Kathy Cronkite lost.
She bet her father would cry on the air during his farewell anchorcast last Friday night. He didn't. She cried though, standing off-camera in the CBS evening newsroom with her husband, mother, brother and older sister.
"I think it was walking out of that newsroom for the last time," she says sadly. "The newsroom that was my second home."
At 30, Kathy Cronkite is no longer on the edge of the spotlight, standing in the shadows of her father's success. She is an actress. A writer. She is, above all, a celebrity's kid who survived against the odds -- crippling self-doubt, drugs, divorce, dropping out of a half-dozen colleges and a stalled Hollywood career.
Kathy Cronkite came back. To tell us all about it.
She swoops into New York's Star of India restaurant celebrity-kid style, wearing a full-length golden coyote fur coat ("a present to myself after finishing the book"), strawberry blond hair twisted into two braids, skin the color of cultured pearl.
She comes on strong -- straightforward and self-assured; a tough cookie with a cream center. It is her first interview about her new book, "On the Edge of the Spotlight," a collection of interviews with two dozen other children of celebrities. Two dozen angry, brave, sensitive, frustrated members of that exclusive clique of star siblings who tend to mistrust anyone outside the circle.
"It is a private club," she says."There's always the feeling that nobody else understands what it's really like. I think it would have been a different book if somebody else had written it. Many of them who talked to me are ones who normally don't talk to reporters."
Yes, she says, she has "limitations" as a journalist. She didn't write a spank-and-tell memoir, a "Daddy Dearest." She tried to be kind.
The best and worst of being a celebrity's kid, she says, is "self-confidence and lack of self-confidence. On the one hand, you grow up with a certain sense of privilege. On the other hand, you're always looking up to your parents. It's amplified when your parents are stars. Everybody else is looking up to them, too."
Most of all, they knew that although they had not chosen the limelight, they were expected to embrace it; to put on a dress or suit and bake cookies for Good Housekeeping magazine when their friends were out playing baseball, to answer endless questions from prying interviewers about their private lives, to pose for People, to smile on cue. Always on the sidelines.
"My mother couldn't believe we were meeting here," she says, looking around the near-empty restaurant. "I usually go to places like Sardi's or 21 when I'm with them." She chose the restaurant because it is two blocks from her parents' East Side brownstone, where she is staying with her husband, Bill Ikard, son of the former congressman and ex-president of the American Petroleum Institute, Frank Ikard of of Washington.
She flew into New York from her home in Houston for her father's grand farewell to anchordom.
"Right now, it's an enormous transition for each of us in our careers," she says, sipping a glass of Pouilly Fuisse. "Obviously, my first thought was, 'Oh God, I'm going up and he's going down.' The timing is extraordinary. It's good, I guess, but weird."
The book grew out of a 1977 article ("My Father, Walter Cronkite") for McCall's magazine. Prompted by her mother and "the fellow I was living with," she decided to expand the project, to dispute the tabloids and their claims that the history of celebrity kids can only be written from divorce court records and police blotters.
"That kind of stuff makes me so mad," she says, wringing her napkin.
Cronkite spent one year interviewing her subjects, including Arlo Guthrie, John Blyth Barrymore, Mary Crosby, Jack Ford, Bela Lugosi Jr. and John Ritter. Some celebrity offspring refused to be interviewed, saying they wanted to write their own books. Some asked for anonymity. Several celebrity parents nixed the idea. Carrie Fisher, daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, rebuffed Cronkite with a curt "Good Luck."
"I don't know anything about my childhood," another Hollywood kid told her. "I've blocked it all out."
The most poignant portrait in Kathy Cronkite's book is one of Scott Newman, son of actor Paul Newman. She first met him several years ago in Hollywood and the aspiring actress was immediately attracted to the tall, good-looking boy with the Cheshire grin.
Was she in love with Scott?
"I had a crush on him," she says, blushing. "The relationship was a little lopsided."
Scott Newman could not handle his father's fame, Cronkite says. She herself couldn't cope with Scott's "drinking, his drug-taking and his weird therapies. . . He tried yoga, astral projection, nutrition therapy and even 24-hour-a-day psychologists, but whether he was looking for answers or for escape, I couldn't say. I didn't know how to help him, and I couldn't stand watching his self-destruction."
Finally, in November 1978, Scott Newman -- at the age of 27 -- died from a combination of drugs and alcohol, another casualty of the star-child syndrome.
"I dedicated the book to him," she says softly, her pale blue eyes misting over.
No, she says, she did not know Richard Meeker, Mary Tyler Moore's 24-year-old son who died recently from a self-inflicted shotgun wound. "I know her slightly. I couldn't read the stories for months, though, it was so upsetting."
Some of Cronkite's friends say she treated the celebrity-child topic with kid gloves, that she presented a candy-coated version of Live With Famous Father.
"I did not write a 'Mommie Dearest,'" she screams, banging her fist on the table. "I wrote the book I wrote. What do people want? If they want that, they can go read the National Enquirer. I don't think it's a whitewash. I think I was honest."
Other friends who have read the book say the children sound arrogant.
"There is a sense of being above the crowd," she says. "It depends on how you use it. It can make you arrogant or snotty. Or it can give you the sense of being a special person, of having a step up the ladder. I don't think that's bad."
But the book is less concerned with the foibles of the famous than it is with Kathy Cronkite. It is primarily a catharsis, a way of exorcizing the demons of disappointment and failure, of not living up to a father's expectations, an attempt to explore the privilege and pain of being Walter Cronkite's little girl, the most-trusted-man-in-America's daughter.
"Sure I hated my father. Everybody hates their parents at one point or another," she says. "Oh God, I can see the headline now: Kathy cronkite HATED HER FATHER. But not because he was famous. Sooner or later, you realize your father is not the Long Ranger."
She hated him, she says, when she realized he wasn't perfect.
"I remember vividly the first time I knew he was wrong," she wrote in her book. "The dinner conversation had somehow worked around to dolphins. I had studied them recently yet sat silently picking out the flaws in Dad's discourse, afraid to dispute them openly. Millions of people in the United States believed his every word; who was I to question it?"
Like Kathy Cronkite, Mark Vonnegut suffered from the speak-no-evil syndrome, one aspect of the complex Image Problem suffered by the celebrity children. For Vonnegut, son of author Kurt Vonnegut, it was particularly painful.
"It was very funny for me in the counterculture situation where people thought my father was a god," he told Cronkite. "That was very strange for me, to feel like just about everybody in the whole world could say their parents were idiots and get everybody to side with them. I would be the lone man out. In the generation gap, I was in a funny kind of bind. I felt a little lonely. Everybody else was complaining about their parents; I couldn't complain about mine.
Jennifer Buchwald, daughter of columnist Art Buchwald, told Cronkite:
"At first I thought, 'Ahh, ---- you. Let me do what I want.' Then I realized that it's really true, that I can wreck his image, and he's worked really hard to get his image. Who am I to wreck it? I used to smokes joints right out on the street but then I became more discreet wouldn't do things in front of people. Also, I don't want that image myself . . . Now I don't care for it at all."
Some celebrity kids deliberately avoided using The Name, assuming alter egos, denying they were any relation to Paul Newman, Zsa Zsa Gabor, William F. Buckley Jr. or Walter Cronkite. As a teen-ager in Manhattan, Kathy Cronkite sneaked out at night to go down to Greenwich Village.
"Once we were safely out the front door and on the way to Aster Place I would assume my anonymus alter ego, my alias," she wrote."If anything happened, if we got involved with some weirdo or got into trouble, it would not reflect on Dad. I wouldn't have to worry about anyone bragging that they smoked dope with Walter Cronkite's daughter."
David Wallace, son of author Irving Wallace, changed his name to Wallechinsky after a college professor, in front of the whole class, criticized one of his father's novels as an example of pulp writing. Other star offspring spoke of using aliases to avoid comparisons, to ward off hangers-on, to establish their own identities. John Blyth Barrymore, grandson of the legendary John and son of John Jr., laughed about the burden.
"They think I'm kidding when I introduce myself anyway," he told Cronkite. "I went on an open call, an audition in New York. You put your name on a list when you get there, and then you have to wait for hours. Finally, the guy gets to my name and says, 'Hey, some joker put John Barrymore.' He skipped it. Never called my name."
They talked of shared humilitations, expectations, disappointments and neglect. "I had to be loose enough to deal with the old man," says Arlo Guthrie, son of folk legend Woody Guthrie, "who's go to the store for a pack of cigarettes and show up in L.A. three weeks later. Just got lost, y'know."
Most of the celebrity children said they hated hearing news off their famous parents secondhand. Kathy Cronkite wrote that her greatest fear is hearing the news of her father's death on television. "Every time an announcer says 'We interrupt this program . . .' I freeze. I am afraid of not being allowed to grieve . . . of having cameras and microphones thrust at me and intrude upon me . . ."
Over half of the celebrity kids Cronkite interviewed came from broken homes. Most had experienced a certain amount of privilege -- piano lessons, governesses, exotic trips -- but the sense of specialness rarely came from the famous parent.
The celebrity kids Cronkite chronicled found themselves competing with the public for their parents' attention, which often led to jealousy, anger and self-destructive appeal for attention. "I literally worshipped my father," said John Ritter. "There were times when I was really jealous of the public. I wanted more time with him."
So did Susan Newman, daughter of Paul Newman.
"I think that constant interruption is probably the most bothersome thing about the fame. Maybe that's where some of the anger comes from: you haven't seen your old man in four months, and you're trying to tell him how you flunked out of school and your boyfriend is a junkie -- or whatever the major catastrophe is."
Even Walter Cronkite, America's father figure, wasn't immune to the aloofness that characterized most celebrities' relationships with their children.
"I never had a lot of time with him alone," says Kathy Cronkite, in a slightly husky voice not unlike her father's. "We had time together as a family." On one of those outings, Kathy's older sister Nancy recalls in the book:
"I was very young. He's be heeling the boat over quite a bit, and I'd start to get afraid and he'd turn around and say, 'Oh, Nancy you're such a coward!' It really hurt my feelings."
Both sisters resented their father's success and rebelled by joining the counterculture, living in tepees, Zen communes, experimenting with drugs. They weren't alone.
Christopher Buckley, son of conservative columnist and talk-show host William F. Buckley Jr., told of the time he took LSD with a few friends and went home to get a sweater.
"So I walked in the front door and tripped over a coaxial cable in the foyer. The place looked like the Democratic convention. There are lights and cables everywhere. The first person I saw was Mike Wallace . . . there he was, thrusting out his hand saying, 'Oh good, I'm glad you're here. You're on in five minutes!'
"I thought, oh dear. I went up and found my mom who was getting dressed up for her interview and said, 'I'm not doing this.'
"She said, 'You must do this. It's for your father.'
"I said, 'What do I have to do with "60 Minutes"?'
"It's for your father, change your shirt.'"
In "severe, advanced stages of hallucination," Christopher Buckley did the interview.
Most of the celebrity kids became hardened to the fact that every false step was fodder for gossip columnists. Still, they found themselves following in the footsteps of their parents, career wise. Some successful, others not.
Kathy Cronkite's father wanted her to be a journalist. She chose acting instead. He wanted her to finish college. She dropped out six times. She married a college sweetheart at 19 and changed her name. She was no longer Kathy Cronkite.
In the book she recalls taking a computer class under her married name. The teacher began talking about her father.
"'I just think Walter Cronkite's the greatest,' the teacher said.
"'Yeah, so do I,' I agreed, 'He's my father.' It was the first time I remember my pride overcoming my embarrassment enough for me to volunteer the fact.
"'Yes,' was the response. "The nation's father figure.'
"'No, I mean he's really my father.'
"'Oh I know,' my teacher persisted. 'A lot of people feel that way.'
"'Yeah,' I said, giving up. 'I guess they do.'"
"I had a good friend when I was little whose father was killed," says Cronkite. "Her fantasy was that Dad was her father. It's kind of creepy, but I guess a lot of people felt that way."
She won't talk about her first husband. But sometime after the divorce and her marriage last Valentine's Day to Bill Ikard, a Houston attorney, she grew up. Therapy helped. So did her budding career in Hollywood, where she landed parts in "Network," "The Trial of Billy Jack" and a failed NBC television series, "Hizzoner."
A photographer arrives suddenly. She is not prepared. She is wearing no makeup, but the color is rising in her cheeks.
"If an interview is bad, I can blame the interviewer. If a picture comes out bad, I'm ugly."
The nagging self-doubt is back, at least temporarily.
If she had it to do all over again, she says, "I would never choose another father. Whether or not I'd choose another job for him, I don't know."
Says Nancy Sherman, daughter of Allan "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda" Sherman, "Nobody should be born the child of a celebrity. They should be adopted right away."