Though she left Live seven years ago as one of TV’s most polarizing personalities, Kathie Lee Gifford hasn’t exactly shied away from the spotlight — besides joining her former cohost Regis Philbin on Live‘s 20th anniversary episode (airing Sept. 14), she’s also currently working on a novel, a musical, a few screenplays, and even her daughter Cassidy’s budding acting career. Still, there’s one very high-profile showbiz gig she wouldn’t touch.
The View ”did ask me last spring [to consider cohosting]” another episode. This time, though, Gifford opted out. ”I graciously said no thanks. It’s a world I know too well. So many people who would just die for fame and fortune don’t understand that you can die from it. I had my fill of the negative side of fame and fortune long ago.” (Responds View exec producer Bill Geddie: ”We love Kathie Lee and always love having her on the program. We talked to a number of people about the co-host job, but Whoopi was always our first choice and the only person the network offered the job to.”)
We caught up with Gifford to talk about her many projects, a particularly memorable (and, she says, misunderstood) moment from Live, and whether she’d consider doing a show especially for her gay fans.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So where have you been? I keep hearing about various plays and musicals that you’ve either starred in or written.
KATHIE LEE GIFFORD: I started writing a year or two before I left the show with Reege, and it was like a floodgate. The minute I started writing it was like I couldn’t believe I hadn’t spent my whole life doing it. It was just so rewarding creatively. There is a predictability that comes with doing the show for that long, and Regis and I had become very, very close friends, but after I experienced that other kind of work, I just thought, ”I’m running out of time…. I’m not an ingénue in the business anymore.” I also knew my father’s death was inevitable. We didn’t know how soon it would be, but I just didn’t want to go through one more publicly painful thing. I wanted privacy. We needed to be a family and we needed cameras far away from us during that time. So it all came together — the perfect emotional storm.
Were you afraid of Regis’ reaction?
I know there were all kinds of rumors and speculations about our relationship, but we have always remained steadfast friends. When people would ask me, ”Have you missed the show?” I’d say, ”If I didn’t see Reege as often as I do, I would.” But we saw each other enough and I was busy with my other projects and so fulfilled on a creative level that it really was not an issue.
I know that you starred in Annie at Madison Square Garden last year as Miss Hannigan. Nice. What else have you been doing?
What I started writing eight years ago was something called Saving Aimee, which is the life story of an extraordinary woman named Aimee Semple-McPherson, who during the ’20s and the ’30s was the most controversial, celebrated, powerful woman of her day. She’s sort of been lost in the cracks of history, probably because she’s a woman, probably also because she was a woman of faith. But she was also an incredibly, oh boy, scandalous woman, so she makes fodder for a Broadway show. Her story is so huge that it took over a 100 rewrites and years to get it right. We’re hoping it’ll be coming to Broadway. We’re waiting for a theater for Broadway. And there’s also film interest for Under the Bridge, which I produced and wrote three years ago. It’s a little Christmas story based on a book that I optioned from Harper Collins five years ago called The Family Under the Bridge. It just cried out to be made into a musical and it was Off Broadway for three months. And I’m halfway through a novel I’m writing. I have several other screenplays. My daughter [Cassidy] is a very serious acting student. We just came back from a week of her training in Los Angeles. She studied at the Strasberg Institute last year here in New York.
Uh-oh. How do you feel about her launching a career having been in the spotlight yourself?
Every child deserves their own dream. My parents created an environment to help my dreams come true, and that’s all I want to do for my kids as well. I’m not at all concerned about her choice in dreams. That’s her business. It’s just that I have to help her make wise choices. And I’ll be on the set with her. There’s no way I’m letting her out of my sight! She just turned 14 years old. She’s certainly not ready to be alone in this world emotionally.
Are you a stage mom?
Not at all. No, no. A stage mom would be somebody that is trying to inflict her own dreams on her child against her will, and I am completely against that. I saw that for years, all these kids that came on the show. No, no. If she loved soccer, I’d be sending her to soccer camp. It’s in her DNA as much as football is in [my son] Cody’s.
NEXT PAGE: ”In all the years that I was on the show, I had a very strong gay following and I always cherished that, you know? That they didn’t think that because of my faith that I was some sort of intolerant, condemning, self-righteous person.”