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An Ex-NBC Page Is Sharing Behind-the-Scenes Celebrity Stories From the ’70s

Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images and Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images and Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

A former NBC page, Shelley Herman, has revealed experiences from her time behind-the-scenes in a new book, My Peacock Tale: Secrets Of An NBC Page. Now an Emmy-nominated TV writer, Herman has seen much success in the industry, and her early experiences helped her along the way. The book came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of friends from the program encouraged her to write a memoir, and now we get to read the juicy tidbits for ourselves. Here are a few favorites.

A heartwarming encounter with John Travolta

Herman recounted her experience working at the 1977 Emmy Awards ceremony, where she was tasked with escorting stars backstage to meet with the press. After John Travolta accepted the Emmy for his late girlfriend, Diana Hyland, who had died from breast cancer, he needed a moment to himself.

John Travolta and Diana Hyland
John Travolta and Diana Hyland in LA circa 1976. (Photo Credit: Tom Wargacki / WireImage / Getty Images)

“John sat down in a metal folding chair and with his head in his hands was just sobbing,” Herman explained. “It was so heartbreaking to see him.” And while she wasn’t able to do much, she did what she could.

“I ran over to the makeup table and I grabbed a bunch of Kleenex real fast and I handed it to him. He looked up at me with a puddle of tears coming out of his eyes and thanked me for it, and then hugged me really, really tight. I looked at him and I said, ‘You want to get out of here for a while?’ He nodded and I hid him in one of the dressing rooms backstage until he could compose himself.” When he was ready, he squeezed her hand as she guided him back to the press area, where he was able to face the cameras despite such an emotional moment.

That night, she also received praise from director Alfred Hitchcock. She recalled, “I was helping get Mr. Hitchcock backstage … and I wanted to talk to him desperately, but of course I was being professional, and as we’re walking backstage, Hitchcock turned to me and said, ‘You’re doing a very good job.'” As it turns out, Herman did her senior thesis on the director, so it was a bit of a starstruck moment.

Locked in a room with McLean Stevenson

While much of Herman’s book reveals happy memories from behind the scenes at NBC, not everything was good. She, like many other people in the industry, was exposed to the nastier parts of show business that no one should have to experience.

Headshot of McLean Stevenson
McLean Stevenson as Lt. Col. Henry Blake in M*A*S*H, circa 1973. (Photo Credit: CBS / Getty Images)

This particular personal experience involves McLean Stevenson, remembered for his role on the hit television show M*A*S*H. Herman recalled one time when she was called into his office. She said he triggered a “secret button” located under a desk drawer that caused the door to slam shut behind her.

Once the door had closed, Stevenson proceeded to make unwanted advances. While she was writing this book, Herman struggled to find the right way to reveal this story. “I wanted to tell the McLean Stevenson story in a way that showed how, when somebody is… harassed on the job, how they’re not asking for it,” she explained. She said she had rejected come-ons from the actor previously.

Herman continued, “I beat myself up for a while about it. It took some reflection in writing the book to realize that I didn’t put out mixed messages, I didn’t try to do anything except my job.” She believes it happened because she tried to be one of the guys during the NBC page program.

“I think that because I was trying to be a part of a training program, I would try to do what the guys were doing. If the guys were sitting backstage watching how a TV show was going into production and coming up with ideas on how to pitch stories, I did the same things they did, just with a different outcome than most of them, I’m sure. … Although there were some male pages who had men come on to them too,” she revealed.

Joan Rivers’ decision to start her own show

In the spring of 1986, as Johnny Carson‘s 25th anniversary was approaching the following year, rumors circulated throughout NBC that executives were looking for a replacement. Naturally, considering she was a permanent guest host on The Tonight Show, Joan Rivers believed she could be up for the job.

However, when a confidential memo between top NBC executives listing 10 possible replacements was leaked, she was extremely upset to learn that she didn’t even make the consideration list. As a result, she partnered with Fox to create her own talk show that would directly compete with Carson’s, called The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.

Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson on his talk show.
Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson, circa 1968. (Photo Credit: NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal / Getty Images)

Shelley Herman was there when all this was going down. According to her, there was nothing to say about Rivers except good things. “When Joan was roaming the hallways, whether she was doing The Tonight Show, or one of the game shows, she was very supportive of the Pages,” Herman said. “When I wrote some jokes for her, she would look you in the eye and she would say, ‘Good. I’m coming back here next week. Have some material for me.’ And she pointed her finger like, ‘Yes, do that,’ and she was very encouraging.”

That is why the confidential memo was upsetting to more than just Rivers. “Off camera, Joan was very generous and very kind. I can only say lovely things about her and I think that the whole debacle with The Tonight Show was a very bad prank gone to the extreme, and it never should have happened,” Herman stressed. “For whatever reason, we all still question it, she decided to go rogue and sought to get her own show.”

Herman explained that it didn’t take long for Rivers’ decision to circulate. “You can’t keep a secret in this town. So when news of it broke, Peter Lassally begged Joan not to do it. … They were very, very close friends, but she thought it was her time. The Tonight Show had said to her, ‘Your jokes are getting a little too edgy for our normal audiences,’ and Joan liked what she was doing. She was getting good numbers. She was pulling better numbers sometimes than Johnny at the time.”

More from us: Famous Late-Night Feuds And A Couple We’d Never Heard About

Sadly, the whole ordeal ended a long friendship and working relationship between Rivers and Carson. “When Joan went to call Johnny to tell him about the deal, he did hang up, and they never spoke again,” said Herman.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!