We’ve been wanting to catch up with one of our favorite journalists, authors, and podcaster for a while now. But how do you possibly check in with Emmy-winner Mo Rocca, when he is concurrently a beloved correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, a frequent panelist on NPR’s hit weekly quiz show,“Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!,” host of the CBS series The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, and the NY Times best-selling author of Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving, that coincides with his immensely popular “Mobituaries” podcast. Phew. Just listing his resume makes us exhausted.
Seenyer got to talk to Mo just a few hours before he was setting off on a whirlwind trip to cover three new stories for CBS Sunday Morning. Since he’s always spotlighting delightful and unexpected subjects, we were anxious to hear what viewers could look forward to in the coming weeks.
Mo shared he would be sitting down with 92-year-old renowned saloon singer, Marilyn Maye. Mo told us of his last visit with the cabaret legend, “She is, quite literally, still kicking and it’s great. Not great for being 92-years-old, she’s just great. It’s not like one of the pieces where you think, wow, can you believe she can still do this? She truly could be 63 and she’s wonderful to be around, and spend time with.”
From there, Mo’s on to Sonny Curtis in Tennessee, a rock ‘n’ roll great who moved from Buddy Holly’s band to The Crickets and writing “I Fought the Law.” “And then Curtis went on to compose and sing the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Mo chimed in gleefully. His third story will air from Lexington, Kentucky at “Old Friends,” a thoroughbred race-horse retirement home. If that doesn’t sound like signature Mo material, then we don’t know what does.
While most of the world was on lockdown, we wondered how Mo was able to continue to travel and keep us thoroughly entertained. “Well, it was pretty much me and a car, and I spent a lot of time wiping that car down. At the beginning of the pandemic, I did a story about jigsaw puzzles being manufactured in New Hampshire. It was 6 and a half hours one-way. Round trip, close to 13 hours. And I did it in one day, without stopping anywhere along the way. I kept thinking, if I die making this story, it’ll be pretty peak CBS Sunday Morning viewing.”
We surmised it must be difficult to put in even longer hours, more Zoom interviews, and take necessary precautions and some risks, and still deliver that quality every week. “More difficult to be sure,” Mo explained. “But I’m proud to have worked on a show that has brought a lot of people pleasure, but also frankly, it’s been a great escape to have a very consuming job right now.”
We wanted him to know how much his richly entertaining and lovingly researched stories celebrating the people and events that have long fascinated him meant to us, especially this last year. But when did this fascination with obituaries begin? “I really have been interested in obituaries since I was a young boy. My father always read them, and I saw early on they were a way to really re-examine someone’s lives. As a journalist I began to do more and more profiles, and then expanded these obituaries to ideas, events and places,” Mo shared.
There are two seasons of the “Mobituaries” podcast available now, and hopefully a third is on the way very soon. Plus with his book, Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving, an even more extensive group of celebrities, politicians, and others whose lives he describes, there’s an endless supply of interesting facts and observations. You’ll find an appreciation of the people (and things) of the past who have long intrigued him—from an unsung Founding Father to the first Chinese-American superstar, from Neanderthals to the most iinfamous sitcom deaths. Our personal favorite is Season One’s first episode, about comedian Vaughn Meader, an unexpected subject. We bet much of our Seenyer audience has a very vivid memory of Vaughn’s impersonation of JFK, as well as his hugely successful album, The First Family. For obvious reasons, his career took a turn.
Was there any obituary Mo would like to report on in the next season? His answer is a relatable one. “I would love to celebrate the death of the salad bar. It may be the one good thing to come out of the pandemic. Yuck!”