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Interview with TLS writer Les Roberts

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Here's a neat interview with former television writer Les Roberts, who co-penned the TLS episode Lucy, The Fight Manager. It seems like his career made an interesting left turn:


One of RH’s favorite writers will make an appearance at 7 p.m. July 27 at the Parma Heights library, 6206 Pearl Road.


Mystery novelist Les Roberts will speak in the Greenbrier Commons complex. RH has been a major fan of Roberts and his work for hmmm-hmmm years.


First, he’s an exceptional writer. Second, he has used Cleveland as the setting for many of his works, especially his 14 novels based on the Slovenian character Milan Jacovich (pronounced YOCK-o-vitch), and anyone who knows RH knows how proud he is of Cleveland.


Roberts has also worked in show biz, which RH loves as well, having worked in Hollywood as a television producer (more on that in a moment). After serving as Sun News’ resident gossip columnist for six years (1989-94), RH has, in some ways, had a similar path when it comes to interviewing celebrities. I’ve been privileged in my career to meet and interview hundreds of stars, and many of them the biggest names in the business.


Here’s another bit of trivia you probably don’t know: Roberts gave yours truly his one and only literary claim to fame. RH rated a mention on page two of his book “Lake Effect” years ago while working in my full-time gossip columnist role.


Roberts was born and raised in Chicago. His father was a dentist and his mother a homemaker. This rather ordinary beginning led to a most extraordinary life — as author of 23 novels, close to a dozen short stories, eight screenplays and countless newspaper articles and reviews.


Roberts took a winding road to his final destination of Cleveland, which he refers to as his spiritual home. Although he was already writing at age 6, he began his career as an actor in Chicago and by doing summer stock in Taos, N.M. He then moved on to New York, where his writing began to overtake his acting career. He wrote for such classics as “Candid Camera” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”


His next stop was Hollywood — or “The Hollywood Squares,” to be more specific. Roberts was the first producer of this still-popular game show and had the opportunity to rub elbows with the likes of the late Paul Lynde and Buddy Hackett. During his 24 years in Hollywood, he wrote and/or produced more than 1,250 hours of network and syndicated television, including work on “The Lucy Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, to name just a few.


Then, onto Cleveland. Roberts got the job of creating a lottery game show for Ohio. It ultimately became “Cash Explosion Double Play.” He then created similar shows for Michigan and Illinois, but he couldn’t forget Cleveland. He moved here permanently in 1990 and says his years in Cleveland have been the best ever.


It’s where he has felt the most at home, developed the most significant and lasting relationships of his life, and experienced the most success and fulfillment in his career. He’s been twice nominated for both the Shamus and the Anthony awards, and has several times been voted Cleveland’s Favorite Writer.


Roberts won the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature in 1992 and the Sherwood Anderson Literary Award in 2003. He is past president of the Private Eye Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League. He writes regular book reviews for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer.


He’s also written for the Washington Post Book World, Northern Ohio Live and Cleveland Magazine.


With longtime friend and Hollywood legend Ann Elder, Roberts now co-hosts a radio show, “Greenlight Reviews.” They review newly released movies and suggest some special favorites for their audience to rent and enjoy at home. It’s currently carried in the Cleveland area on WELW-AM (1300), where it can be heard at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. every Thursday.


Roberts is one of the most recognized and interviewed Clevelanders. In May 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Cleveland State University.


Another reason RH loves Roberts is that he has his priorities in the right order.


He professes to be most proud of his family. His daughter, Valerie, and granddaughter, Shea, live in Aspen, Colo. His son Darren, Darren’s wife Anne, and their son, Parker, live in Redondo Beach, Calif. Also an important part of his clan was his now-passed Russian Blue cat Sonny, who was his personal muse for many years and was rarely more than four feet away from him. Roberts now lives with a lovely Maine Coon cat, Isabel, and with the love of his life, Holly Albin.


In advance of Roberts’ visit to the Parma Heights library — and taken from his website, lesroberts.com — here are some of his most frequently asked questions, which RH thought you would get a kick out of. It should make his local appearance even more appealing and fun.


Q. Where do you get your ideas?


A. I keep my eyes and ears open wherever I go, and collect ideas for books and/or characters. Sometimes I read a story in the newspaper, overhear a snatch of conversation, or sometimes a friend will approach me and share with me an idea they had come up with. Mostly, it’s walking around with what I call “the writer’s eye,” observing. That way I don’t miss anything that could turn into my next novel.


Q. Are you the writer, the same person as Milan Jackovich?


A. Hardly. He’s Slovenian and I’m not. He’s 6’ 3” and 230 pounds and I’m not. He’s younger, tougher and leaner than I am, and he smokes Winstons and drinks Stroh’s Beer, which I don’t. And he’s slowly losing his hair when, thank God, I still have all of mine. But I believe that, when it comes to values and ethics, he and I are very much alike.


Q. What time of day do you do most of your writing?


A. I try to get most of my writing done early in the day, starting around 7 or 8 in the morning. It’s how I try to avoid the world taking little bites out of my butt whenever the phone rings or mail arrives or e-mails intrude on my work. However, I’ve been known to write all day long — and sometimes late at night. Sometimes I’ll even wake up between 3 and 6 in the morning, unable to get back to sleep, and go straight to my computer. Regardless, I try to write something every single day.


Q. Is Milan Jacovich ever going to get a steady, loving girlfriend or wife?


A. I used to say that he’ll get one when I get one. However, I have the love of my life right now, and I haven’t lifted a finger to find a permanent girlfriend for Milan. As I’ve written him, he’s the quintessential “lonely guy,” and, even though people ask, I think they prefer he isn’t committed because then they can feel sorry for him.


Q. If they ever make a movie from one of your books, what actor would you want to play Milan?


A. Robert Mitchum, except he’s dead. Otherwise I have no current choice — just hoping that when we make a film, the actor will be excellent and will bear some sort of physical resemblance to the Milan Jacovich I have in my head.


Q. Do the Italians get angry with you when you write about the mob family in Cleveland?


A. As far as I know, the Italians like me a lot, because many of them are my good friends and have adopted me into their culture in Cleveland’s Little Italy. They enjoy the books and say the way I write about the mob family is “respectful.” I’ve been fortunate to have been embraced by much of Cleveland’s ethnic community — I’m an honorary Slovenian and an honorary Irishman, too.


If you haven’t read any of Roberts’ books, you should, especially if you are a fan of mysteries. You don’t know what you’re missing.


The presentation at the library is free, but reservations are suggested. Call (440) 884-2313 or visit cuyahogalibrary.org to secure your place.



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