Whisper Whisper: What platinum blonde, self-made gossip queen is narrating her memoirs for charity? No blind item here; it’s Rona Barrett, back from retirement to tell “Nothing But the Truth” about her fabled journalistic career. In a one-night preem at the Paley Center for Media, vigorous reminiscence (accompanied by vintage video clips and contemporary testimonials) rehabilitates the rep of the lady who turned entertainment coverage into big biz, years before Barbara Walters and TMZ.
Barrett is the key transitional figure in the wake of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, haughty grande dames who offered selected bits of our idols’ lives to what they saw as an unwashed public. But this streetwise New Yorker was truly “our Miss Rona,” a starstruck fan just like us, cultivating a Dragon Lady image to demand of celebs the real dirt.
First on KABC and in syndication, then as a regular on “Good Morning America” and (briefly and unhappily) as Tom Snyder’s sidekick, her stilted delivery and deliberate winks always told us, “You know this is silly, but so do I and so do the rich and famous. Let’s all have some fun.”
Which isn’t to call her a lightweight. This tough bird, survivor of a rare form of childhood muscular dystrophy, claims to have been the first journalist on the scene at the Sharon Tate murder house in 1969, and the recipient of a death threat leading, as she tells it, to the grave wounding of her bodyguard by Manson follower Tex Watson.
She also knew her craft, as evidenced by a trenchant “Tonight Show” excerpt in which she gently extracts intimate self-reflection from a famously buttoned-up Johnny Carson. Though the butt of jokes, she won the stars’ trust for a pioneering series of celebrity interview specials which, judging by clips, still fascinate today.
Before taking the show on the road, helmer David Galligan and co-writers Jayne Hamil and Bill Royce might consider trimming the overdone details of the personal makeover in favor of some fresh dish.
Details of Elvis’ marriage or Cary Grant’s divorce are all very well, but surely there were hush-hush stories Barrett’s only now able to reveal. Even if she restricted herself to deceased luminaries, we’d enjoy hearing the current full-time lavender entrepreneur still score scoops galore.
Barrett’s tour takes her in February to the Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria, proceeds to go to her foundation in aid of low-income senior citizens.