The first time I spoke to Jay Leno, I practically hung up on him.
I was a newly minted reporter in The Eagle-Tribune’s features department. I was working on a story late one evening when he called out of the blue — asking for the recently retired Mary Fitzgerald, the legendary lifestyle editor whose extension I inherited.
When he told me he was Jay Leno, I didn’t believe him. I thought one of the other reporters was pranking me. It wasn’t until I called him back at a California number that I began to believe it was him.
That evening marked my first interview with Leno, which turned into a second when the paper flew me out to Burbank, Calif., to report on a pardon Jay had received for burning doughnuts in 1968 outside the then Andover High principal’s office.
These are some of the fondest memories of my 17-year career at The Eagle-Tribune, the Townsman’s sister paper, and one of the reasons I was so sad last week to see the Andover native bid farewell to all of us, and to “The Tonight Show.”
I had just graduated from St. Mary High in Lawrence when Jay took the reins of the show from Johnny Carson. I remember thinking how amazing it was that someone who grew up only miles from where I lived in Methuen could reach such heights in the entertainment industry.
When Leno stepped down in 2009, his exit didn’t seem quite as final. He was, after all, still going to be on at 10 p.m. Who knew, at the time, what a fiasco that would become thanks to the poor planning and judgement of certain NBC executives.
This time, it does seem final — the end of an era. It was hard to watch him last Thursday, as he got choked up over what he called “the greatest 22 years of his life.”