What makes Roy blog? It’s a question of ‘civility’
After a broadcast career spanning more than 50 years and thousands of daily radio and television appearances, some people might find they have nothing more to say.
But Roy Leonard is just getting started.
With the launch this week of his redesigned website at RoyLeonard.com, the 81-year-old Chicago legend has unveiled two new blogs (both of which he plans to update weekly) and links to audio, video and photo archives highlighting his stellar career, most notably his three decades at Tribune Co.-owned WGN-AM (720) and WGN-Channel 9.
One of his blogs, Roy’s Ramblings, is a new version of his earlier outlet for observations about modern life, musings on the media, views on politics (which are unabashedly liberal), and whatever else strikes his fancy.
The second, called Till Death Do Us Part, is a poignant, deeply personal account of his final months with Sheila, his beloved wife of 58 years, who died at 85 last March after battling dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Each entry, written in chapter form, will impart Roy’s insights into dealing with the physical and emotional toll they endured.
Readers will be invited to comment on both blogs.
Another feature of the new site, designed by Skokie-based Premier Information Services, will be links to some of Roy’s favorite interviews over the years for WGN. For openers, he features a 1978 television interview with Clint Eastwood before the premiere of Bronco Billy, and a radio visit with Mel Brooks tied to the release of the High Anxiety soundtrack the same year. They’re both classics.
In addition to working on writing the two blogs, Roy has assembled an impressive collection of photos with the celebrities he’s interviewed, enhanced with his personal recollections and arranged by decade. It’s a virtual time capsule of American show business and popular culture.
After selling the house in Kenilworth where he and Sheila raised their six sons, Roy now lives in an upscale retirement community in Evanston. As he once did on Michigan Avenue and in theaters around the world, he gets the star treatment today from fellow residents and staff. In return, "Sugar Roy" is as genial and gracious as ever.
Over a leisurely lunch the other day, I asked why he decided to devote so much time and energy to the website. Roy didn’t answer right away, and our conversation drifted off in another direction. By the time I got home, the following message was in my email, with a preface explaining that he’d given my question a lot more thought:
“I was born and brought up in poor class circumstances by a hard working mother who did her best as a single mom to try and keep the family together. I remember when I was around 10 or 11 years old, my older sister was too proud to go to, wherever it was, to pick up food stamps. So I grabbed my younger sister's hand and said, ‘Let's go. I'm hungry.’ We had a good supper that night. I also started working everyday after school and weekends when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. My first job was at a dog kennel doing just what you might imagine a boy of that age would be hired to do. The German couple who owned the business were very kind and, as they were childless, I became almost a member of the family, being asked to stay for supper and taking food home on occasion. By the way, I've never been without a job since. And that includes being a short order cook in a grill/restaurant, working for a landscape/gardener and as an elevator operator.
“I think it was around 1945 when my mother lost her job and had no way of keeping us together, that we were all sort of ‘farmed out.’ We never were officially wards of the state or anything like that. We were, in the words of Tennessee Williams, ‘dependent on the kindness of strangers.’ I was a very lucky though. The couple who ran the dog business, Herman and Elsa Kress, took me in, gave me a room, and I worked for my keep. They were more than just kind. They bought me my first suit when I was chosen to enter the Massachusetts State American Legion Speech Contest. Herman drove me to school functions at night, and I could go on and on. They even came to my high school graduation when no members of my real family could.
“I bring this up only to set the scene for my dealing with life and taking advantage of the circumstances offered. I was never sad, embarrassed or ashamed of my lot in life because I was generally very happy to have what I did. I recall so many things, but I'll mention only one. When I first took my kids to the circus out here in Illinois, one of my sons commented on what a good time I was having. Why not? It was the first time I had ever been to one!
“So, why do I want to have a way to express my feelings? I am so sick of the declining civility in our society and the greed that seems to pervade our populace. The lack of respect for proven practices and the disappearance of any value system in society is appalling. Maybe one word from someone who’s been around the block or a story with a message, sublime or out in front, might get someone to think for a moment of the direction in which they are heading, and change course to make them a better person.
“I didn't realize when I started out with this note that I would go on and on. But, for better or worse, it's my answer to your question.”