Lynn Cullen is the perennial performer
Lynn Cullen won’t stop. The one-time television news anchor, then radio talk show host and now podcaster is a perennial performer.
“I love to entertain,” said Cullen, during an afternoon visit to her meticulous Pittsburgh home.
Now nearing septuagenarian status, Cullen claimed that her career is coming to a close, but with dedicated digital followers and a voice still committed to speaking “truth to power,” her coda seems far from complete.
“I hope as long as I am alive someone will give me a mic, because I like to entertain and educate.”
The dual charge of filling minds with enjoyment and knowledge has been her modus operandi from the start.
Originally from Green Bay, Wis., Cullen attended Northwestern University and later the University of Wisconsin.
Interspersing each stop was life itself, she explained.
“My transcript from Northwestern looked like the transcript of a lunatic, because I had been so A, A, F, F, A, A, then dropout, then A, A. I mean it was like, I looked like a very erratic person.”
After leaving school twice, Cullen earned her degree “four or five years late,” she explained. “The reason why it took me so long to get out of college is because I had no sense that I was capable of doing anything. I am very insecure.”
Such self-assessment may seem surprising, especially after her more than three decades worth of work in television and radio have been recognized and validated with honors and awards from the Pittsburgh Press Club, the Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Association for Women in Communications, and a Mid-Atlantic Regional Emmy.
“I’m emotionally fragile. Part of what my talent is, I think, comes from my fragility, my vulnerability,” she explained. “I was a woman, a girl, who was brought up to be a wife and a mother, not a person with a career. I graduated from high school and went off to college like all good little students, and I didn’t know why I was going. I mean, I knew why I was going. I was going to meet a husband, that was the only reason. … It never occurred to me that I could become anything.”
As for when that moment of clarity arrived, “it never really did,” she said.
Perhaps complicating her case is that Cullen speaks with crystalline purpose. On professionalism or politics, she readily provides a philippic.
“It’s so clear that in the last 25 years that the lines between entertainment and news and commercials and commercialism have blurred to the point that the consumer can’t tell the difference anymore,” she said. “And I think it is a riot that they call this the information age, it’s the disinformation age; it’s the misinformation age.”
As for what is going on in Washington, it is “terrible,” she added. “We have a president who doesn’t even know the history of the country he leads.”
Such a state is further plagued by a populace bereft of intellectual honesty.
“We live in an age in which people don’t even acknowledge facts,” she said.
Easily able to continue, Cullen nonetheless lyrically contorts and undercuts biting prose with her own perception of place within the process. Neither reporter nor journalist, “I’m a performer,” she noted. “I perform any time I’m with people. I’m an insecure person. … It doesn’t matter if I’ve had success in my life. We are who we are. I am the same person as I was when I was 11.”
And that was one sad Green Bay girl, she said. “There’s no picture of me as a child smiling. I was a depressed melancholy child who ended up wanting nothing more to do than entertain.”
With such desire, Cullen did dabble in acting.
After relocating to San Francisco in the 1960s, she eventually left an acid-dropping scene for a New York City stage. During a two-year stint at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, Cullen studied under legendary teacher Sanford Meisner.
“I never wanted to be an actress, people kept on putting me places, but in New York I developed skills that helped me end up making the career I have,” she said. “I found out that I was not made to be an actress, I was made to be a performer.”
And with the stage came recognition.
“I loved interacting with an audience,” she said. “I hated having to do so as somebody other than myself. I couldn’t be somebody else.”
It is a realization Cullen has kept at heart for decades. Whether as a Wisconsin weather girl, nationally known broadcaster or even now as a Pittsburgh City Paper podcaster, Cullen has always been “an oddball,” she said.
“I’ve just never done things like how I’m supposed to.”
For longtime listeners or newfound followers, don’t expect that to change. And don’t expect her to disappear.
“I think I’ll just keep popping up here and there, doing strange things,” she said.
Like next week, when she hosts a question-and-answer session for a Jewish Association on Aging event with Joel Grey, an award-winning Jewish actor, singer and dancer, at the Heinz History Center.
With her expertise and personality, Cullen will bring “insightful and intelligent conversation to the program,” said Beverly Brinn, director of development at the JAA.
Between the event, her podcast and increased activism with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, the perennial performer is keeping busy.
Added Cullen, “There’s always something brewing for me.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.