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Presentation to the SB Council for Self-Esteem - 04/15/11
Hollywood’s famous columnist, reporter, business woman and founder of the Rona Barrett Foundation, a non-profit organization in Santa Ynez, CA, dedicated to the aid and support of senior citizens in need.The Introduction
Introduction by Bob Hodges
Our guest speaker today is Rona Barrett.
Rona began life in Manhattan attending college, majoring in pre-law. An uncle suggested she might be happier as a working journalist. The results of this redirection are legendary. She made a significant positive impact on the entertainment industry.
Rona was a pioneer and innovatr in entertainment reporting and publishing business. She developed the first in-depth personal TV specials about the celebrities of film, television, music, sports and politics. She also published a highly successful series of magazines about the entertainment industry for consumers and insiders.
She was co-host of the Tomorrow TV show from 1980 until she decided it was time to leave the glamour and bright lights of Hollywood and develop a new career centered in the mountains of Santa Ynez.
Rona has devoted her time and energy to philanthropic projects with a focus on providing affordable housing for the elderly in need. Her current project is a pilot living facility called "The Golden Inn & Cottages" which will be a model to be replicated across the country.
Rona is here today to present her thoughts on self-esteem and how it helped her to succeed in life and the entertainment industry.
Please, give a warm welcome to Rona Barrett.
The following wrap-up is by Betty Hatch
The feeling crept over me, as the petite speaker comfortably aligned the mike, that Rona Barrett had created a time warp!It was the same pretty face, the identical smile, followed by the soft voice, all unchanged during the nine years that separated this talk from the first time she spoke to the SB Council for Self-Esteem.She began by telling us she had just returned from a cruise on the Queen Victoria, where she presented her one-woman show in the Royal Theatre.It held 820 people, with box seats on both sides, and it was totally packed.She had never played to such a large crowd. Then Rona shared her first memories of her parents whispering about her after putting her in her crib.They spoke of her handicap, wondering if she would ever walk, run, ride a bike or live to get married and who would care for her if she did?Even with those frightening memories, Rona does not blame them, knowing they did the best they could.Rona's sister is 10 years younger than she and at her birth, it appeared she had the same muscular affliction as Rona.Only recently did they become aware that the specific affliction they had was "Central Core Disease," one of the hundreds of varieties of Muscular Dystrophy.
As a child, Rona and her parents went from doctor to doctor for many years; they were told there was no cure and that she might live into her teen years, maybe to 14 or 15.Sitting, standing and walking are all difficult for her, even now!However, Rona was determined to do it all.At one point she told her mother she wanted a bike and one was rented for her.She failed at every try; first trying to sit on the bike, then trying to make her legs go around to push the pedals. She never gave up! One day she gathered her strength, got on her bike and rolled down the block!Rona had known she would ride a bike one day and that day she did!
At 12, Rona fell madly in love with Eddie Fisher!To her, his voice was magic. She kept thinking, "Rona, you have to do something for this boy."This enterprising young girl called his studio and asked how she could help Eddie!The receptionist told her she could talk with Eddie Fisher's manager, but it was closing time and she would need to phone the next day.Undaunted, Rona told her first lie to her mother, when she told her mom she would study with a girl friend after school intending to go to Manhattan instead!Though she had been there many times with her family, she had never been on the elevated trains by herself nor had she ever climbed four flights of stairs by herself!Rona was so determined to get to Manhattan and to "do something" for Eddie Fisher that when she grabbed hold of the banister with both hands and lifted one leg at a time, she kept saying to herself at each step, "I'm coming Eddie.I'm coming!"On the way up the stairs, she met two nuns.One asked if they could help her, having seen the effort she was putting into each step.Rona appreciated their concern, but firmly said, "no thanks".When the nuns reached the top, they looked back to see the struggling girl and called down again, asking her if she was sure she did not want to be helped.This time she had to yell her answer: "No!" When Rona reached 57th street she congratulated herself announcing, "I'm free!I can do this!"At just two minutes to five, Rona arrived at the manager's office where the receptionist asked, "Are you Rona?"Affirming that she was, Rona was ushered into the office of George Bennett, who was the PR man for Eddie Fisher! It would have taken 15 minutes for anyone else to get from where she started to the Fisher office.It had taken her from 2:30 to 5:00 PM to get there.After talking with Rona and seeing her passion and commitment to "helping that boy," Bennett made Rona the unpaid President of the Eddie Fisher International Fan Club!
Eventually, Rona made the trek to this office three times a week and wrote a fan club guide that became the "Bible of the Industry."Soon she decided she wanted to be in show business.She thought then people would see her differently.Rona then reminisced about her childhood, remembering when one of the doctors had put her in a body cast.The first day she went to school wearing the cast, she was very embarrassed.One of her friends said she was fat.After school, other students followed her home, yelling mean names like "crippled" and "fatty."They continued their taunting until Rona reached her house and they then pressed their faces against the glass.Rona yelled out the window, "One day I'll be so famous, you won't be able to do this!"She decided she would become a doctor, a lawyer or be in the entertainment industry.She ultimately chose the latter.
Rona's uncle warned her that, for a variety of reasons, he would not allow her to be a lawyer!Having met many people in business she developed a great interest in people and decided to go to an employment agency to see what kind of job she could get.She was sent to the office of Bessie Little, the editor of a magazine, who needed a secretary.Ms. Little exclaimed, "I hope you don't want to be an editor."Rona assured her she didn't, but after showing her ability, three weeks later her boss threw "brownlines" on her desk, saying, "Here edit the caption of all the photos and make sure the spellings and the names are right."Soon, most of her work was editing.She went on to write columns in a number of magazines, which ultimately featured her name on the cover and as well as in the title. By this time Rona's interest in people had grown even more.She really wanted to know "what made people tick."She wanted to be in television and be seen as the voice of Hollywood.It took her eight and a half years to make it happen, but she, ultimately, became the "Voice of Hollywood" for 25 years!Her first National TV special was for CBS.The ratings were so high it became a defining moment in her career as entertainment editor of a new show that was to be born on ABC called "Good Morning America!"
Rona believed in herself.She believed that there was nothing you can't do, if you make up your mind to do it.The process was difficult, but she never gave up.Each hard kick made her stronger.
After leaving Hollywood, she came to the Santa Ynez Valley and grew fields of lavender to help seniors in need.Her roll as a journalist had helped her create a foundation, where people could discuss the problems seniors face and their needs, including love, care and guidance.She created the Golden Inn and Cottages to help seniors secure affordable housing, a place where they can re-invent themselves.She ended up having many mentors her mother's age as she pursued this project.She is learning patience.The Inns would have everything from assisted living, adult day care to allow caregiver's in the community to "take a break," and children's day care for use of visitors.
In answer to questions about her most interesting interviews, she recalled the one in which Raquel Welch confided that it was a mistake to have "used" her body in films.She remembered the last interview of Betty Davis, and her unrequited wish to have been married to only one man.She thinks Kirk Douglas is a fascinating person, a ragman's son, whose life was changed by an airplane accident.
She noted that everyone has their own struggles, things they must overcome.Rona shared that finally having a loving relationship and giving back makes her happier now than anything else. She concluded by observing that her own physical problems made her who she is.The full house stood up filled with emotion, smiling, applauding and appreciating Rona Barrett!
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