Connie Martinson, whose interviews with Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and thousands of other authors appeared weekly on government-access cable and public television outlets around the country for more than 35 years, died March 9 at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 90.

Her daughter Julianna Carner said the cause was heart disease.

“Connie Martinson Talks Books” was a low-budget, often highbrow show self-funded by Ms. Martinson, a denizen of the Los Angeles arts scene who was married to director Leslie H. Martinson, drove a Mercedes and devoured books in bed at her Malibu condominium. She once estimated spending $25,000 a year on the show.

“If I spent my money on tennis lessons or clothes or getting my hair done,” Ms. Martinson told Los Angeles magazine in 2005, “it’d be triple the amount. On top of that, I ask myself, ‘What better thing could I do with the money?’ For me, every book is meeting a new person.”

From 1979 to 2015, on sets typically outfitted with two chairs, an end table and a plant, Ms. Martinson interviewed thousands of writers, actors, politicians and other notable figures who had recently published books – Rosa Parks, Al Gore, Studs Terkel, E.L. Doctorow, George Plimpton, Maya Angelou and, in 1995, a young politician named Barack Obama.

While Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose and William F. Buckley featured writers on their shows, Ms. Martinson’s weekly half-hour interviews devoted solely to one author were a rarity on television.


“I’m doing something no one else in America is doing,” Ms. Martinson told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1985. “I’m bringing people a half-hour with Norman Mailer or Joseph Heller. I’ve got E.L. Doctorow and Louis L’Amour coming up. I don’t know of any other show in America that’s bringing viewers the best writers in the country.”

Ms. Martinson prided herself on preparation. Authors were sometimes shocked to find her holding their books with dozens of yellow sticky notes protruding from the pages.

“Writers are so used to being interviewed by someone who doesn’t know about writing or their works,” Ms. Martinson told the Akron paper. “After appearing on my show, Gore Vidal told someone, ‘Connie actually reads the books.’ That’s the kind of feedback that is gratifying.”

Her interview style was informal but authoritative. Her lone agenda was the book in question. The only predictable question came at the end, when she asked authors to sign their books.

“I think Connie is a brilliant, serious, provocative interviewer,” Jean Lipman-Blumen, an author and professor of organizational behavior at Claremont Graduate University in California, told Los Angeles magazine. “Many interviewers have a point of view they want to get across, but Connie wants to get to the core of your book. That’s rare.”

While many of her guests appeared on bestseller lists – and quite a few on the “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” – Ms. Martinson’s didn’t pick her guests based on their sales.


“I don’t do Danielle Steel,” she told Los Angeles magazine. “I don’t need that. I don’t do psychics. I don’t do gurus. You won’t see Deepak Chopra on my show.”

Constance Ann Frye was born in Boston on April 11, 1932. Her father was a dentist, and her mother was a homemaker who was active in the Jewish community.

When she was 12, Connie read “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and became infatuated with books, spending hours at the Boston Public Library. She majored in English literature at Wellesley College near Boston.

After graduating in 1953, she became an editor at Writer magazine. Two years later, she married Leslie Martinson, a Boston native who was beginning his long and prolific career as a TV and occasional film director in Hollywood. (They were set up by their parents and engaged three weeks later.)

In the late 1970s, Ms. Martinson hosted a radio show interviewing friends from her Hollywood social circle. She grew bored with the format and ran out of friends, so she decided to focus on books, starting “Connie Martinson Talks Books” on government-access cable.

“Writers had a shelf life,” Ms. Martinson told the Beacon Journal. “And I realized that, if I do books, I can talk to just about anyone on anything.”


Leslie Martinson died in 2016. Ms. Martinson’s survivors include her daughter, of Los Angeles, and a grandson.

Ms. Martinson’s shows are archived at Claremont Graduate University and available for viewing on the library’s website and YouTube.

She was often surprised by her show’s reach.

She told the Los Angeles Times that she once found it airing while on vacation aboard a Turkish cruise ship. She received fan mail from Russia, Saudi Arabia and beyond.

But none of those letters could top what happened one day in New York City.

Ms. Martinson and her husband were walking down the street. A worker inside a sewer hole came up for fresh air and saw her.

“Hey,” he called out. “It’s the book lady.”

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