Sammy Davis Jr., Debbie Reynolds, David Copperfield. These are just some of the famous names Arlene Herson has interviewed throughout her career as a talk show host. But Herson didn’t study journalism, have a famous family or take any of the typical routes to having a prominent talk show. In fact, her entire career happened by chance.
A move from Manhattan to a small town in New Jersey in 1971 turned Herson into a charity lady and trophy-winning tennis player. She took a job selling ad space in a local newspaper, but when the writer of the paper’s social column left, her charity background framed her as the best replacement.
“I had never written anything before,” Herson says. “But I thought, ‘Why not?’ and began to write ‘The Social Scene by Arlene.’” Soon, the paper changed hands and Herson went on to look for a new opportunity, which she found at a cocktail party.
“The mayor of our local town was there, and he asked if I wanted to do a cable show,” Herson recalls. “This was in 1978 when cable was first starting. He said we can do a Joe and Arlene show, and we can interview people on TV.”
Herson loved the idea so much that when the mayor’s wife called to tell her that he simply didn’t have the time with his re-election run, she decided to do it on her own. The producers went for her idea, but there was a catch: she would have to pay for the studio time. Instead of feeling disheartened, Herson went out and sold her own sponsorship, made a profit and became the host and producer of “The Arlene Herson Show,” which started locally and eventually aired as a national show on CNBC. After it became a financial network, the show remained on the air in New York and New Jersey. “I never planned it,” Herson says. “I just took advantage of an opportunity.”
Her move south years later for her husband’s job at Lynn University brought even more opportunities. “When I moved to Florida, I wound up on a talk show on WXCL and had my celebrity segment,” Herson says. “I interviewed Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr.; many of the people I had interviewed many years ago.”
Today, Herson brings a strong credibility to Boca Raton. When Herson was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C., she traveled the world to see Holocaust memorials in different countries. This experience led her to the Boca Raton Historical Society, where she interviewed notable locals like Dick Siemens and Ida Herst for a research project on the Jewish history of Boca Raton.
“There are so many dedicated people who live here and care about where we live,” she says. “I think it’s important for us to know about the people who live in our community and learn about their lives.”
And even after her husband passed away and her children continue to live in Washington, D.C., Herson continues to call Boca home.
“Something new is always coming up here and I’m involved in so much, and that is really important to my life—to participate and be part of a community,” Herson says. “This is where I’ve developed friendships and this is my home.”