David Frost: Power Interviewer
As Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf has just learned, British inquisitor David Frost has ways of making people talk. Filling the hot seat for last month’s installment of PBS’ …Talking With David Frost, Schwarzkopf implied — surprising even Frost — that President Bush had been too quick to call a cease-fire in the Persian Gulf. The program prompted the White House to issue the General a strong, but polite, rebuke. Years before, Truman Capote confided to Frost that he had considered homicide ”on at least four or five occasions,” and Arthur Godfrey blurted out that he’d had himself sterilized.
But it was Frost’s four-part, six-hour TV interview with Richard Nixon, nearly 14 years ago, that set the world buzzing. During this talk, for which Frost paid Nixon $600,000 plus 20 percent of the profits, the former President came as close as he ever has to apologizing for Watergate. The first day of taping Nixon was defensive, Frost recalls, ”but then he realized that I knew the [White House] tapes as well as he did. On day two, he came back ready to confess something.” Said a misty-eyed Nixon during that session: ”I let down my friends. I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.”
Why do people warm up to Frost? ”David knows his subjects very, very well,” says Talking‘s co-executive producer John Florescu. ”He reads their masters’ theses in college. He knew [Sen.] Al Gore’s eighth-grade nickname.” Apparently, even Nixon enjoyed his catharsis. ”We ran into each other two or three years ago in Le Cirque in New York,” says Frost, adding that they had a ”very amiable” conversation.
Frost’s next important conversation will be with new British Prime Minister John Major (airing April 24). As before, Frost may manage to surprise even himself. ”I didn’t expect that question,” Nixon said when Frost asked him to apologize for putting the American people through two years of ”needless agony.” Muttered Frost under his breath, ”Nor did I.”
TIME CAPSULE: April 19-25, 1977
Woody Allen’s smart comedy Annie Hall is now playing, while Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley are TV ratings winners. Erich Segal’s Love Story sequel, Oliver’s Story, leads the fiction best-seller list and David Soul tops the music charts with ”Don’t Give Up On Us,” ahead of Thelma Houston’s ”Don’t Leave Me This Way.”