Friday, April 23, 2010


People often ask me: 'Who was your all-time favorite interview subject?'

Over a period of thirty years, having met or interviewed hundreds of celebrities--legends including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Jacqueline Onassis, Calvin Klein, Nancy Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters--all of them unforgettable--one radiant personality stands out in my mind as most magnificent--and intimidating!

And that would be the great KATHARINE HEPBURN, who as a child, I first saw in the movie "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?"

Growing up in Buffalo, New York,  I never could have guessed that, decades later, I'd be the one invited to dinner at the Miss Hepburn's East 49th Street Turtle Bay townhouse, discussing, as we did, my biography of the legendary Vladimir Horowitz, which she kindly read, the catalyst for our first meeting.

We instantly clicked and over a period of years, we subsequently did a number of magazine and newspaper interviews, including one titled "I'm Bored With The Great Katharine Hepburn!" for Family Circle; an 80th birthday magazine story about 'Madame' for the Daily News Sunday Magazine; another cover piece for the publication of her autobiography titled ME; and an interview for a TV movie she made with Ryan O'Neal called The Man Upstairs.

Through it all, in making my appointments to see her, I always got the same phone treatment: "Ham and cheese, 12:30," Click!

In one interview she compared herself to a baked potato: "A baked potato is fundamental, basic, nothing fancy, rough in a way." Actually, she was a baked potato upside down, I joked: "Yes, I like standing on my head. I go right up and I'll stay up for the count of four minutes." What's it good for, I inquired?

"My self-respect," case closed!

"Spencer," she added, " was a real baked potato...a great actor. Simpe. Never overdone. Unguarded. He could make you laugh. He could make you cry." So could she.

And although the wonderful Katie is no longer with us, I'm so happy to say that she appears in my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down The Hall, in a fun chapter titled: Prancing With The Stars, all about how my dog, Katie, interacted with some of those I'd interviewed, including Leona Helmsley, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Jennings, Bette Midler, Ivana Trump--and yes, even Miss Hepburn. I won't give away what happened--until September.

However, I would like to tell you my Kate Hepburn "pan story," one that illustrated the strong-minded character of another great figure in my life--the tart heroine of my book, Pearl, the octogenarian down the hall who gave me and my dog a home, a warm harbor, sixteen years of wonderful meals, a sympathetic ear, and a lifetime of companionship that I will never forget.

One day, when I was going over to Miss Hepburn's house for lunch, "Granny," as we nicknamed Pearl, baked up one of her apricot pear tarts. "She'll like this," Pearl confidently surmised, "so give it to her, but remember, bring back my pan. It was my mother's."

At lunch, Miss Hepburn did indeed love the tart, and gobbled it up. I left the lunch, returned home and told Pearl what a hit the tart had been.
"Where's my pan?" she inquired. Uh oh.
"I forgot to get it back," I told her, "but I'll buy you a new one."
"No!" Pearl exclaimed. "I need the pan back."
I called Miss Hepburn on the phone the next day and reminded her of the tart--"Oh yes, fascinating, thank you"--and told her that I needed the pan back for my friend.
"You're calling me for a pan?" her quavery voice challenged.

 "Oh, yes,  sorry Miss Hepburn. I'm afraid I need it back."
 "You can come over right now and I'll GIVE it to you!" And off I went to her house. She practically threw the pan at me--but then invited me in for some freshly home-made borscht.
Pearl got her pan--and all was well.

A few years later, on what turned out to be my last visit with Miss Hepburn, I can never forget what happened as I was leaving her townhouse after lunch, illustrating the chin-in-the-air charm and playfulness of the great Kate. As she walked me outside, ignoring a number of curious onlookers who stole a glimpse at this legendary actress, she looked up at me, seeming to study my face, and then said: "You know, you look better than you used to."
"Miss Hepburn!" I laughed. "Is that a compliment?"
"You can take it any way you want."

And off she went. And that was the last time I ever saw Miss Hepburn.

She eventually moved to her family home in Connecticut, gave fewer interviews, stopped appearing in movies, and, sadly, her health failed. But I will never forget this legend who had meant so much to me--and, of course, her first name had a special significance, as I named Katie after her.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How About A New Holiday called "SISTER'S DAY?!"

Although I frequently write about my famous interview subjects and celebrity friends, I never mention the one star in my life who shines greater than any other--someone I speak to virtually every day, a person of impeccable values who I trust and can count on no matter what.

She's a best friend, advisor, and confidante all rolled into one. You won't find a better listener, someone who has mastered the art of shining the spotlight on others.

She's my SISTER--Debby, and there ought to be a holiday invented for sisters (and brothers). She's especially on my mind as she's visiting here today in Battery Park City, taking a break from her quieter life in upstate New York.

As a little girl, Debby was so adorable with those huge brown eyes and plump cheeks. I carted her around, showered her with hugs and kisses, and we laughed (and sang) hilariously about anything and everything. Five years younger than me, she was nicknamed 'the baby' by my Mom, the most good-natured, accommodating, easy to get along with person you've ever met. (I was admittedly a bit more difficult as was my older sister Joanne). 

Even as a child, Debby had a special talent--caring for others. For example, as a little girl of eight she was already baby-sitting kids in the neighborhood, with a string of toddlers up and down the block vying for her attention.

Our grandfather, whom we nicknamed Papa, adored her and I once found him placidly sitting in a chair while Debby plastered down his hair, putting it into ringlets. Debby was just as close to our grandmother, Nana, and they were soul mates to the end of her long life. Likewise, both my mother and father rely on her greatly and she's the most devoted daughter imaginable.

Through my life, through so many ups and down, she's always been there. And I can say that I now truly understand the expression about blood being thicker than water, because the kind of unconditional love you can experience from a sister or brother, or parent, or grandparent, or family member is unlike any other relationship. Few friends or romantic partners can be that loyal or understanding. And fewer still last a half century.

I can tell you that my dog, Katie, felt the same way about Debby as I do. She'd crawl into her arms and fall soundly asleep, blissfully content. Debby would sometimes dress her up in a red coat and green hat and take her outside in winter; and in the summer, she'd throw Katie's blue ball down our long red-carpeted hallway, and Katie would scoop it up in her mouth and throw it back at Debby, ready for another round.

As I think of both Debby and Katie--I realize that both have been my best and most loyal friends and companions--so on this sunny spring day, maybe you'll think of your brother and sister and pick out a special card or gift that expresses the preciousness of a gift we call family.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


The effervescent high-energy IVANA TRUMP, who makes a guest appearance in my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, is  known for her sparkling charm, athletic prowess, and bubbly sense of humor. In the chapter of the book titled "Prancing With The Stars," Ivana, a passionate dog lover, befriends my dog Katie and marches her right into a board meeting at the Plaza Hotel!

Super-disciplined and always on the move, Ivana, a former Olympic skier and model, remains timelessly glamorous whether seen racing down a ski slope in Switzerland or hosting a charity benefit at her pristine town house in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

A seasoned businesswoman with her own perfume, cosmetics, and jewelry, Ivana is resilient and strong-minded, a survivor of many of life's ups and downs, some of which she wrote about in her book of a few years ago titled The Best Is Yet To Come: Coping With Divorce And Enjoying Life.
As Ivana told me in a Family Circle interview, one of the secrets to surviving any challenge is the strength and comfort derived from her wide circle of friends, though her best friend of all, she confided, is her mother, Maria Zelnicek, who lives in the Czech Republic.

The distance between them hardly keep them apart: "No matter where I travel," says Ivana, "we spend about nine months together a year. My Mom is very loving and caring. And she's a strong woman. Her priorities are her grandchildren, (Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric) and me. That's what she lives for."

"Ivana is my only child, so she's my jewel," says her Mom. "She's hardworking and gives so much. But sometimes people take advantage of her and that hurts me too. Ivana has a good heart."

And though some may not know it, the jet-setting Ivana has a more introverted, private side as well:  "People think I'm out to a party every night. But I'm actually a loner. Sometimes for three or four days, I don't call anyone. I'm just with my mom. I trust my close friends, but there are certain things I discuss only with my mother. She knows everything about my life."

While her divorces have been painful, it was Ivana's mother who provided the greatest solace: "I don't think I could have gotten through it without her.We were always close, but adversity has forced us to help and protect each other. My mother is like an angel looking over me, making sure everything is O.K."

Also a great source of joy is a newer member of the family, Ivana's toy Yorkie Tiger. He's as energetic as Ivana! "He is a love of my life, and all mine, until my Mom arrives!" she laughs. As for my dog, "KATIE reminded me of the many dogs I've had over the years, and how they bring a family and friends and total strangers together in a warm, harmonious way."

Indeed, when Ivana read my KATIE book, her comment on it reflected one of the book's main messages, about the power of friendship and the ability to be open to people, even in a city of nine million.

As she observed: "Whenever anyone says New York is a city of strangers, I strongly disagree. After reading KATIE I know why we're a city which loves our pets. Katie is a great neighbor and the true definition of a New Yorker--intelligent, adventurous, assertive, protective, warm, loving, kind, generous--and a joy to know."

Katie would be very flattered with this compliment, coming from a fellow blonde!

Monday, April 19, 2010


How many 88-year-old actresses experience a resounding renaissance in their careers decades after they've mastered the entertainment business from A to Z?

There's only one.

It's the supersonic bubbly-spirited BETTY WHITE, defying all odds with her spectacular run of recent triumphs.

Let's see, there was her brilliantly funny turn as Ryan Reynolds' kooky grandmother in The Proposal, the 2009 film also starring Oscar winner Sandra Bullock; the hilarious Super Bowl Snickers commerical that had her tackled and thrown into the mud, watched by the largest television audience ever; not to mention the  Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement award, which she accepted with the grace and wit that have become her trademark. Bullock joked that she finds White annoying, to which White shot back: "Isn't it heartening to see how far a girl as plain as she can go?"
And now, with a new fan base following her every move, Betty, a longtime Californian, is heading east to host Saturday Night live on May 8th, after being the subject of a super-charged Facebook campaign to get her the gig. In short, she's hotter than ever.
In between all this, as a passionate animal advocate and dog lover, Betty actively champions the fantastic Morris Animal Foundation, acting as its President Ermeritus, while also tending to her beloved five-year-old Golden Retriever Pontiac, who has an active career himself as a Guide Dog. 
Where is Betty finding the energy for all this? I can tell you that the former Golden Girl and Mary Tyler Moore alumnus is startlingly youthful in appearance, her demeanor and energy disarming. "I have lots more things to do!" she booms happily, posing on the red carpet for photographers. 
What's her secret? In a classic Family Circle magazine interview with me, she shared it: "My animals definitely help keep me young," she says. "I just don't have time to get older! Between the show business side of my life and the animal side, there isn't a lot of time for sitting around and atrophying. Pontiac is set for 6:00 A.M. "Hey, Mom," he says, "It's another day, let's go!"
"It's been scientifically proven that having pets--stroking a dog, for instance, lower your blood pressure and reduces your stress level. I find animals fascinating, and I didn't know how I would exist without them. When I feel stressed, I put my dog in the car and drive up to my house in Carmel and sit and look at the ocean for three days--and my priorities fall into place again.
"Also, I'm blessed with good health, and that's the bottom line. I don't think I felt this good at 25! It's embarrassing, but I'm deeply grateful. My mother, Tess, passed away at 88 , my dad, Horace at age 64, and the secret of their longevity was their sense of humor and genuine love for one another. So the energy I feel is genetic--it's not false energy.
"Plastic surgery? I'm just chicken and have a very low pain threshold. It's not for me. I've seen so many women with their skin pulled tight over the skull, and they all look alike. If you suddenly look gorgeous, you've lost an essence that was you before. You've worked a long time to get all those lines!
"My mother taught me at her knee that age is so unimportant. I get so furious with people who say, "My God, I'm 30...soon I'm going to be 40! They waste a whole decade. We're so age-conscious in this country, it's ridiculous! Life isn't over at 22. There are many rewards to aging. You get automatic respect. You don't have the same physiological demands on you that younger women have, such as menstruation and pregnancy. Granted, in the entertainment business, people say it's harder to get a job as you get older, but if you hang in there and roll with the punches and don't mind playing grandmothers, you get work. For me, remaining busy is the key to staying young.
"But physically, you do see the horizon of your limitations. And a lot of people might say you're approaching death. But that doesn't bother me at all...that's the next adventure. I always loved Mom's idea about death. She called it the "big secret." We're all going to find it out one day. In the meantime, as long as life is this much fun, I'm going to stick around!"