This photo of Muhammad Ali and me was taken in the garden on the grounds of his Hancock Park mansion in September 1979. When I first met Muhammad Ali on that beautiful fall day, only a few years had passed since the Thriller in Manila and Rumble in the Jungle. In those bouts and countless others, Ali shook up the world, so by September of 1979 he was on top of the world!
Ali was on his third marriage at the time to Veronica Porsche and had fathered two more daughters, Laila and Hana.
Ali Was Moving In
Ali had just moved Veronica and the girls into a beautiful large home in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Many of the furnishings were still in boxes, and others carefully placed on the grounds and in the house. I especially remember the beautiful Persian rugs, many of which still had the price tags on them. Keep in mind this was the late 70’s when $35,000.00 was a lot of money especially for a rug.
I had just become host of my new TV show called Coming Together. It was a prime time access program that showcased people of color. Thinking about it now, this concept was certainly ahead of the times, even though it was right on time to capture the lives of folks like Muhammad Ali, and other celebrities the mainstream press didn’t always cover.
But that certainly wasn’t the case with Ali, he had become one of the biggest names on the entire planet. It didn’t matter if you loved him or hated him, you knew his name. One thing I learned early in my TV career was to always book the biggest names you possibly can to keep your audience interested.
So when the Coming Together crew was sent to Los Angeles to do stories on celebrities, Muhammad Ali was high on the list. The catch 22 is that with a new show there is no track record so it’s almost impossible to book anyone.
We Were Striking Zero
We arrived and desperately kept calling folks to see if they would be a part of our show. We were striking zero at every turn. At one point the crew decided we should go shoot on Sunset Boulevard so we would at least have something to show for the trip. While trying to pull off a dolly shot, a young man walked up and asked if we could use his help … the camera man (Cary Edwards) quickly said yes and gave the guy an assignment.
The young man who offered his help was Russell Williams. We were talking about our dilemma of trying to book celebrities, when Russell casually asked if I would like to interview his cousin, Muhammad Ali? With shock and disbelief we all said YES!!! at the same time. Seriously? Well yes!
Still in Shock
I was still in shock as Russell found a nearby pay phone (there were no cell phones in those days). He made a call and when he was finished Russell announced that Ali had invited us to his new home.
I really don’t know how Russell made that day at Ali’s home happen, but I never looked back. Everyone wanted to be a part of the show Coming Together after the Muhammad Ali interview.
Top 10 Muhammad Ali Knockouts, unloaded by ElTerribileProductions
We had such a great time with the champ. So much so that he invited us back the next day to screen his film The Greatest.
By the way, Russell Williams went on to become one of the best sound mixers in the business and won two Oscars for his work. But that is another story for another time … to be continued in the book, because right now I’m remembering Muhammad Ali and me.