The first time I spoke to Jay Leno, I almost hung up on him.
I was a newly minted reporter in The Eagle-Tribune’s features department. I was here 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 phone extension I had inherited.
When the caller 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 with his car in 1968 outside the Andover High principal’s office.
These are some of the fondest memories of my 17-year career here at the Tribune, and one of the reasons I was so sad last night 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 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. But it’s not the end of Jay’s career.