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I'm Only One Man

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I never thought I’d write these words until I read Regis Philbin’s I’M ONLY ONE MAN: I missed Kathie Lee Gifford. Irritating though she may be, Regis’ cohost brings out the best in him, which is to say she pisses him off. And when Regis gets pissed off, there’s no one funnier on TV.

But without Kathie Lee’s needling, as is the case in this rambling 286-page diary, Regis can be a pretty dull guy. Here are some of the less fascinating entries: Regis loses his wallet. Regis’ cat gets a haircut. Regis complains about his show’s ”spotty … and dismal” lighting. Put it in a memo, Reege, not your autobiography.

Not that the book is entirely lacking in juicy backstage tension. ”The rift of the century has finally been defused,” Regis writes (mixing metaphors) of the battle between Gifford and Live executive producer Michael Gelman, ”a long, uncomfortable war of silences and dirty looks that’s become a part of my daily world.” There’s only one problem: Regis hasn’t bothered to mention the feud prior to this — it’s over before we knew it started.

Regis is equally skimpy when writing about his private life. He chronicles his first marriage — which lasted 11 years — in less than a paragraph. His two-year stint in the Navy? A mere two sentences. The closest thing to an explosive revelation in I’m Only One Man is Regis’ confession that he became ”addicted to Pac-Man” during a career valley in the early ’80s.

This scant personal information is organized haphazardly, as events in his day-to-day life trigger memories. Thus, Regis doesn’t explain the oft-mentioned Tom ”Freakin”’ Finelli’s nickname until his Bronx childhood pal comes to visit the show, more than 200 pages into the book: ”To Tom Finelli, everything was freakin,”’ Regis recalls. ”He was always makin’ freakin’ fun of freakin’ everybody.” A nice freakin’ story, but couldn’t you have told it a little freakin’ sooner?

Too often, Regis gets bogged down in digressions about his personal obsessions: Notre Dame football and crooners Dean Martin and Perry Como. Oh, and one other thing: his bodily dysfunctions. Yes, you can learn all about Regis’ hiatal hernia, his kidney stones, his bouts with ”the grippers” (”searing abdominal cramps from hell”). Try as you might, you’ll never forget his anecdote about the night Sen. Al D’Amato recommended an enema.

That’s far from the only famous name Regis drops. He plays softball with Michael Bolton, he works out with Cindy Crawford, he dines with Johnny Carson. More than once, Regis hogs credit for others’ careers, including that of Richard Simmons, who was discovered by Regis’ second wife, Joy, at an L.A. aerobics studio. (So now you know whom to blame.)

A few tasty tidbits are scattered among the filler. Regis runs into 90210‘s Tori Spelling and asks her how things are going at Melrose Place. (”Tori just looks at me like I had kicked her dog.”) And he gives a surprisingly complete account of the infamous night in 1968 when he walked off his job as sidekick on Joey Bishop’s late-night talk show (Regis says it was all a publicity stunt).

Yet there’s a fundamental problem with I’m Only One Man: It was written by two men. And the second, Bill Zehme, keeps making self-aggrandizing cameos in the text, as when Gay Talese tells Regis at a party that ”one of the best magazine articles he’s read in recent years happens to be the Esquire profile of me, written by Bill Zehme. And I say to Gay Talese, ‘Isn’t that nice, because you wrote the definitive profile of Frank Sinatra 30 years ago in the same magazine.”’ Zehme gives the book a choppy style meant to be conversational: ”Our interview is finished,” we read of Robert De Niro. ”A hug. Goodbye. And he’s gone.” But who. Really. Talks. Like that?

Near the end, Regis attends a Hyperion sales conference and writes his own book’s epitaph. ”Someone wants to know if there would be anything controversial in the book. I say no. Anything titillating? No. Any sex? Absolutely not. He seems disappointed. Makes me a little nervous. Who cares about Gelman and me trapped in traffic or how I gave a plant too much water?” Not me. But I’m only one man. C+

I'm Only One Man

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