For 8 years Nelson Aspen has been Sunrise‘s Hollywood go-to guy.
From his earliest role a child actor to his current position as an entertainment correspondent, he has racked up nearly 40 years in show business, including 10 years with Britain’s GMTV before a one-off Oscars interview with Sunrise led to a regular gig.
Currently in Australia, he tells TV Tonight he is an unashamed fan of showbiz.
“It’s a good thing that Entertainment has become just as much a headline in the newspapers as Politics, Sport, Weather. It’s not hidden in the back of magazines anymore, it’s viable news. When my 86 year old dad isn’t watching FOX News he’s asking me about Angelina Jolie,” he says.
But having observed shifts in reporting, he resists the urge to adopt a sensationalist tone.
“Unlike some people in this culture of showbiz reporting I grew up in the business, I celebrate showbiz, I like it and have respect for it. These are my colleagues, friends, neighbours, peers,” he says.
“I don’t deal in the contempt of show business. I don’t revel in bad news. If you’ve ever watched me you’d know I don’t do that. I like show business, I don’t wish it ill. A lot of people report on stuff with a devilish glee in misery.”
But what happens when there are trashy celebrity stories that become big news? Aspen is pragmatic.
“(US commentator) Keith Olbermann used to say ‘Stories My Producers Are Forcing Me to Report.’ There are some things you have to talk about because they are news, whether it’s a YouTube clip or a Tweet, but for me it’s in the approach,” he says.
“If I have to talk about something that’s not palatable I’m pretty clear about the fact that it’s not palatable.
“The nice thing about Sunrise is I’m here to give opinion, so I can wag my finger at bad behaviour and cheesingly refer to myself as ‘Uncle Nelson.'”
Currently visiting Australia for only the fourth time, ‘Uncle Nelson’ says he has built up a great rapport with the Sunrise crew, especially Melissa Doyle, despite the tyranny of a distant satellite link.
“There was some little connection that Mel and I had and it just worked. Then they invited me back and it went from once a week to once a day and at one point it was three times a day. It’s just been a very happy union,” he says.
“For the first few years they would see me and I didn’t see them. I didn’t have return vision. A lot of the times with this sort of thing you don’t have return vision so you have to make love to a piece of glass. But so much of what I do is referring to vision and clips so I couldn’t do it without the return vision for Sunrise.”
He currently files similar stories for Ireland’s RTE afternoon line-up and TVNZ’s Good Morning, previously filing for New Zealand’s Sunrise.
“Dealing with Aussies is always such a pleasure, it’s just effortless, but the time difference was very appealing,” he laughs.
“The irony is I go around the world saying ‘Good Morning’ but it’s never actually morning for me!”
Aspen says Sunrise frequently enables him to break news simply by virtue of its broadcast time, including reporting the deaths of Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson on the same day.
Acknowledging the passing of Hollywood greats is integral to him even when it isn’t always apparent to younger Producers.
“I’ll say to my Producer we’ve got to talk about Jane Russell’s passing. You may not understand why she’s important, but let me explain why. Her sexuality changed motion pictures,” he insists.
“When Deborah Kerr passed I said ‘Give me a minute to talk about Deborah Kerr.’ If that scene on the beach in From Here to Eternity hadn’t been shot, the whole pushing of the envelope in sexuality wouldn’t have existed in films. These are the things that excite me.
“I got the last interview with Tony Curtis because I actually stayed in touch with Tony Curtis. I break all the stuff with Zsa Zsa Gabor because I’m friends with Zsa Zsa Gabor.”
For his latest book, Dinner at Nelson’s : Cuisine and Conversation with the Showbiz Guru (“the ‘showbiz guru’ was not my idea but ‘Cuisine and Conversation’ was”) he has published recipes with an eclectic array of industry friends.
“My recipes are very simple and the more complex ones are guest recipes,”he says.
“I just picked up the book and called some friends and said ‘Let’s have a dinner party in a book form so you can share your showbiz stories with the readers.’ Most people have heard my showbiz stories.”
The book includes recipes from Tony Curtis, Carole Lynley, James Denton, Carolyn Seymour, Richard Quest from CNN, Mindy Cohn from Facts of Life, Mimi Kennedy, agents, managers, casting directors, and even Lassie‘s veterinarian.
“So you have all these fascinating characters from the world of showbusiness gather around the dinner table, virtually.”
Sunrise airs 6am weekdays on Seven.
Dinner at Nelson’s is on sale now.