During her heyday from
the 1960s to the early '80s, entertainment reporter Rona
Barrett's name was as synonymous with Hollywood as any of the
A-list stars she interviewed. Born a grocer's daughter with a
form of muscular dystrophy, Barrett found escape from her
difficult life in Queens watching Shirley Temple movies. As a
teenager, Barrett decided to turn her love of cinema into a
career. When her column about young film stars in
magazine became a sensation in the late '50s, Barrett moved
to Los Angeles. Over the next decade, Barrett would become the
first woman to bring entertainment reporting to television.
Besides a string of popular movie magazines and numerous TV
specials bearing her name, Barrett was also a regular
Good Morning America
, among others.
Nearly every major star
of the era revealed their deepest secrets to Barrett. Carol
Burnett spoke publicly for the first time about her family's
tragic history of alcohol abuse. Cher disclosed what she needed
in a sex partner. John Travolta was so comfortable with Barrett
that he kept his obligation to be interviewed by her just hours
after his mother's funeral.
Her new DVD
Rona Barrett's Hollywood: Nothing But the Truth
, offers 10 of her favorite sit-down chats from her private
archives. One dollar from each DVD sold will be donated to the
Rona Barrett Foundation, which helps senior citizens who are
unable to afford assisted-living care.
"I came to Hollywood
to help the younger generation," says Barrett, "and now I'm
trying to help the older generation."
Over an afternoon
coffee at the equally iconic Farmers Market in Los Angeles,
Barrett speaks with Advocate.com about her renowned career,
outing closeted celebrities, and what she'd ask Britney
Advocate.com: How did you get such big stars of the day to not only open
their homes to you, but to be so frank in front of the cameras?
You even interviewed Cher in her bed.Rona Barrett:
] I think they sensed that I wasn't just there to ask them a
question but to know something more about them as people and
what made them tick. When I had an important question, they
felt I was their friend and would tell me what I wanted to
know. I would never ask a question that I wouldn't answer
Was any subject considered taboo by your network?
If it was, there were people in broadcast standards who would
watch for it in the taped interviews and my reports before they
went on the air. Once I was reviewing a film and I said
something like, "Clint Eastwood brought out his big gun."
The lady at standards said, "I don't think you can say
that." I had to convince her that it wasn't a euphemism [
In your interview with Burt Reynolds he actually addressed
the rumor that he was gay. That seems a bold topic for TV in
the mid '70s.
I'd met Burt Reynolds when he was a stunt person before he went
into acting. He'd dated a girlfriend of mine. Whenever I needed
to ask an important question, he was there to answer it. I
broke a lot of the original guidelines. People had never asked
those questions before about a star's sexual life.
What's your opinion on outing closeted celebrities who you
know are gay?
I'm totally against it. We all knew Rock Hudson was gay. I
always felt that was something personal. When Ellen DeGeneres
came out and said she was gay, it was her right. It's not my
right or any journalist's right to out them. I saw no purpose
in it. [Sexuality] is just something that is. You accept it and
get on with it. I've always believed in letting people live and
be who they want to be.
Did you ever protect celebrities that you knew were gay by
printing cover-up stories?
I probably did once or twice, but not a lot. I would always go
to the person or their representative and say, "Look, someone
is going to do this story. If it's true, you're better off
putting it in my hands than someone else's." If I'd slipped
in a line about the marriage of Rock Hudson and Phyllis [Gates,
who married Hudson to cover up his homosexuality] being a lie,
I couldn't get away with it then, but now you can. I even made
a big apology on television more than once.
Patty Duke was one. There was a time when she was having a lot
of problems. None of us recognized that she was bipolar, but
every night on the news I was reporting another antic that she
had done in public. It became my prerogative as a reporter to
talk about what they did in public. What they did in their
private homes -- unless they wanted me to know what was going
on -- was none of my business.
How do you feel about today's more aggressive brand of
gossip columnists and paparazzi?
They're crazy and too aggressive. It's all about money. A
photographer who gets a photo of someone can walk away making a
half million dollars in one afternoon, so everyone wants to do
it. It's a paparazzi war out there. When you have stars like
Britney Spears or personalities like Paris Hilton doing the
kind of nonsense they've been doing, they love it. But
celebrities realize there is no privacy, and everyone needs
some private space. The intrusion has gotten so overbearing and
it bothers me. I think the new journalism is not what anyone
wants because we never get the full story.
Which of today's celebrities would you like to
I'd love to have a very in-depth conversation -- if it is
possible -- with Britney Spears. I think she has been
misunderstood like Patty Duke. I think Britney had a serious
problem. I'd like to know whether she understands now how the
problem started and what caused it. I don't think we've really
heard that side of her story yet, from her. There's no room for
in-depth interviews on television anymore. It's all two-minute
What do you miss about reporting on the entertainment
Once in while there's a story I'd want to cover. If I had been
on the air during this period with Britney Spears or Madonna I
would like to have reported it, but I would have gotten the
story from all points of view and then put it together.
Sometimes I miss that. I like to give credit to Walter
Cronkite, who said, "Some days there are some stories that
are so unbelievable I feel like I'm a firefighter and I put on
my slicker, slide down the pole, open the front door, and
realize I have no fire truck."