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King of the Q & A

What Do Clint Eastwood, Jack Kemp, Richard Nixon and the Beatles have in common? they were all interviewed by David Frost.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Wayne Gretzky, Mar/Apr 97

(continued from page 4)

Or perhaps, he says, getting serious again, it was Baldur von Schirach, the former head of the Hitler Youth organization. "It was that he seemed to have no conception of the size, the scale of the horror they had inflicted," Frost says. "For instance, when you say to anyone, as I said to him, 'If there's one thing future generations in Germany should remember about Adolf Hitler, what should it be?' Well, there's only one answer to that question, obviously: the genocide of 6 million people. And he said, as he did"--and suddenly Frost breaks into a letter-perfect British music-hall version of a German accent--" 'Ze vonderful vay he dealt vith unemployment in ze '30s.' Well, it makes its own point, doesn't it?

"Then, later in the interview, he said, 'You know, Mr. Frost, at Spandau ve grew tomatoes und ve vere not allowed to give ze tomatoes to ze old people of Spandau because zay had been grown by ze var criminals. Zo zey vere taken out und burnt. Mr. Frost--do you realize vat it can do to a man to haff his tomatoes burnt?' It was unbelievable.

"Then, finally, he said, 'I haff been reading about you, Mr. Frost, und did you know I became ze head of ze Hitler Youth at ze same age you did 'Zat Vas Ze Veek Zat Vas'? So ve haff a great deal in common, Mr. Frost.' I was appalled. As quickly as I could I said, 'No, we haven't.' "

It seems appropriate at this point to change the subject, and Frost is asked about his favorite, or his most memorable, interviews. There have been many, of course, but he immediately remembers one: "It was when I interviewed Robert Kennedy in 1968 at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, in what, alas, turned out to be the last long personal interview he ever gave."

Kennedy had the reputation of being a cold-blooded politician, but "he had mellowed a lot at the end of his life," Frost recalls. "I wanted to talk to him about his boating down the rapids, and the quote of Edith Hamilton's he often used about how 'men are not born for safe havens,' and I said, 'Some people have described you as reckless.' And he looked at me and smiled and said, 'No, no. Ruthless.' Which was so sweet. He was helping me out with the insult. It was a very attractive quality. All the people who criticized him at that time said he was ruthless. I said, 'Some people have said that your reputation for ruthlessness dates back to when you had to do the difficult dirty things behind the scenes in the 1960 election as campaign manager for your brother.' And he said, 'No, no, that's just my friends making excuses for me.' "

Kennedy, Frost says, "had an incredible charisma. I've always said that I don't know how you define charisma except as Robert Kennedy on that particular day."

Frost himself certainly has at least a touch of that charisma, a touch that traces its way back to his childhood in the small town of Tanterden in the countryside of Kent, where he was born on April 7, 1939, the son of a Methodist preacher.

"I had an incredibly happy childhood," Frost says. "I think the reason I've been able to cope with love and enjoy such a mad and hectic existence is because my childhood was so happy. My parents were very happily married. It was small-town English life. I was really unaware there was anything else you did on a Sunday other than go to church three times. I never really rebelled from that. I didn't have an atheistic period."

He attended local schools. "I did not go to boarding schools or public school, as the fee-paying schools are called here," he says. "I had two sisters who were much older than me, so I suppose I was something of an only son. And I was the first member of my family to get to Cambridge."

Frost excelled in academics and sports, and just before accepting a scholarship to Cambridge in 1957, he turned down an offer to play professional soccer with the Nottingham club.

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