Whether the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “panta rhei,” which means “everything flows,” or “panta chorei,” which translates to “everything moves,” is open to debate by modern scholars.
That’s just the way it is when it comes to recalling something someone said more than 2,500 years ago.
What is not in dispute is that the sage believed the world was in a constant state of flux, always “becoming” but never “being,” and that his most famous quote was “There is nothing permanent except change.”
That age-old maxim rings true for Burbankers of a, shall we say, mature age, whenever they pass by the Alameda parking structure of Warner Bros. Studios and get a hankering for a chile relleno made from an old Gomez family recipe at El Chiquito Restaurant which once occupied that space.
The same would be true for those, who in days of yore, soaked up an evening’s worth of alcohol with a late-night breakfast at The Copper Penny, which is now a building that houses the Warner Bros. Consumer Products division, or grabbed a hamburger at Juicy Harvey’s, which now houses a Wienerschnitzel.
And while we’re traveling back through the gastronomical memories of West Alameda Avenue, let us not forget the pub grub that fortified one to sing a song at Dimples, which has been transformed into a stylish apartment community known as Talaria, the cocktails, jazz and celebrity sightings at Chadney’s, which has become a craft beer pub owned by twins known as the Brews Brothers, and the margaritas at Los Caballos Mexican Restaurant, which is now one of those ubiquitous chicken joints.
Yep, there is no doubting the fact that ol’ Heraclitus was right when it came to his musings on change, and no one knows that better than Shelley Herman.
A former NBC page and tour guide, Herman, who has penned a book about her days at NBC titled “My Peacock Tale: Secrets of an NBC Page,” (2023, Bear Manor Media), recently stood across the street from the building she called her professional home back in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Lost in a look of nostalgic melancholy, she gazed over at the front of Studio 1, where Johnny Carson did “The Tonight Show” from 1973 to 1992. The disappearance of the NBC letters crowned by one of the most famous corporate logos of all-time, a colorful wing-spread peacock that now reads The Burbank Studios was, of course, an obvious change. Herman, however, noticed more subtle changes to the second-floor windows which were once the offices of both Carson and his successor Jay Leno.
Knowing that the storied complex will soon be transformed again by Warner Bros. Discovery, Herman recalled the first time she was ever in the building.
“When I was in high school, I was friends with Johnny Carson’s son, Cory who got us tickets to see a taping of ‘The Midnight Special,’” she revealed. “When I went to see the show, and I saw these people in blazers with NBC logos on them guiding people around and thought ‘I could do that.’ I also thought it would be a more exciting job than the one I had as a salesgirl at Sears.”
Herman’s entrée to the page program, which was harder to get into than an Ivy League university, came by way of one of those “getting discovered at Schwab’s” stories that have always been a part of Hollywood legends. In Herman’s case it wasn’t Schwab’s but the Las Vegas Hilton.
“The father of a girl some friends of mine knew got us tickets to see Elvis in concert,” Herman explained. “After the show I went out for pie with her and told her I wanted to be an NBC page. She said her mom’s best friend worked at NBC. When we got back to Los Angeles, I met her, she recommended me, I got an interview and that led to my getting the job in June of 1976.
Noting that NBC’s page program had started in New York 90 years ago this year, Herman said when it began only men were considered.
“It was NBC’s way to recruit corporate material and back then women were not considered for such things,” said Herman. “But they did eventually have female tour guides they called ‘guidettes’ who they, of course, dressed in white go-go boots and miniskirts,” she added with an eye roll.
Coming in after that era was over — when women were incorporated into the program doing both tours and serving as a page — Herman worked on shows such as “Sanford and Son,” “Chico and the Man,” “Password,” “Hollywood Squares,” “The Gong Show,” and “The Tonight Show” to name just a few.
Herman’s work as a page also provided her with the opportunity to escort Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca to the Emmy Awards, console a very upset John Travolta backstage after presenting a posthumous Emmy to his late girlfriend Diana Hyland, and the chance to meet legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock who was serving as an Emmy presenter.
Herman had done her senior thesis on Hitchcock, and as she maneuvered him onto the darkened stage for him to make his presentation, she mentioned that to him. Primed by him telling her what a good job she was doing, she then told him if there was anything he wanted to know about himself to just ask her, a quip that elicited a smile out of the master of the macabre.
Her book, which includes stories about her and her fellow pages crossing paths with a galaxy of luminaries from Bob Hope, Andy Kaufman, Freddie Prinze and Gilda Radner, to Robin Williams, Betty White, Paul McCartney, Redd Foxx and Frank Sinatra, also includes her memories of an appearance by the Bay City Rollers on “The Midnight Special” which resulted in mayhem and an “APB,” or All Page Bulletin, going out to enlist all the help they could find to calm things down.
A woman who clearly harbors fond memories of Carson, Herman’s book features a treasured signed photo of her with him on the cover that was taken by Paul Drinkwater.
“He was the unit photographer for ‘The Tonight Show’ at the time, and one night, when I was selected to hand Johnny the gift envelopes for winners of Stump the Band, Paul made sure he captured that magical moment for me,” said Herman. “He then got the photo to Johnny’s secretary, and she had him sign it to me. Johnny was always nice to the pages. He was also cordial to the tour guests and would joke with them telling them what a rip-off the tour was and that they should ask for their money back.”
On July 6, 2012, the last NBC studio tour was given in Burbank. Two years later, NBC4 News left the historic 34-acre campus for the NBC/Universal lot, the same year “The Tonight Show” moved back to New York after originating from Burbank for 42 years.
“I still can’t believe NBC is gone from Burbank,” said Herman, who, after her page days, went on to marry actor Randall Carver and continue what has been an eclectic career in entertainment. “It seemed like it was Mount Rushmore to me, and now it’s gone. It seems like the only thing that’s the same in Burbank is Monte Carlo Italian Deli and Market and the Pinocchio Restaurant,” she added with a laugh. “All of us in the page program used to eat there all the time because it was one of the only places we could afford.”
While the days of the peacock proudly strutting in Burbank are now gone, Herman said the building at 3000 W. Alameda Ave. will always be NBC to her.
“It will always be my home, as it will be to so many of my fellow pages, many of whom I still keep in touch with,” said Herman. “It is a place of so many wonderful memories of that magical time that will never, and perhaps, in some instances, should never, happen again.”
Queried on the reaction she is getting on her book, Herman said many people have told her they are grateful she has chronicled so many great stories that would have otherwise been lost to the ages.
“It’s a nostalgic book that is set against the backdrop of NBC. But really, it’s my story — the story of a 20-someting woman from Calabasas who got the opportunity to be in this amazing place at an amazing time where so much history had been made and was being made.”
Adding that she hopes her book will show people that no matter what the business may be, it’s important to be a person that people want to work with instead of one they have to work with, Herman said she tried to share a lot of lessons she learned from her days as a page.
“I hope my story will be helpful to young people looking to get on a good career path,” she said.
You can meet Herman and get a signed copy of her book on Wednesday, Aug. 2, at 6:30 p.m., when she will appear at Barnes & Noble at The Grove at Farmers Market in Los Angeles.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.
First published in the July 15 print issue of the Burbank Leader.