Walker Vreeland Gets Honest With Artists

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It was the most anticipated award of the evening: Best Actress. Newcomer Barbra Streisand and veteran Katharine Hepburn were in a dead heat for their roles in “Funny Girl” and “The Lion in Winter,” respectively.Ingrid Bergman opened the envelope.

“The winner…” she began, her voice trailing off. “It’s a tie!” She did a double-take and raised her hand to her mouth.

History was made that Oscar night, 1969.

Time inside the modest 102.5 WBAZ-FM studio snapped back to present day as radio host Walker Vreeland switched off the audio clip with a few clicks on his sound board and turned his attention back to the man seated across from him—83-year-old Anthony Harvey, director of “The Lion in Winter,” who accepted the award on Ms. Hepburn’s behalf all those years ago.

“What do you remember about that night?” Mr. Vreeland asked.

“Dreadful things,” Mr. Harvey deadpanned.

“Did you say ‘dreadful things’?” Mr. Vreeland laughed.

“Yes,” Mr. Harvey continued, in an amused British accent. “I just remember the excruciating embarrassment when we both got up to get the award. Ms. Streisand was ahead of me. We went up four, five steps to get to the stage and, by mistake, I stood on her dress—and it ripped!”

Mr. Vreeland gasped.

“So, by the time we got to our places, I’m standing next to Ingrid Bergman, and all we could see was the back and her behind—a rather pretty behind, but with no clothes on,” Mr. Harvey said, finally letting out a laugh. “We started to get absolutely hysterical. Luckily, Barbra Streisand hadn’t realized, and I don’t think to this day she realized. It’s such a ridiculous situation.”

Mr. Harvey, who has lived in Water Mill for 15 years and first started coming out to the East End during the 1960s—when “you went to wonderful dinner parties and roared with laughter,” he said—is the latest subject on Mr. Vreeland’s newest program, “Interview with the Artist,” which has recently found its voice and format, the host said, after a year on air.

He has procured an impressive roster of artists from all facets of the entertainment industry—Cyndi Lauper, Cheech Marin, Roberta Flack, Sandra Bernhard, Jane Krakowski and Mario Cantone, to name a handful—who have discussed their lives, careers, creative processes and world views, shockingly genuinely.

“What I’m trying to do is create an honest conversation, and I think the best interviews are where sparks are flying and discoveries are being made,” Mr. Vreeland, who is a former actor, said last Friday during a telephone interview. “And that can’t happen unless there’s a real give-and-take. If I open up about my weaknesses, fears, embarrassments, failures, the more my guest is going to do the same.”

Mr. Vreeland is not shy about his own struggles. His decision to pursue radio was made while standing on a street corner on the Lower East Side, high on lithium.

There is a back story.

In his 20s, the struggling actor suffered from a nervous breakdown that hospitalized him for 10 days—an experience he said he “would not take back or change for the world.” When he was discharged, he didn’t feel like he was back in the real world, he said. “I was on a lot of lithium at the time—I didn’t quite have my bearings,” he recalled. “All of a sudden, it came to me, in a moment, that I would go into radio. I didn’t understand what it meant. It didn’t make any rational sense to me. Somehow, I knew it was where I was going to go next.”

By interviewing artists—actors, singers, directors and writers, primarily—Mr. Vreeland has not lost his tie to the creative world, and never wants to.

“Artists are living life on a different wavelength than everyone else,” he said. “They tend to live very intriguing, often exciting lives, and they’re great storytellers, and they have great stories to tell. They’re so sensitive and deeply empathic. They’re just more in touch with being alive than most people. Being close to people like that and conversing with them, it make me feel like I’m not alone.”

About a half hour into their interview, Mr. Vreeland leaned toward Mr. Harvey, who had already chatted about his deep friendship with Ms. Hepburn, his creative process and the reason he stopped making films. The host then asked him the last time he had visited home—England.

“I don’t have a home there anymore,” Mr. Harvey said, glancing down. “I would like to, but all the people I grew up with there, they’ve all gone. All my chums have died. And that, I think, is the most upsetting part of getting old, that they’ve disappeared. People that you really loved.”

There was a long pause.

“Other than losing people close to you, are you happy?” Mr. Vreeland asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Harvey said, without hesitation. “Sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” Mr. Vreeland repeated.

“Yes.”

“I like that. That’s honest.”

Mr. Harvey nodded. “I’m lucky to be alive. I’ve just turned 85—or something like that.”

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