Last year, when fans of ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ were horrified to hear that the quirky comedian who treated everyone with kindness and love was accused of being a bitter, uncaring control freak, I literally shook my head and thought, “It’s about time.” You see, 22 years earlier, I had a first-hand taste of the DeGeneres brand of terror that left half her staff cowering for cover and the other half drowning in tears.RELATED: Oprah moment that made Ellen squirmRELATED: ‘It’s time’: Ellen DeGeneres addresses quitting showThe year 1998 was probably one of the lowest points in Ellen DeGeneres’ career: After coming out as gay and having her TV show Ellen cancelled, she didn’t have a job or an agent, no one would return her calls and she was running out of cash. She didn’t have much, but what she did have was a much younger girlfriend who put her own acting career in jeopardy by going public with their same-sex romance. Anne Heche was sweet, sassy and with a career that was taking off like a rocket. After holding her own opposite Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco, Heche was poised to become “the next big thing” starring opposite Harrison Ford in the romantic comedy, Six Days Seven Nights.I was still pretty new to interviewing celebrities, so I was beyond excited to fly to sunny Los Angeles from gloomy Seattle where I was working to chat to Heche and actor Vince Vaughn about their dud of a movie, Return To Paradise. Hey, a free trip is a free trip, right?Dressed up in what I thought was my best suit and tie, I was waiting for the elevator at the flashy Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Ray when suddenly Anne Heche came skipping around the corner wearing a flimsy camisole singlet, hippie love-beads and ripped bell-bottomed jeans – in other-words, Hollywood Boho-chic. “Don’t you look sharp,” she said to me with a playful smile.“I’m just about to interview you,” I replied, quickly realising how incredibly overdressed I was. “Is that what you’re wearing?” I asked.No sooner had the words come out my mouth, Ellen comes charging around the corner, her eyes shooting daggers and lightning bolts right at me. “You can’t talk to my girlfriend that way. She can wear whatever she wants. Why do you even care what she’s wearing?”The jolt of her rage left both Anne and I gobsmacked into momentary silence.RELATED: Star gets praise for ‘ending’ EllenVisibly embarrassed, Anne quickly tried to calm the situation. “Honey, he was just saying…”But Ellen shot Anne’s interjections right down to the ground.“It’s none of his business how you dress! He can’t just comment on how you look.”Sheepishly, I tried to explain how I was about to interview Anne and felt overdressed. Still blind with rage, DeGeneres barked, “Maybe you’re the one who should change, did you think about that?”At this point the lift arrived. I waited for them to get in, but Ellen had other plans. “We’re gonna wait for the next one.”As I stepped in and the doors began to close, DeGeneres gave me one last withering glare with her steely blue eyes, while a confused Anne sweetly mouthed to me, “I’m so sorry.”As the lift descended, I honestly felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach and kicked a couple of times by the schoolyard bully. I prayed I would never see her again.However, this particular prayer was left unanswered.Fast forward to 2004, DeGeneres defied the odds, having a Hollywood comeback that seemed to know no limits: First, she shot back into people’s hearts as the voice of the forgetful fish, Dory in Finding Nemo and quickly signed on to host her own celebrity-filled talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show.By this time, I had moved from Seattle to Los Angeles and was working as a field producer for the entertainment news show Access Hollywood. One of my first assignments was to cover the star-studded opening of the ultra-glam Prada store on famed Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills – a very big deal for those driven by status and designer logos. The night was turning out to be the usual array of red carpet who’s-who: Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Gwen Stefani, Pamela Anderson. And then one surprise, unannounced late addition to guest list: Ellen DeGeneres.RELATED: How Ellen made her staggering fortuneOn this night, Access Hollywood had the luck of being first up on the red carpet, guaranteeing us great interviews and coverage. We were about to call it a night, when one last limousine pulled up and out stepped Ellen: shaggy blond hair, black leather motorcycle jacket and with an attitude to match. After a brief chat with her publicist, DeGeneres strolled her way towards the press-line and stopped directly at me in the first position.“Hi Ellen,” I say with my big bright smile. “You mind if I ask you a few questions?”Ellen glared straight into my eyes for what seemed like an eternity – which in actuality was maybe two seconds – before uttering one word: “You.”Now, I’m not egotistical enough to think in any way, shape or form she remembered me from our brief encounter years before, but understandably the blood drained from my face and I began to sweat.She continued. “Who do you work for?” she asked accusingly.“I’m from Access Hollywood. What brings you to the store opening tonight?”Without missing a beat, she barked, “Yeah, I’m not talking to you guys,” and walked straight over to my competition at Entertainment Tonight before robotically turning on her magic Ellen charm as the cameras began to roll. I dragged myself back to the studio with heaps of Lindsay, Paris and Pam, but couldn’t explain to my bosses why exactly I didn’t get Ellen. I still don’t know.That’s showbiz? Not really. She’s just not one of the nice ones.Both of my interactions with Ellen lasted no more than five or six minutes in total, but it was enough for me to see the true colours behind her fake persona of sweetness and still send shivers down my spine more than two decades on.Richard Reid is an Australia-based Hollywood reporter who’s worked for the Today show, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and the E! Network.
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