celebrated.
In fact, the book grew out of a pandemic-era reconnection between Herman and her network of former NBC Page colleagues – some of whom had remained close, but others of whom had long been out of touch. "In conversations over Zoom," Herman remembers, "the world opened up to all of us. I reached out to former NBC Pages I worked with decades earlier and we picked right where we last left off. I was able to confirm some rumors I'd heard and learned lots of juicy stories - and they had stories!"
After so much time, many long-held stories were recounted, rumors rekindled (and perhaps put to rest), and long-forgotten memories brought back to life. The group found themselves collectively marveling at the value of their shared experience as Pages. "Someone should write a book," Herman recalls everyone saying during their many socially-distanced meetings. "I was in the process of writing a one-person show for my husband, actor Randall Carver, but that had been put on hold. I was in a writing mode, and so I realized that I needed to be the person who wrote this book, to celebrate this magical era in show business."
My Peacock Tale puts the reader in the shoes of a young Shelley Herman, who grew up in Agoura and Calabasas, California – now a heavily populated and wealthy area, but essentially "the sticks" in the early 70s. A lively personality and curiosity about acting got young Shelley a couple of stints as a contestant on "The Dating Game," where she got a glimpse at how shows were put together and forged some key professional relationships that would eventually find her writing and contributing to several game shows over the years, including the iconic "Supermarket Sweep."
But before she turned fully professional, it was her time as an NBC Page, giving tours, ushering shows, and interacting with celebrities at the studio in Burbank – which, among other things, was the location of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" in its heyday – that proved to be an influential personal and professional experience on multiple levels. "We were never given any kind of formal instruction on how do to the job," she says. "Later, they developed a manual, and I'm sure now there's all kinds of NDAs and contracts people have to sign now; but back then, it was just the wisdom of the older pages that prepared us for the job, plus some quick thinking."
And the job held plenty of exciting moments when it came to protecting the important people – usually major celebrities and those closest to them. And that's where the stories begin. Stories about legendary film, music, and television stars passing through the studios for a guest shot on Johnny's couch for a night, or a week's worth of taping "The Hollywood Squares," or guest-starring on an NBC sitcom. Like the hilarious time Gilda Radner helped a bunch of Pages push a stalled car off of a busy street; or when Shelley did literally "Break a Leg" – and it led to a most unlikely encounter with her personal hero; or the time she knocked on Redd Foxx's dressing room door because she needed to have someone help her get to Frank Sinatra… you know, just regular old stories.
Indeed, most of what Herman recalls as she tracks the experiences of herself and her fellow Pages over the extended production apprenticeship, gives the reader a sense of how "regular folks" who work in show business – particularly those who essentially represent the divide between the "public" image of a celebrity and a "private" one – navigate that intoxicating space of feeling like power, wealth, and fame is part of your life, even if you aren't powerful, rich, or famous.
"We were there to help those celebrities maintain their image," Herman explains. "We weren't actual bodyguards, but we were their protectors, they knew that we could be trusted." She recalls one instance of being with John Travolta after he had emotionally accepted an Emmy award for his late girlfriend, Diana Hyland; or one colleague having to interrupt the taping of a TV special because Johnny Cash got a call from someone literally facing execution.
Of course, there are also stories of bad behavior and heartbreak - incidents Herman approaches without too much judgment. At times – such as her account of a torrid affair with a handsome actor that ended in a most awkward way – the names are changed ("His family shouldn't get the shrapnel of his misdeeds," Herman says.) In other cases, such as recounting a very difficult moment with actor McLean Stevenson, Herman isn't afraid to hold others more accountable. "But that story is more about me being naïve and trusting," she explains. "It was 'men will be men' back then, and that collided with me being a Page and having to do what I was told. You can't always be in a safe environment."
But as Shelley Herman and her Page colleagues tell it, their experiences were all part of an impossibly exciting, weird, and wonderful time of their young professional lives – a time that happened to intersect with a truly golden age of American entertainment, where early 20th century legends and the next generation of celebrity entertainers overlapped, and network television dominated the public mind. She understands that some of what is recalled here might seem unusual or even upsetting, particularly if taken out of context. The whole point of My Peacock Tale is to provide that crucial context, to recall and detail how things were with joy and delight and without regret. "It was all of us trying to figure out how to navigate this exciting, rarified atmosphere – so that eventually, we can be one of the professionals."
Herman hopes the stories collected here demonstrate to future industry professionals that regardless of the historical era, learning about how to be a professional and navigate the world of celebrity entertainment is going to be a challenge – and a wild ride.
Herman's writing is smart and conversational, which makes the reader feel like she's bringing you into this world she has inhabited for so many years. Calling "My Peacock Tale: Secrets Of An NBC Page" a memoir oversimplifies the scope of what Herman has been able to achieve. It's personal but it's also every celebrity gossip lover's dream, demystifying several decades-long rumors.
Elisabetta Bianchini - YAHOO! News