Shelley Herman details her experience working as an NBC page in the book “My Peacock Tale: Secrets of an NBC Page.”
Shelley Herman says she can thank Elvis Presley for helping her get her start at NBC Studios.
Her starting pay was $1.90 per hour — yet, she would do pagedom again.
Many big TV stars started as pages, and there was no one surefire way to get the job.
I can thank Elvis Presley for helping me get my foot in the door at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California.
Here’s how it happened: I worked in the junior clothing department at Sears. A girl I worked with got five tickets to see Elvis in Las Vegas, so of course, we crammed into my Toyota for a road trip.
After the concert, three of the girls I arrived with immediately took off to have fun in Las Vegas, and I was left with Janus, the shy wallflower who got us the Elvis tickets. We sat in a hotel coffee shop eating cherry pie with ice cream and talked about our hopes and dreams.
I told her that when I was in high school, I was able to get tickets to “The Midnight Special,” a late-night rock concert show that was taped at NBC Burbank. I remember one of the musicians there that night was Jim Croce. While sitting on the floor, watching the performers, I noticed men and women standing around in ugly polyester uniforms who not only got to listen to rock and roll music for free; they were getting paid to do it.
I thought, “Wow, I want that job!” I told Janus I wanted to be a page — and as it turned out, her mother was best friends with someone who worked at the studio.
I was an NBC page two weeks later
It was 1976 and I was 20, still in college and clueless. It was like “Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” but instead, it was me through the TV screen.
Now in its 90th year, the NBC Page program is one of the most prestigious entry-level positions in the entertainment industry. It’s an executive recruitment and training program, but some of the all-time biggest stars of television started as pages, including Regis Philbin, Gene Rayburn, Chuck Barris, and, when he was just 15 years old, Peter Marshall.
I wish I could tell you there was one straight, surefire way to becoming an NBC page, but there isn’t.
How to become an NBC page
Most candidates for the page position, like my friend Neil, would call once a week to check in with the woman who ran the page staff, Eba Hawkins. He was attending USC, and she gave him the job when he graduated. She admired his persistence.
My other friend Al got his NBC page job when the women who worked behind the scenes on “Wheel of Fortune” spotted him as a contestant on the show. To this day, Al is a great-looking guy, and the women didn’t want to see him leave. So they encouraged him to apply for the job, and with their recommendations, he was hired without ever really knowing what a page was.
Sandy had a similar story. She was an elementary school teacher when she caught the eye of several of male pages as she stood in line to see “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” They even helped her fill out the application and hand-delivered it.
Pete turned down a chance to be a page when his mother told him she was friends with the network’s then-president, Julian Goodman. He wanted to be something other than a tour guide or an usher. He wanted to be a journalist. But one year later, and with no prospects in sight, Pete dropped Goodman’s name, and wore a personalized button on his blazer that paraphrased the lyric of The Beatles’ song “Give Peace a Chance” that read, “All We Are Saying Is Give Pete a Chance” when he applied.
Johnny Carson was the highlight of the NBC tour experience
Hawkins had a good eye for selecting pages because many of us have remained close friends all these decades later. A core group of 15 of us still get together about once a month to celebrate birthdays and weddings, watch award shows, and even travel together. When the pandemic hit, we could stay connected through Zoom, and friends who had moved away from California could now be included in our conversations.
We started hearing new stories about our time touring the hallways. Roxanne told us about the time she fainted while giving a tour and was surprised to discover TV sitcom stars Don Rickles and Peter Isackson (from the show “C.P.O. Sharkey”) were carrying her to the nurse’s office.
Many of us would escort celebrities to press events. One beautiful, buxom blonde star liked to have something “extra” in her coffee, and it was Tom’s job to make sure it was good to the last drop.
On the other hand, Dinah had to make sure the bartender only made Virgin Bloody Marys for her boisterous, barrel-chested star. When he found out they didn’t contain alcohol, Dinah told him, “You’ve been drinking that way most of the day.”
The best part of the tour happened around 1:50 p.m. when Johnny Carson arrived at the studio. He would pull into the number one space on the lot and make a few jokes with the group who just happened to be waiting near the entrance to the building. Johnny would often say, “The tour’s a rip-off. Ask for your money back.” He was the highlight of the whole NBC tour experience.
The best event I worked on was the 1977 Primetime Emmy Awards
I picked up comedians Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in a limousine and drove with them to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. They were the stars of “Your Show of Shows,” a 90-minute live show much like Saturday Night Live in the 1950s — it was the most popular program on air at the time.
Imogene bragged that she was wearing a gown she first wore in the 50s, and Sid wore a tuxedo. They looked like the topper of a wedding cake. She was talking up a storm in the limo, and Sid seemed a bit annoyed. I loved every minute of it. It was my own private “Your Show of Shows!”
Later that night, just as they finished presenting an Emmy award, the entire side of Imogene’s dress busted open. Sid took off his tuxedo jacket and put it around her shoulders. It was so sweet.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement for me, I also helped console an extremely teary-eyed John Travolta, who had just accepted a posthumous Emmy for his sweetheart, Diana Hyland.
The evening ended with my page pal Jeff and I slowly walking Alfred Hitchcock through a maze of cables in a dark backstage area. I wanted to say something to Hitchcock, but what? I had to remain professional.
Hitchcock turned to me and, as I held what felt like half his body weight, said, “You’re doing a very good job.” I replied, “I did my senior paper on you. Ask me anything about you.” He smiled back at me with that slightly wickedly wonderful Hitchcock smile.
Being an NBC page was a lot of work, but the experience was worth it
All the big stars of the day would walk the hallways at NBC Burbank. Redd Foxx was taping “Sanford and Son,” Peter Marshall was hosting “Hollywood Squares,” Dick Clark had a variety show, and I got caught in the middle of a pie fight Freddie Prinze Sr. was having next to Johnny Carson’s studio.
The best part was I met my favorite musician one evening after he had performed on The Tonight Show, a man I idolized, Harry Chapin.
I’ve always believed when applying for a job, you should find a way to present yourself in a way so people will want to meet you, not have to see you. I suggest sending a handwritten note to the person who interviewed you and, perhaps, their assistant if they played a role in getting your foot in the door. Having been an assistant, I know how much I appreciated that simple act of kindness.
We pages worked long hours for little pay — my starting pay was $1.90 per hour — and had to politely deal with large crowds who weren’t happy waiting in a long line to see their favorite stars. Yet, given a chance, most of my colleagues and I agree, we would do pagedom again.
Shelley Herman is an Emmy-nominated show-biz veteran, and a longtime host, writer, producer, and personality. She is the author of “My Peacock Tale: Secrets of an NBC Page.“