It took Bobbie Wygant 70 years to write a book, but her excuse for the delay befits a dedicated journalist. "When you're meeting deadlines almost every day, you don't have time to write a book," Wygant said.
NBC 5's longtime entertainment reporter will talk about her book, her seven-decade career and her experience of broadcasting live while news broke of President John F. Kennedy's assassination at "70 Years of Texas Television: An Evening with Bobbie Wygant" at The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas on April 22.
Wygant's book, "Talking to the Stars," chronicles a significant arc of history. Wygant began her career at WBAP-TV, now NBC 5/KXAS-TV, two weeks before it went on the air in 1948. More than 500 pictures illustrate Wygant's narrative history of the first television station in Texas and her career interviewing Hollywood's brightest stars.
There is a notable exception to Wygant's list of celebrity interviews. She never interviewed the cast of the television show, "Dallas."
"It was a different network. We didn't have access to interviewing any of those people," Wygant said.
"Talking to the Stars" is more than celebrity antidotes. Wygant's personal story is reflected on the first page of the book with a dedication to her late husband and promotions director at WBAP-TV, Phil Wygant. The couple met at Purdue University and arrived in Texas two days after their 1947 wedding.
"My husband and I were very, very connected always. We always had dinner together, even if he had to do something or I had to come back to the station to do something," Wygant said. "We were very open in discussing everything."
A chapter details the events of November 22, 1963, Wygant's 37th birthday. Wygant started her show, "Dateline," at 12:30 p.m. A few minutes into the broadcast, floor director Ed Milner signaled to Wygant to stop.
"He wasn't sure what they wanted him to do because I was in the middle of this interview, but here were the news people saying, 'We've got to break in now,'" Wygant said. "I just watched him. I knew something was going on because he was pressing the headset close to his head."
Wygant stopped the interview when she saw a slide on the monitor that read "News Bulletin." She maintained her composure and continued her interviews as news bulletins continued interrupting her show with dire updates.
Six minutes after her show ended at 1 p.m., Kennedy's death was announced. Wygant recalled that day as a turning point for the nation and the broadcast industry.
"It was a milestone like no other. It certainly changed the way that kind of event was covered on television. It really got the industry to thinking about what technology they had to shoot for, what their aims and goals had to be to cover events such as this," Wygant said.
"70 Years of Texas Television: An Evening with Bobbie Wygant" compliments The Sixth Floor Museum's "55 Years," an exhibit showcasing magazine covers from 1961 to 2018 featuring Kennedy.
"I think there will always be, for Dallas, a connection to JFK and the assassination. It's history. You can't deny it. You can't sweep it under the rug, nor should you. I think The Sixth Floor Museum commemorating John F. Kennedy is a wonderful thing," Wygant said.
The assassination reverberated throughout Wygant's career. Each time she interviewed John Belushi, he made a comment blaming the city for the president's death.
"The John Belushi remark really cut to the core. 'Dallas, the city that killed my president,'" Wygant said, recoiling at Belushi's words. "It gives me chills every time I think about it, let alone say it. Dallas didn't kill him. While there may be some debate still about who did, I'm willing to accept the Warren Report until something much more definitive comes out."
Wygant had some reservations about "JFK," Oliver Stone's 1991 film. "There's the historical account and then there's history according to Oliver Stone," Wygant said.
When she interviewed Stone about the film, she raised an issue about the disclaimer regarding film's dramatization of historical events. It was a tough interview, but Stone respected her candid assessment.
"I'm not there to antagonize you so that you say something you never meant to say. That's not my style of interviewing. At the same time, if I'm in complete disagreement with what you're saying or what you're portraying in your film, I will say so. I don't have to be mean or ugly, but I have to say that's not the way it was," Wygant said. "And I will stand my ground."
Wygant often interviewed celebrities she admired. While she expressed respect for their work, she never fawned over them. That's the approach she used when she first interviewed Bob Hope, one of her favorite stars.
"I said to Bob Hope, 'I grew up watching your 'Road' movies, I'm a big fan of your radio and television programs and this is a really wonderful opportunity to talk to you.' Then I stopped. I didn't carry on anymore, even off-camera afterward," Wygant said. She interviewed Hope multiple times, sometimes on golf courses, and got to know his family.
Wygant's perceptive interview style won her lifelong fans. A man who watched "Dateline" approached her at book signing, expressing appreciation for her making her guests look good.
"That's a nice compliment, but at the same time, you have a reason for having this person on. You want to get context," Wygant said. "You want something meaningful that they can take from the interview, some knowledge they didn't know before, something worthwhile."
Wygant dislikes the word "retirement." At age 92, she files reports on a part-time freelance basis. Her book is a new chapter in her career.
"I'm really pleased that this book came to me at this time in my life because I can say, 'Here I am in my 90s, starting a new career,'" Wygant said.