Category Archives: The Beck/Smith Vault

Flashbacks to Memorable Moments and Statements of the Stars reported on By Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith

THE BECK/SMITH VAULT: Diana Ross In the Driver’s Seat

Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, 1981 American Music Awards

Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, 1981 American Music Awards

…Her choices for guest stars began with long-time buddy Michael Jackson.  “To me, he’s like a child of mine. ..”

February 25, 1981

Diana Ross In the Driver’s Seat

By Stacy Jenel Smith

HOLLYWOOD – As the song says, “I’m Comin’ Out.”

For the first time in her professional life, Diana Ross is sitting in the driver’s seat – and she makes it clear, “I really like that position.”

Her hotel bungalow has the look of a command post: table tops littered with coffee cups, stacks of papers and slides taken at her recent Los Angeles Forum concert, recording and video equipment, a projector and screen dominate the living room.

After a late night of watching the editing of her CBS March 2 “Diana” special – the first of her TV outings that Diana has produced herself – she walks through the morning light into the room looking wide awake and full of bubbling energy, smartly attired in an electric purple blouse and jacket with black pants tucked into studded black suede boots.

Asked about her new executive producer title, she looks toward the ceiling with a wide grin and chuckles, “Ohhh yes.  A – it’s real exciting.

“It just means I’m the one who make the decisions, that I’m responsible for whatever happens.  I feel like I’m learning a lot about TV this way.  It’s an important position.  For the last 15 years, I haven’t been in that position.  I haven’t taken the responsibility.  I felt there was a reason for this – that I’m starting to be more responsible.

“I think if you’re going to hand over control of something to someone else, you should be willing to hand it over completely.  If you’re going to complain about how they’re handling it, maybe you should be doing it yourself.”

As for Diana, “I’m taking my life and handling it.”

For the last 15 years, the singing superstar’s name has seemed inextricably linked with those of the Motown record company and of its founder – her “Henry Higgins” – Berry Gordy.  From the days when she and her fellow Supremes became the No. 2 record-selling group of the ’60s (behind The Beatles), through her first solo successes, her acclaimed acting debut in “Lady Sings the Blues,” her marriage to and divorce from Bob Silberstein, Diana has been protected, cared for and – to an ever decreasing degree – had her decisions made by Gordy’s Motown.

Now, “I’m not under contract with anyone,” she says.  And as to whether she’s re-sign with the company, she shrugs and smiles.  A beat passes.  “I don’t know.”

Diana spent her Christmas vacation working on preparations for her special.  “I went to Aspen with the kids (daughters Rhonda, 9, Tracee, 8, and Chudney, 5).  While they were skiing, I was staying in making  a lot of notes and calls.  You see, this time I had to worry about making the business deals too.”

Her new managerial outlook extended into the production of the show.  “When we were going overtime, a part of me was thinking in terms of, ‘How much is this costing?’  The executive producer was thinking in numbers.  The other part of me was thinking, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to be in a position where I can help employ all these people?’

“I took a lot of time deciding on the people I wanted to work with,” she continues, quickly ebulliently.  “See that stack of tapes over there?  I watched them all to help me decide.  I called a lot of people to ask who they thought a good director would be and Steve Binder’s name came up a lot.  He sent me a tape with some of his things and in the middle of it I saw this FACE and these TEETH coming at me.  I said, ‘Hey!  Those are my teeth!’  I hadn’t realized it, but we’d worked together years ago on the ‘Tammy’ show.  He put that on the tape to see if I’d remember.  Do you remember that show?  It was the start of rock ‘n’ roll.  The Beach Boys were on, the Rolling Stones when Mick Jagger was just starting his…(she does a silent imitation of Jagger jiggle)…thing.”

Her choices for guest stars began with long-time buddy Michael Jackson.  “To me, he’s like a child of mine.  I feel the same way about Stevie Wonder.  As soon as I found out about the special I asked Michael if he’d be on and he said yes.  He just sent me six platinum records of his, with a note that says, ‘To my inspiration.’

“I’d like the young kids in the TV audience to understand that we really do have a close relationship.  The young kids don’t know how I started them (The Jackson 5) in the business, brought them out here and that they lived with me for awhile.

“Michael and Quincy (Jones, who’s also featured on the special) and I did ‘The Wiz’ together.  Quincy also produced Michael’s latest album which is such a success.  We’re trying to figure out how Michael, Quincy and I could do an album together.  I think that’s a very good idea.  I want to push that one through.”

She’d also like to push through a film project.  “I’d love to do a movie right away.  I have three or four things in the air, but have no idea at all what I’ll be doing next.  I feel I can take the time to pick and choose something I really care about, because I have my career of recording, concerts and TV, but I’d like to do a movie soon.  ‘Tough Customers’ (in which she’d play the girlfriend of gangster Dutch Schultz) is in the works and the idea of my doing a movie about Josephine Baker is still very much alive. But you can’t just zap out a movie like in the old days.  It costs too much.”

Discussing plans of a more personal sort, Diana laughs at reports of her marriage plans to KISS singer Gene Simmons.  “No, no.  It’s not that kind of relationship between Gene and I.  He’s a very special person, but – no.

“I realized about five years ago,” she adds, “that you have to give up a lot in order to be in this business.  One of the things is privacy.  You find yourself fighting that, but it’s something people expect – to know what’s happening in your life.  I don’t mind talking about myself.  I have nothing to hide.  It’s when people will take something that’s very important and treat it without regard for its importance that I mind.  I think it’s the responsibility of the press and others to consider how important what they’re writing about really is.”

She’s thinking of her children especially, she says.  “You see so many stories about performers’ children getting so messed up by being exposed to the press, to the world.  I try to shield mine from that.  It was easier when they were younger.  Now that they’re getting bigger, they can see what’s going on – see me on TV, see the people I work with , see what it all means.  I’ve decided to send them to boarding school when they’re a little older, where they’ll have lives apart from all this.

“We have a lot of honesty – no lies.  Now and then they’ll ask me, ‘Mommy, why can’t you stay home?’  And I tell them, ‘Because I don’t want to stay home.  I love what I do and I’m not going to feel guilty about it.’

“I do know my girls will all probably go into show business.  That’s O.K.  I think it’s the best game in town.  I mean, what would I have done if I hadn’t gone into show business?”

She starts enumerating the possibilities, counting on her fingers as she goes.  “Well, I took design, so I might have designed clothes.  I went to beauty school, so I might have done your hair.  I bussed dishes for awhile.  Did you know that?  Back in Detroit I was a bus girl.  We wore little green and white dresses and nets on our hair and we couldn’t lean against the wall.”  The room chimes with her laughter at the recollection.

She continues, more seriously, that her childhood didn’t offer much exposure to showbiz, with the exception of music.  “My mother did have a job in a theater – cleaning,” she smiles.  “I remember listening to radio shows.  I was five or six when we got our first TV.  I know when TV started, the rich people got it first and it came to the ghetto a while later.”  She smiles and leans back.  “The only star I knew of to look up to was Lena Horne, and I didn’t look up to her as a movie star.  I knew her as a singing star.”

Now, countless little girls are looking up to Diana Ross, who seems to have done it all.  What’s left to conquer?

“Oh, God!  What’s so amazing is – that’s life out there!  There’s so much more for me to learn.  I’m always learning new things through my kids.  I feel my move to New York has taught me so much.  I discovered so much.  I met doctors, lawyers.  I now have girlfriends who are NOT involved with show business.

“I don’t want to get into making comparisons between New York and Los Angeles.  I love California and I’d never give it up.  But I’d gone through my divorce and I wanted to be in a place where I could be busy all the time and I moved.  I go to the theater now, and I take the kids to museums and galleries.  I met a guy who knows all about modern art.  I didn’t know anything about modern art.  I’ve known people who bought it as an investment, that’s all.  But now I’ve found out about it.”

She nods emphatically that the divorce and the move have “opened me up.”  And that they’re partly responsible for her new feelings of responsibility.

“If something’s successful, then it’s wonderful.  If not, well … Do you know the poem, ‘If’?  I always like to remember a line from that: ‘If you can treat those two imposters, success and failure, the same …’  I do the best I can, and whatever happens, try to treat it the same.  This business can sweep you away.  Look at this.”  She holds up a slide of the masses of people engulfing the Forum, with herself in the center of it all bathed in the spotlight.

“But what helps me to keep it in perspective is the fact I left that and went home to bed alone.”

THE BECK/SMITH VAULT: Patrick Swayze Feels Near-Death Experience Changed Life

Patrick Sqayze in


Patrick Swayze Feels Near-Death Experience Makes  Him Live Life to the Full

By Stacy Jenel Smith

Hollywood-“This has turned into one of the most wonderful periods of my life. I feel like Mary Poppins, singing to the birds and trees, lucky to by alive,” says Patrick Swayze. He feels he’s a changed man after his brush with death last May, when he was thrown off a galloping bareback horse into an oak tree during filming of “Letters from a Killer.”

Swayze credits a lifetime of dancing and gymnastics with saving him. “It would have killed me, I would have gone head first into this oak tree, if instinct hadn’t kicked in and I hadn’t grabbed two handfuls of that horse’s mane and been able to flip my body so I’d break my legs on the tree instead of crushing my skull,” says the actor. He suffered breaks in both legs (a broken femur and fibula, plus four detached tendons in his shoulder, in the accident.

Swayze, who gets his star on Hollywood Boulevard on his birthday, Aug. 18 – days before the 10th anniversary re-release of “Dirty Dancing” – reveals he’s now set for a Sept. 3 return to “Letters from a Killer.”

The script’s been rewritten to include a scene that makes his injury part of the storyline. He also acknowledges that he must not perform any more of his own stunts in the picture; that’s part of the agreement made in order to get the film’s insurance company to let him go back to work.

Meanwhile, “I lucked out that the bones broke clean, they’re going to heal perfectly, and they were able to reattach all the tendons in my shoulder. … Doctors have been blown away by my progress,” adds Swayze, who is already walking without even a cane.

Swayze also says he’s overcome a recurring nightmare in which he gets killed in the accident -by viewing the footage of it. (He still loves horses and considers the fall his own fault, not the animal’s.)

Now, “One of the things I’ve come away from this experience with is an unwillingness to put off the things that are important to me. We’re only here so long. Let’s get on with it!” he says. Swayze’s been working in supercharged fashion to make some long-awaited dreams reality. Among other things, he says he now has financing for the dance movie he and wife Lisa Niemi have been wanting to make for years.

THE BECK/SMITH VAULT: Walter Cronkite on the Subject of Reporting

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite

November 15, 1975

THE BECK/SMITH VAULT:  Walter Cronkite on the Subject of Reporting

By Marilyn Beck

He walks through a room and murmurs of adoration are heard… “He’s the greatest!”…”He’s adorable!”…”He’s the one guy in this country you can trust!”

He appears on a dais with Hollywood super-stars – and is the one individual accorded a standing ovation from an assembled throng of thousands.

He is Walter Cronkite, newsman extraordinary…America’s favorite father figure…Americans’ Number One Idol – according to such surveys as the Oliver Quayle and Co. ” trust index” public poll, and a recent Bruskin Report listing the most popular faces on TV.

If he’s affected by status, power, position or near-reverence, he gives no hint.  A star attraction in untold millions of homes during the 25 years he’s covered virtually every major news event for CBS, he still comes off as unpretentious and unaffected as the United Press newsman he once was.

His CBS offices in New York (where he prepares the “Evening News With Walter Cronkite” on which he serves as anchorman, reporter and managing editor) indicate another measure of the man.  The desk is cluttered, shelves and bookcases crammed with reference texts and research material – and the room totally devoid of any self-glorifying reminders of the world greats he’s known, or the scores of prestigious awards he’s earned during his lifetime.

“I keep saying I’m going to start taking life easy,” he grins, stretching out against his office chair.  “And I would like to have more time for travel, sometimes think longingly of having a less demanding schedule – but I really don’t expect things to ever change.  I’m still Cronkite, the old fire horse. Just let those fire bells ring – and I’m off giving chase.”

Cronkite’s CBS contract allows him a three-month vacation each year.  He doesn’t expect to use up more than two thirds of that time during the 1975 calendar period, and says, “In ’76, with the conventions and the elections and the Bicentennial, I doubt if I’ll get away from my desk for more than a couple of weeks.

Could it be that, beyond his love of the news game, there’s an insecurity that makes him reluctant to leave his post?  He’s been quoted as saying the reason his ratings dropped in 1973 was that Roger Mudd had replaced him during his vacation, “And it had caught up with me.”

Could it be that at age 60, he harbors fears his employers might discover he’s not indispensable – if a young hot-shot substitute captures public fancy while he’s off vacationing?

He ponders the questions for a moment, then responds thoughtfully, “Perhaps those things are a factor, but not consciously.  I’m the same way now I’ve always been. I’ve always lived to work.  Because work has always provided the most fun, satisfaction, joy out of life.  And even now, well, let the big story break and the adrenalin starts to flow like I’m still a cub reporter.”

Looking back on his life, he says he does regret that dedication to work short-changed him of time he should have spent with his children.  Married to the former Mary Elizabeth Maxwell of Kansas City, their daughter, Nancy, is now 27, Mary Kathleen is 25, and Walter Cronkite III is 18.

“I wish I had put in more time with the kids,” he reveals, “But I try to tell myself I saw them more than many fathers see their children.  Everyone’s life is complicated, and though I never had much contact with my youngsters during week days because I was always working until at least 7:30 – I did fight to keep my weekends clear.”  He pauses, then adds with a grin.  “Unless a big story came up, of course.”

If he harbors any regrets about his professional  life, it is only that, as the scope of his audience has grown, his chance to break the “big story” has decreased.

“In terms of the size of an audience it reaches, CBS is the single most important disseminator of news in the world.  As such, there’s a responsibility which both the network and I feel toward the material I broadcast.  It’s not like working on a small town paper where every little scandal can make the front page.  Let’s face it, there aren’t that many big stories that occur – and it’s pretty hard to stand in front of a camera and shout ‘flash!’ about ecology.”

He prides himself on being totally dedicated to telling the truth, but doesn’t pretend television news coverage can ever compete with newspapers for getting the full facts to the public.  And he acts downright embarrassed that even such a giant television operation as the CBS News department must still rely on the staffs of such wire services as A.P., U.P.I. and Reuters for the bulk of its material.

“We buy our news wholesale form them,” he admits.  “And, of course, also use our own investigative teams here and in other bureaus we maintain.”

If he’s particularly distressed about having to depend on outside news gatherers, it’s because he terms the quality of today’s reporting, “Absolutely terrible!” and says he finds that one of his main functions is questioning material that has been written as fact.  “The longer you’ve been in this business, the longer your antenna becomes for sensing a lie, a half-truth, an evasion.  You can put that ability to good use by checking to find out the real story.”

The search for unblemished truth is his message for college journalism students to whom he lectures, pleading with them to scrap fantasies about becoming glamour-type news commentators, and to become specialists in the old-fashioned business of reporting.

“I tell them there’s such an important job to be done getting the news across, that there is nothing more exciting than being the reporter who uncovers the facts.”

It’s an excitement that’s kept him charged up professionally for the last 40 years – and which still has the ability to make the “old fire horse” go racing off in pursuit of the next potentially “Flash!” story.