Ms. Write and Mr. Wrong
(page 1 of 2)
Tabloid journalist Marlise Kast wrote more than 200 stories for Globe about celebrities’ secrets and mishaps—covering the likes of Don Johnson, Dolly Parton and Tonya Harding. In her new book, Tabloid Prodigy, Kast, now a San Diego resident, recounts the excitement of the job. But she eventually descended into a world of self-doubt and job loathing, and began to search for a more fulfilling occupation. In the following excerpt, we see what it was like to chronicle the 15 minutes of fame thrust upon a reality-TV shooting star, San Diegan Rick Rockwell.
Seven Pounds of Trail Mix
THERE WAS BARELY TIME to let the reality of my work situation digest before I was sent off on my next adventure. That same week, more than 22 million viewers had tuned in to watch TV’s first reality game show, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell had become a leading topic of conversation following their impromptu marriage on national television. Knowing that the now-familiar faces of the couple could lead to increased sales, Globe was ecstatic over the story possibilities.
While Darva and Rick were still honeymooning in the Caribbean, I was handed a lead sheet titled “Millionaire Bride’s Own Story.” Only through investigation could we find enough information to write an article based on the premise of the lead sheet. Unfortunately, the issue was closing that evening, and there was no time for travel or meeting with sources. Within hours, I was able to locate legal documents pertaining to a 1991 restraining order against Rick. The order had been filed by Rick’s ex-fiancée, Debbie Goyne, after she had reportedly called off their engagement. Barely meeting Globe’s editorial deadline, the final story was titled “TV’s Millionaire Bride: I Want Out!”
Everyone from Larry King to Matt Lauer had arranged to interview the highly publicized bride and groom, who were just returning from their honeymoon. Globe’s editors were determined to stay inside the media loop. The following day, I submitted a lead stating, “Is TV’s Millionaire couple really in love? Let’s follow the newlyweds and see if they live in separate homes. Do they have other lovers? Is she buying gifts with his cash? Is the whole thing a scam?”
The lead sheet came back approved from Florida and sat untouched on my desk. I could begin working on it only after Madeline, my editor, moved the assignment up on the priority list. During this two-week waiting period, the newlyweds annulled their TV marriage. This only served to spark increased interest in the non-celebrity celebrities.
“I realize you are supposed to have the weekend off,” Madeline acknowledged. “But your Millionaire lead has been slightly reworked.” She handed me a new lead sheet, and I read the words “My dinner with Rick Rockwell—Globe reporter goes on a date with Millionaire groom.” I looked up from the page. “I assume I’m the ‘Globe reporter’ . . . ?” Madeline was smirking now, fighting back a grin between tight lips.
“I’m sure Rick’s not as bad as he sounds. He lives in San Diego, so at least you can enjoy the city while you’re there. Plus, I’ve assigned Edward Townsend on photos. You two are friends, right?”
I nodded hesitantly, thinking back to the $75,000 business proposition he had offered me on the Brad and Jennifer photos.
“Yeah, we’re friends. So, what do I have to do, exactly?” I asked. “You don’t expect me to seduce this guy for a story, do you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Marlise. Just go to his home and invite him to dinner or something. Play it by ear. Do whatever you think works best for a headline. Trust me, this guy loves publicity, and he’ll be grateful for a chance to appear in Globe.”
That evening, I met Edward in the lobby of La Jolla’s Grande Colonial Hotel as arranged. “Fancy meeting you here, luv. So, have you already registered at the night desk?” Edward jangled his room key and glanced at the reception counter.
“I can’t stay at this hotel,” I said, scanning the room rates. “I don’t have pre-approval from the expense department, and it’s over my regular per diem.”
Edward shook his head. “Oh, do come on, Marlise. Are you still so young and naïve? You’ve only to tell the editors that all the other lodging was booked. They’ll buy your story, you know. After all, this is the peak of tourist season. No one will ever question your expense report. But do hurry along, dear. I’m quite famished.”
It only took me a second to realize Edward was right. Besides, this was the least the editors could do for taking away yet another weekend. After checking into the hotel, I met Edward at a nearby Thai restaurant.
“So what’s tomorrow’s schedule, then?” Edward asked.
“I wish I had one,” I responded. “I may just go alone to Rick’s house and then give you a call once I have a plan.”
Considering that a woman had once filed a restraining order against Rick, I decided it was probably best to notify him prior to my arrival. Our phone conversation was brief, but Rick seemed to be open to an impromptu date with a tabloid reporter. Locating his contact information had been something of a challenge for Globe’s research department.
Contrary to media reports, Rick was actually a stand-up comedian rather than a real estate developer. The name Rockwell was, in fact, a stage name he had chosen out of the phone book. His birth name was Richard Scott Balkey. I was beginning to believe that there was more, or perhaps less, to the 43- year-old groom than the public realized.
Arriving at his modest home in Encinitas, I was greeted by Rick, who was dressed in gray sweatpants and a white T-shirt. Holding a cordless phone in one hand, he shook my hand with the other. Opening the door wide enough for me to enter, he mouthed the words “I’ll be just a second.”
The living room was bare, with blank walls and one faded white couch facing the front door. I wondered if he had just moved in. As far as I could see, however, there were no signs of unpacked boxes. There was a ’70s feel about the place, with its gold curtains, cottage-cheese ceilings, white-brick fireplace and shag carpet.
“Sorry about that,” Rick said, coming back into the room. “I’ve been on the phone literally all day. I’ve got interviews and book deals and movie deals . . . maybe I should get married more often.”
He waited for me to laugh, and then he laughed even louder than I had. Staring at him, I honestly had no idea how this man’s face had ended up on every magazine cover and news channel in America. “I bet your life has changed quite a bit,” I said.
Rick nodded slowly with his eyes closed. “You have no idea, Marlise, no idea . . . Hey, can I get you something to drink?”
“Sure; what do you have?”
He walked toward the kitchen. “Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy to shop. All I can offer you is water.”
“Water is fine,” I called back.
“Sorry about my appearance,” Rick said, fanning out his baggy sweatpants like batwings. “I wanted to go to the gym today, but never got around to it because of all the phone calls.”
I could taste the chlorinated water running down my throat. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be in San Diego the whole weekend. If you aren’t too exhausted tomorrow, then maybe we can work out together. I can even take you grocery shopping if you have the time. You know, sort of kill a flock of birds with one stone.”
Rick took a long swig of his water. “That would be excellent. Ever since the show aired, I’ve been slammed with e-mails and letters and calls for public appearances. It’s gotten even worse since the annulment. Come check this out.”
I followed him into his office, where a computer showed he had 129 new messages. “Can you believe it? Look at all this fan mail. I have hundreds of photos from women who want to meet me. Most of the girls encourage me to stay strong and consider the failed marriage a learning experience. Other women send me nude pictures and ask if I want to marry them.”
Just then, the phone rang. It was Rick’s manager, reminding him of a speaking engagement later that night. Hanging up the phone, Rick apologized and asked if we could reschedule for another time.
I had no intention of sacrificing another weekend on account of Rick Rockwell. “Why don’t we just meet up after your event?”
Rick looked at his scratched Timex watch. “I probably won’t be done until around 10 o’clock. Is that too late?”
“No, that’s fine. Just tell me where you want to meet.”
“How about at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach?” he suggested. “Say, around 10:30?”
“Perfect. I’ll see you then.”