When Rona Barrett Was the Pioneering Queen of Hollywood Gossip

Barrett interviewing Rock Hudson in 1981.
Barrett interviewing Rock Hudson in 1981.

It sometimes feels like TMZ and Kris Jenner invented our 24/7 infotainment world all by themselves. But the gossip business is nothing new, and in her heyday, nobody was bigger than Rona Barrett.


That’s according to Anne Helen Peterson over at BuzzFeed, writing about a woman whose onetime dominance has been poorly remembered. Now 79, Barrett has long since gotten out of the business—she basically walked away in the late 1980s. For years she ran a lavender farm; Peterson notes that, “She agreed to talk only because she knew it would publicize her quest to provide housing for low-income seniors,” which is her current project. But once she was in the center of the Hollywood action, and the piece is consequently packed with entertaining details. For example:

Her 1974 memoir, Miss Rona, had sold over half a million copies, in part due to its irresistible lede: “Just an inch, Miss Rona, just let me put it in an inch!” Barrett attributed the come-on to a “major masculine Hollywood star,” and rumors swirled as to his identity. It couldn’t be Frank Sinatra, who’d taken to calling Barrett horrible names at every concert — or Love Story star Ryan O’Neal, who’d sent Barrett a live tarantula.

She had a newspaper column for a time, but it was in the late 1960s, when Barrett got onto TV, that her career really took off. (“It’s inane. It’s trivial triumphant. It’s delicious,” the New York Times reviewed her.) Though she often dealt with blatant disrespect:

On the New York broadcast, that “acknowledgment” manifested in a cloaked misogyny. Every night, news anchor Roger Grimsby crafted a newly insulting introduction: “Here’s Rona Barrett, Hollywood’s tripe caster”; “Here’s Rona Barrett, keyhole ferret”; “Now here’s the woman who made ‘broad casting’ two words.” Barrett keenly remembers when Grimsby reported a story of three children who locked themselves in an abandoned fridge, never escaped, and were discovered in a garbage heap — then segued into Barrett with “And now here’s some more garbage.”

She’d go on to work at Good Morning America and help build the show into a success. If you want to see Barrett in action, YouTube is a treasure trove. Donald Trump once informed her that he didn’t believe he would like to be the president of the United States.

This video opens with a whole supercut of celebs—Donna Summer, Burt Reynolds—talking sex and relationships. “I’m a foreplay junkie,” announces Richard Dreyfuss.

She interviewed Cher sitting side-by-side on a bed.

She sat down with a very young Tom Cruise in 1984, in the wake of Risky Business.

For more of an omnibus view, you can watch her look back at 1978, which ran on New Year’s Day. Featured: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Steve Martin. What better way to survive the first hangover of 1979? Can’t see turning to TMZ’s Harvey Levin in such a circumstance.

Correction: Originally, this article stated that Barrett currently runs a lavender farm, but she no longer has the farm.


Photo via AP Images.




Just popping in to say these clips are gold!

You get the feeling the celebs were more honest and less PR creations back then.

Okay gotta go back and watch the rest!