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The Host of Hollywood

"ET" anchor Bob Goen's easygoing approach gets celebrities to open up.
Joel Drucker
From the Print Edition:
Sharon Stone, July/Aug 2004

(continued from page 2)

And celebrities in kind value Goen's low-key approach. If you were trying to cast a "regular guy," you couldn't do much better than Goen. "I'm naturally frivolous by nature," he says, "which probably makes people want to enjoy themselves around me. I'm accessible, just the guy from down the street."

Goen's affable manner has proven particularly helpful when he's interviewed movie stars. Oscar-winning actresses Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and Julia Roberts all get on well with Goen. He has built a trust level with Kidman so high that the Aussie actress invited him to be the only journalist on the set of her 2001 film Moulin Rouge while it was shooting in Sydney, Australia. Berry regaled him while on the set of the most recent James Bond movie, Die Another Day.

But it's the reticent Roberts he finds deceptively mischievous. One time, during the New York premiere for the 1997 film My Best Friend's Wedding, he wasn't feeling at the top of his game, so Goen asked the star to interview him. She complied. And while visiting Roberts in London when she was on location shooting the 1999 romantic comedy Notting Hill with Hugh Grant, Goen noted how amazing it was to see "Julia Roberts on the street." Countered Roberts, "Gee, Bob, you make it sound like I've hit the skids."

Then there are those no-so-lighthearted moments. While interviewing Elton John for an AIDS benefit, Goen asked the singer how often he was tested for the disease. Twice a year, John responded. With no further prodding, the star launched into a discussion of everything from his sexuality to his substance abuse—including his lowest point, when John confessed he crawled on the floor of his home in a vomit-stained dressing gown in search of cocaine. "You just shut up and get out of the way," says Goen. "That came early on here, and I think it showed me these entertainers felt they could open up in front of me."

But nowhere does Goen pinch himself more for all his good luck than when he gets to interview comedians. One reason for this goes back to Goen's own ambitions and a short detour he took on his way to achieving them.

Goen grew up in comfortable surroundings in Long Beach, California, a city near Los Angeles but far removed from Hollywood. From his early teens, he dreamed of being a game show host. "Everyone was having a good time, and the host was right in the center of it," he says. "There was no heavy lifting." Noting that most of the game show hosts of those days started in radio, he set out to become a broadcaster, studying radio journalism at San Diego State University (he graduated with a degree in telecommunications and film in 1976) and working as a disc jockey at KPRO in Riverside, California.

In 1975 stand-up comedy was taking off. Goen regularly watched a young Robin Williams, David Letterman and others perform at The Comedy Store in La Jolla, and he thought he had a shot as a comedian. After two years of watching, he entered the arena. On October 31, 1977, Cinderella walked onstage at The Comedy Store in Hollywood. And immediately turned into a pumpkin.

"I was terrible," says Goen. "I had no presence, no style, no material." One reason for this, Goen's been told, is that he lacks much of the angst that's the wellspring of most comedy.

Virtually sprinting off the stage, Goen entered his car and cried. Then he had an epiphany. "I realized right then that my strike zone was as a broadcaster and a host," he says. As he headed home down Sunset Boulevard, he gazed at the billboards of the stars up in the sky and vowed that one day his face would grace one of them.

For five years in the early '80s, Goen worked as a one-man sports department for TV station KESQ in Palm Springs. From hoisting a 12-pound camera to conducting interviews, editing footage and talking on-air, Goen never stopped, often going from interviews with notables such as Muhammad Ali by day to coverage of high school water polo games by night.

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