DVD Review: Rona Barrett's Hollywood: Nothing But the Truth (2008)

Own It On DVD
From Infinity Entertainment

One Dollar from Every DVD Sold Goes to
The Rona Barrett Foundation for
Helping the Elderly Poor

Bookmark this on Delicious
submit to reddit
Print Page


Working in the entertainment news industry for more than thirty years, veteran daily broadcaster and celebrity interviewer Rona Barrett is indeed as Infinity Entertainment Group notes, "a true pioneer and innovator." Leaving behind the overly formal television studio styled interviews we see on most broadcast and cable network shows that puts celebrity guests in the hot seat, Barrett's approach was simple, genuine, empathetic and direct.

With, as she admits, a true interest in "what makes people tick" and a commitment to "never ask a question I couldn't answer myself," (should she ever be in the interviewees' shoes), she was the first to "conceive the 'coffee klatch' style now embraced by other top journalists," as celebrities opened their doors and lives up to Rona and chatted with her as though "they were with an old friend."

There's an old quote that unfortunately after an hour of digging I cannot locate to reference directly so forgive my paraphrasing and it states that if one is fortunate enough for whatever reason to live an extraordinary life, one has no business keeping that to themselve. And so it is to our great pleasure that Ms. Barrett, who introduces the first in her series of interview DVDs serves up snippets of eleven of her most memorable interviews from stars ranging from John Wayne to Carol Burnett.

Having been acquainted with Cher since she was just a kid-- roughly around the time she was to marry Sonny Bono at age 16-- Rona visits the successful singer at home with the two relaxing on her large bed as though they were sisters as Cher candidly opens up about her recent divorce from Bono and new relationship with Greg Allman (who would become her second husband).

Confessing that she knew from an early age that she didn't want to continue life as a poor young woman who felt ugly as the only non-blonde in a family of blondes, Cher reveals the way she practiced signing autographs at age twelve and the frank discussions she had with both her mother and Bono that although she may not be the prettiest or the most talented, there was something unique about her. Admitting that her whole life revolved around Bono who waited months to even hold her hand, Cher is refreshingly able to speak lovingly about her ex whom she felt had become like family in sharing that she would always love him.

Just one of the singers and famous women Barrett includes on the disc as there's another interview of a similar vein with Priscilla Presley-- whose marriage to Elvis, Barrett had been the first one to break. Catching up with Presley now a little over a year following his death as a poised Presley recalls both the great times and the hard times of living with the King whose happiness was of the utmost importance to her. She shares that Elvis Presley's ease and genuine love for people will be the one thing that their daughter Lisa Marie would inherit, following his shocking passing.

Perhaps the most articulate singer Barrett interviews on the disc is the remarkably intelligent Donna Summer-- always underrated in my opinion-- who discusses the impact that such a frankly sexual hit like "Love to Love You Baby," had on the otherwise shy, comedy prone, and devoutly religious young woman so that she wasn't sure she wanted to leave the house for awhile. Ultimately looking back and noting that, "I'm a coat of many colors, you're just seeing one stripe," as the quintessentially graceful response to those who pigeonhole her as simply a sexy diva-- Summer shares her dedication to her craft and the way that in the end, she feels that to work in show business requires a sense of masochism, especially in the music industry where love and hate flow side by side as it beats you one week and you beat it the next.

Another woman who always fell prey to that double-edged sword-- Ms. Raquel Welch shares the similar way that her looks were used to define her range as a performer and while she freely admits that even at age seven she realized she received attention just walking around in ballet toe shoes due to her beauty and later used that to her advantage, she was relishing with Barrett in the opportunity to show the real side of herself that few people know.

Perhaps the most gripping portion of the disc contains a segment with Carol Burnett that quickly had me in tears in this 1976 interview in which Barrett asks her about her horrific tragedy prone life growing up as the child of two alcoholics. With the utmost of clarity and bravery, she recalls the bold decision she made as a young woman barely scraping by in New York to return home and take over as guardian of her twelve year old sister. Absolutely devastating yet extraordinarily courageous-- Burnett proves to be yet another one of those comedians who turned to laughter out of misery in order to mask a pain so deep that no one would be able to decipher it on the surface.

While Burnett safely reveals her history with Barrett, it's interesting to take a look at two interviews with Robin Williams just a few months apart before and after the start of the astronomical success of Mork and Mindy as he is unable to sit still, taking on voices and jumping topics throughout as Mork in the first one and then becoming a bit more composed in the second, speaking to her as Robin.

Noting another performer who changed in a short period-- Barrett offers a significant interview with John Travolta, just following the burial of his mother which finds him matured incredibly over the year following the success of Saturday Night Fever where he reveals that he felt his greatest ambition and goal was to continue to inspire others such as helping breaking gender stereotypical boundaries to encourage men to dance (via Fever, Grease and many others). Moreover, Travolta states that the ultimate legacy to which he aspires to leave would be to add positive inspiration to a life that is filled with so much negativity, in a way that makes contemporary viewers feel especially heartbroken realizing the tragic loss of his son Jett.

In two other interviews that break free of traditional gender stereotypes, fans who may have shortchanged Burt Reynolds as simply a car driving sex symbol and former stuntman get an intimate look at the man. Within moments, he shares his insecurities about his appearance (including one politically incorrect ethnic description), hints at the wound left by the press over his relationship with his best friend and former lover, the older "America's sweetheart" Dinah Shore, and mentions his desire to remain a bachelor but adopt a child so that he can become a father.

Much like Richard Dreyfuss, who is also interviewed, Reynolds rejects the notion that there's something wrong for men to remain bachelors although in Dreyfuss' case, it seems to have been a decision made at a young age as he shared in 1981 that he'd been openly opposed to marriage his entire life. While he doesn't like loneliness, he also confesses that although he doesn't believe he could be involved with just one person, he refutes any immature playboy labels by candidly revealing that sex is just extremely unimportant to him and that he's almost always embarrassingly been less interested in the act itself rather than foreplay (which he considers himself far more into as a "foreplay junkie").

Although Barrett's summation following each interview which she introduces and segues from into the next piece revealed that Dreyfuss has not only been married three times since that interview but also had three children, she also commends his willingness to open up about his history with drugs and bipolar disorder as promoting honesty and awareness about those extremely important issues.

However, it's the second interview included on the disc-- Barrett's final interview with John Wayne-- which is a bittersweet treat for fans as we see him just out of the hospital in one of his last public appearances before his death from cancer. Understandably sure that he would cancel and want his rest and privacy, Barrett fondly recalls the way that she heard The Duke in the background yell, "Tell Rona to come on down."

Sharing an easy rapport with a man she considers one of her favorite people of all time, courageously Barrett gives Wayne the opportunity to impart any wishes or second thoughts, asking him about regrets or if he'd do anything differently if he had the chance and while he said there were times he admits he lost his temper or said some things he probably shouldn't have, in the end, he would do it the same way all over again.

Clocking in at only a nice ninety minute running time with a bonus feature entitled Rona's Story-- it's fascinating material and while some interviews (including Carol Burnett's) seem much more compelling than others (Raquel Welch's) and we longed for more, despite the loads of tissues I was grabbing for during the Burnett segment, luckily it's been stated that this is the first in a series of DVDs Ms. Barrett is releasing.

An important piece of twentieth century American history containing some great insights into the way our society and gender roles evolved over the years, these are much more than the type of Access Hollywood tabloid style interviews we see today or low-class gossip pieces about Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or Britney Spears.

A reminder that television interviewing is an art form and that one must be empathetic, nonjudgmental and willing to ask the tough questions in the right way-- it's an important documentary for those in what has sadly become our paparazzi styled celebrity news industry and a wonderful addition for pop culture fans wanting to know the humans behind the personas. However, perhaps the best surprise is that one dollar of each DVD Sold goes to help elderly citizens without the economic resources the chance to go into assisted living through The Rona Barrett Foundation.