Tonight America's three reigning male movie stars indulge, fend off, amuse and occasionally frustrate the Annie Oakley of interviewers, Barbara Walters, in a thoroughly engaging "Barbara Walters Special" on ABC.
Most ABC stations will show it at 10 p.m. but on Channel 7 in Washington, it will be delayed until 11:45 to accommodate a basketball game.
Clint Eastwood, 50, Paul Newman, 55, and Burt Reynolds, 44, do their best to placate the relentless inquisitor as she asks such philosophical mind-benders as, to Eastwood, "What do you think of your looks?" And, to Newman, "Are you bored with you?" and "Are you in general bored with what you do?"
They all come out looking good, which is part of the reason stars (including such reluctant interviewees as Newman) submit to the Walters Treatment. It's really designed to provide happy endings, to tell viewers that their silver-screen favorites are nice guys underneath. Walters shepherds them along so that seemingly embarrassing questions can be tactfully finessed.
"Stop me if it gets to be too much, all right?" Walters asks Eastwood during deep interrogation over "the state of" his marriage. But she doesn't ask him about the distinct possibility that by abandoning law-and-order roles and switching to comedy he has torpedoed his own film career. And she doesn't ask Reynolds about the rowdiness of audiences and on-stage flare-ups at his Florida dinner theater.
She is too busy rummaging through her purse for fomula questions that begin with suppositions like "If your life were a screenplay . . ." In fact, after Reynolds tells her that Eastwood helped cure him of hyperventilating in public, she doesn't even have the smarts to ask how.
That's because she wants to get on to questioins about Burt's breakup with Sally Field.
Reynolds does tell a very funny story about having an attack at Ma Maison, an anecdote later incorporated into his underrated movie "Starting Over." Newman pulls Walters' leg by describing how he allegedly eats watermelon in the shower and bemoans the state of a motion-picture galaxy in which "your three biggest stars are two robots and a shark."
And Eastwood suffers Walters with sublime bemusement and slippery evasiveness, which isn't easy with questions like, "Could you shoot somebody in real life?" and "Do you carry a gun?" If the answers to those two had been "yes," Walters might have had to hop in her limo and head for the hills.
Yes, this is another Barbara Walters special alternately terrible in its wonderfulness and wonderful in its terribleness -- exquisitely watchable and entertaining from start to finish, though not always, one suspects, precisely in the ways it wants to be. The executive producer and director, Don Mischer, has again given Gabsy Babsy a shiny and glossy platform with no sign whatever of waxy buildup.