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Over the last several months, Glenn has emphasized the importance of bringing together individuals who share the same goals and unifying principles so that we can learn from one another. GlennBeck.com is working to fulfill that goal by sitting down with some of the most interesting minds to give you an inside look at who they are and what they are working on.
Television host, writer, singer, actress, and philanthropist Kathie Lee Gifford spoke to GlennBeck.com assistant editor Meg Storm about how her faith has influenced her storied career, her extensive charity work, and why people might be surprised to learn she is “dead serious” 95% of the time.
Below is a transcript of the interview:
Hi, Kathie Lee! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Hello! How are things with TheBlaze team? Glenn is in my prayers.
I know he appreciates that. We are doing an interview series for GlennBeck.com that highlights interesting people –
I will try to be interesting for you then!
(Laughs) So I just have a few questions about your career and some of the projects you are working on.
Alright, honey. Shoot!
Did you always know you wanted to be in the entertainment industry?
Yes, I never had any doubt from my earliest memory. I did have legitimate doubts about whether I’d be able to do it. I came from a family in Maryland. My father had been a jazz saxophonist. My mom loved singing. But that was the extent of our show business experience. My dad had three jobs at once, so we certainly didn’t have the means to underwrite a career for me.
And I also thought, when I was a little older, that my personal faith would be a hindrance to having success in the industry because I knew there would be many things I would have to say no to based on my faith. And that has turned out to be definitely true, but also a great blessing. I was never tempted to do some of the things other actresses or singers might do just to make a living. I treated God the same way some people treat a manager or an agent. I always knew God was in control of my life and sovereign over all my decisions. So what looked like it might be a disadvantage was a tremendous advantage.
People used to say to me when I was growing up, ‘How can you call yourself a Christian and be in show business?’ And I used to say, ‘How can I be in show business and not be one?’ The rejection is unbelievable. The temptations are huge. Once you get success, you think you deserve it or you earned it. It’s constant. And the one thing God does is keep you grounded and keep your perspective right.
You have covered everything in the industry from writing to theater to television to singing. Was there one thing when you were younger that stood out as what you thought you would be doing?
I love to think that I have done everything in this business except for porn.
And that’s only because I have had no offers!
You know, I don’t try to re-invent myself. I am in my fifth decade of a career. I just turned 60, and I started singing when I was about 12. I am grateful I had an interest in lots of different things.
My daddy used to say when I was a little girl, ‘Find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it.’ I have probably given out that advice a thousand times to other people because he was right in that if you find what you are passionate about in life and follow it, you are going to be a happier person in general. You may not have success the way the world defines success. But you will have success at a deeper level. You will love what you do. It was Confucius who said, ‘Happy is the man who loves what he does so much he never has to work’ – because it doesn’t seem like work.
In my case, an audience can tell when a performer is having a good time, enjoying themselves, and being authentic. I have been able to do that for 15 years with Regis [Philbin]. I have done that in my live performance career. Even when I was an actress, I always felt a freedom because I was grounded in the Word of God. I know that sounds weird, but if you let the Lord define you, you are less inclined to believe any critic, any cruel person, any director. You believe what God says, and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
You have always been so candid about you background, your personal life, and your faith. Did you ever worry if being so open would close any doors for you?
I was always concerned about the opposite – that I would somehow betray the Lord by not being open about my faith. I have always wanted to be bold about my faith because I am not ashamed of the Lord. It’s not that I am proud. I am just grateful for what he’s done for me, for his presence in my life everyday. So it’s a boldness born of great gratitude for what he has done for me and what he will do for me before this day is through. First of all, never leaving me or forsaking me. How many times in life do people feel rejected or abandoned? With the Lord holding you with his victorious right hand, that’s not an issue. You know where your strength comes from.
Nehemiah 8:10 says, ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength.’
Another in Psalm says, ‘I love you Lord. You are my strength.’
Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ my strength.’
I just call on all those Scriptures, and they are there for me in an instance. In the mentioning of them it’s there. It’s reality.
You spent, as you mentioned, 15 years on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. And you have been a co-host on the fourth hour of TODAY for several years. Do you feel at home on morning television?
Yeah, I do. It just came naturally to me. It wasn’t something I was looking for. It’s one of those things in life. I thought I had my career all mapped out for me. I was living in California for 15 years as an actress and a singer when I got the call to come to New York and be a correspondent for Good Morning America, which is where I met Frank [Gifford]. But it was while I was at Good Morning America the position became available to be Regis’ co-host. And I was a big fan of Regis’ from L.A. before, and I knew I would have fun with him. I had never been real comfortable with reading a teleprompter. Unless I was an actress reading someone’s words as a character, I prefer to use my own words. So it came naturally to me.
Regis is such a ping pong player in the best sense of the word. Whatever I threw at him, he threw right back. That’s what makes for great TV – someone who really comes to play.
And Regis, more than almost anyone I can think of, came to play everyday. Jimmy Fallon reminds me of him now. Jimmy Kimmel does. Different young performers – I am trying to think if anyone else comes to mind – but they are always up for anything. They never plan what they are going to say next; they let it happen. Billy Crystal is like that. Howie Mandel. They let life happen as opposed to trying to control it. If you want to be really good at what you do on television: Trust your instincts, let it happen, and go with the flow.
Of all the time you’ve spent on TV – the moments you’ve had, the interviews you’ve have done – is there a particular moment or interview that really stands out?
I will never forget the very first interview I ever did at Good Morning America was with Paul Newman. And he ended up becoming a friend through the years, and I ended up working with him on his Newman’s Own line for the Hole in the Wall Gang charity that he had. I remember being deeply, deeply touched by this guy who could be home counting his awards, chasing women, eating foie gras out in the Caribbean or Riviera on a yacht. But he never – to the day he died – stopped thinking about the people he could help.
The other person was Audrey Hepburn. I met her right before she died. No one knew at the time, but she had colon cancer. She had just flown in from Ethiopia the night before. She was on my show with Regis. Frank happened to be hosting with me that day because Regis was off. And I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful person I had seen in my life. She was older then and ravaged by a disease that nobody had mentioned yet. She was certainly not in what the world would call her ‘prime.’ But I thought she was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen.
What those two had in common – again, very similar – was they understood the power of celebrity to be used to make the world a better place. And I always wanted to be that person. If God would bless me with fame and with fortune, I would be that person for whom it was never for my own fame or my own fortune. But it was for God, to be used for his kingdom.
That’s actually a great segue. Can you talk a little bit about all of the charity work you do?
I have always been an advocate for children. When I was about 8- or 9-years-old, I had what they call a carnival in my backyard to benefit muscular dystrophy. I remember I raised $58.52, and I ended up winning a contest of who could raise the most that week for muscular dystrophy. I ended up going on channel 5 in Washington D.C. and sitting on a clown’s lap. It was a clown named Captain Tug, but it was Willard Scott playing Captain Tug. So I was about 9-years-old the first time I went on television, and Willard and I have had a lifelong friendship as a result of that.
That just started my work with all kinds of children’s charities. I work with Childhelp battling child abuse. I work with an amazing man named Gary Haugen at the International Justice Mission, who does amazing work all over the world – everything from trying to rescue 5-year-old Cambodian girls from brothels to helping widows in Ethiopia and Kenya who had their land taken from them. I also love Salvation Army. And we have two homes here in New York that we have had since the early 90s – Cody House and Cassidy’s Place [named for her children].
In the early 90s, when pediatric AIDS was such a problem, babies were being born with HIV and full blown AIDS. When I held my first HIV baby in my arms, I held my newborn son – who was three months old at the time – in my other arm. And I just thought about the injustice of it. I never got over the injustice of that. That baby died within a year.
This amazing woman named Gretchen Buchenholz here in New York City started something called the Association to Benefit Children. They ended up renaming the little house we dedicated that day Cody’s House. Several years later, when mothers were getting cocktails – and not the kind that Hoda enjoys – of the three drugs, they discovered women went from a 40% chance of having an HIV positive baby to less than 8%.
The Association to Benefit Children sued the state of New York to unblind HIV testing of pregnant mothers. It’s a complicated subject. But, at the time, the CDC was tracking the disease, but they weren’t telling the mother or the mother’s doctor if she was HIV positive. As a result, all of these babies were being born to suffer and die. So we sued the state of New York to unblind HIV testing.
I happened to sit next to [former New York] Governor [George] Pataki at a dinner in the Hamptons one summer night – here’s the man we are all suing. For two hours I had him as a captive audience. I was able to share with him the work that we were doing at ABC and what we knew about what could happen to a woman in utero. And he said three things to me, Meghan, that I had never heard a politician say:
1. He said, ‘I didn’t know this.’
2. He said, ‘We are on the wrong side of this issue.’
3. He said, ‘I am going to do something about this.’
I came away from that meeting encouraged, but I have been around enough politicians to know that the chance of anybody following through on what they say to you is pretty nil – even then. This is many years ago. Within one month, he mandated the unblinding of HIV testing in the state of New York. And one year from then was the first time the AIDS death rate went down in New York, and that is because the AIDS birth rate went down. Soon after that, every state mandated the unblinding of HIV testing. So this courageous man changed the world. He really did. He gets no credit for it, and it makes me crazy. But once in while, politicians do the right thing. He and I bonded over that. I have been very grateful to him – and the whole world should be very grateful to him – for that.
So I get involved in things like that when it comes to children, you know?
That’s a remarkable story.
Yeah, that’s one the press never likes to tell.
Honestly, I have lived in New York my whole life and never heard the details of that.
Nope. We were standing in the garden of Cody House the day he mandated the unblinding, and I heard people out on the street yelling, ‘Governor Pataki, we’ve got rights too.’ And somebody had bussed up homeless people for a couple of bucks to yell that to get coverage on the evening news. And I just thought: Who is against innocent babies being helped? They have never had unprotected sex. They have never had an intravenous drug put in their arm. They have only been born. That’s it.
I hate the suffering of anyone who has HIV or AIDS. I hate the suffering of any human being. But these little ones – there was something we could do about it. It was something we could do instantly. It was wrong not to. Governor Pataki realized that and did the right thing.
Switching topics a little bit, you launched your podcast last year. I know Glenn did one with you.
He did it with me in Dallas. We had a ball!
What has that process been like? Is it different than what you’ve done on TV?
You know, what I like so much about it is that it’s long form. Daily television is just sound bites – a little longer than a sound bite. You get three and half or four minutes at the most with somebody. And sometimes I am grateful for that. If it happens to be with reality stars, I thank the Lord it is only four minutes.
But when it is with people who are fascinating – whether I agree with them or not – I love a good debate. I love going into a lot more depth with somebody. I think it is a lot more respectful. I am enjoying it in that respect very much.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Kathie Lee’s podcast, Kathie Lee & Company, HERE.
Over the last several years, you have interviewed Glenn a few times. How did you two first meet?
I think we first met when he had the Snow Angel book coming out, and NBC wanted to do an interview with him at his studios in New York. And he said, ‘I’d be happy to, but I want Kathie Lee to do the interview.’ I was honored. Anytime someone requests me I am honored. I think that was the first time we met.
Oh, he was also here another time before that, and I made a point to go tell him that I appreciated all he did to educate on our Constitution, on our Founding Fathers. I am a huge admirer of our Founding Fathers and our Constitution. I am a Constitutionalist. I think our Founding Fathers were anointed of God when they wrote our earlier laws, and our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights. It is sacred to me. And the only place I had ever heard anyone else talking about that was Glenn. And I always admired the stance he took, and I loved every time David Barton was on with Wall Builders. Oh, I am like a sieve – I just couldn’t get enough.
No, he was talking about things you don’t hear a lot about. It’s not taught in history textbooks –
It’s not in any of out history books! Or lies are spread – sort of PC lies.
Yeah, so it just took courage for him to do what he did and what he continues to do. I don’t always agree with Glenn on everything. I don’t agree with anyone on everything – except for Jesus. But I admire anybody who takes an impassioned stance on what they believe – even if it is against what I believe. It takes courage, and I respect it when people do.
Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
I think people would be surprised that I am basically 5% silly and 95% dead serious. I am a very serious person. I take my writing very seriously. I take my parenting seriously, my faith very seriously.
My favorite thing in the whole world to do is study Scripture. I want to know what the original Greek meant, the original Hebrew, so I go to Israel. I study with a Christian man – though he got he orthodox rabbinical degree from Yeshiva University in New York – because I want to know what the Bible really said… not how it has been mistranslated and miscommunicated over the centuries. What the original Hebrew and original Greek mean – that is the beginning of wisdom right there, baby.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?
Well, I just launched a wine product that I am really excited about. Finally! My daddy said, ‘Do something you love…’
It’s called Gifft Wines. It’s a chardonnay and a red blend that we are just launching this week and very excited about.
There are some other projects that I can’t announce right now, but they are in the musical theater arena. It will be pretty evident pretty soon, I hope. But I can’t announce it yet.
And I am working on a book that will benefit Salvation Army. All of the anchors at NBC have been asked to do a project this year called Shine a Light, so I am doing a books called Good Gifts that is basically one year in the heart of a home. It is the 20th anniversary living in our home – the house I raised my children in. We moved in on my daughter’s first birthday, and she will turn 21 on August 2. So we have been chronicling with recipes, and Scriptures, and memories, and song lyrics this year. Hopefully that will be out in time for the holidays and all profits will go to Salvation Army.
That’s so special!
So I have got a full plate!
You absolutely do. I have a couple of very quick questions. You can literally give one-word answers. It’s a little ‘lightening round’ we like to do to get some insight into your favorite things.
What’s your favorite book?
It’s the Bible.
What’s your favorite movie?
I loved Braveheart. Talk about taking a position that costs you dearly. I love stories like that. I loved Funny Girl. It had a huge impact on my career. I loved Les Misérables. Hugh Jackman is my favorite performer on the planet. I love everything he does. Those three movies I’d say are my favorite.
Favorite TV show?
Well, I guess it’s got to be the TODAY show with Hoda and Kathie Lee. Other than that, I really don’t watch television. I loved I Love Lucy when I was growing up. I loved The Carol Burnett Show. I loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I love that kind of brilliantly written, brilliantly acted sitcom. Those just kill me.
What’s your favorite place to visit?
Besides Israel, it’s definitely Italy. A year without a trip to Italy – there is something missing for me. But I go to Israel for my soul. I go to Italy for my wellbeing. If I had to choose one place, it would be Israel.
Do you have a favorite music artist?
Ah! I have too many that I adore. Barbra Streisand had a huge impact on me as a young singer. I adore Carole King and James Taylor. Who do I like today? I like Sara Bareilles. I think she is fantastic – a brilliant, brilliant songwriter/singer and a good person. I still think Celine [Dion] sings better than anyone on the planet.
To me, Tapestry and Sweet Baby James will always be mine. And Barbra’s first CD – My Name is Barbra I think it was called. And her Broadway album too because my favorite song – outside the ones I have written – is the [Stephen] Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein song from West Side Story called "Somewhere" that David Foster produced for Streisand on her Broadway album. If you want musical perfection that’s it, baby, right there.
And do you have a favorite Broadway show?
Yep, the one I wrote with my favorite composers David Friedman and David Pomeranz. It didn’t last very long on Broadway, but it’s available through my website. It’s called Scandalous. It took my 13 years to write it and bring it to Broadway. And although it didn’t last very long, I wouldn’t have missed that journey for anything in the world. I still hear from people all the time that it changed their life. So whatever God had planned for it – even though it was brief – was profound in people’s lives. And I am so grateful for that.
That is all that matters. Kathie Lee, it has been such an honor to talk to you. Thank you again.
Thank you, Meghan! Give my love to Glenn. And you have an awesome day.
Don’t miss Kathie Lee on the fourth hour of TODAY, weekdays on NBC. You can learn more about her podcast and other projects by visiting her website KathieLeeGifford.com.