Barbara Walters fixes that withering investigative stare at Barbra Streisand and puts it to her: "Why didn't you have your nose fixed?" Priscilla Presley is locked into target and asked of her relationship with the late, fat Elvis, "In those six years of sleeping with him every night, you never had intercourse with him . . . Priscilla, why?"
She is gentler with Princess Caroline of Monaco, Grace Kelly's kid, but after all, this is, as Walters tells us, Caroline's "first American television interview." Of Kelly's marriage to Prince Rainier, Walters asks the daughter, "Did you see pictures of their wedding? Wasn't that exquisite?" Good gosh and glorioski, Barbara Walters is back for another season, a "10th anniversary season," no less, of "The Barbara Walters Specials," those unmissable, rollicking interview shows, starting with a 90-minuter tonight at 9 on Channel 7.
We all know Walters would have probably preferred this to be called "Four Remarkable Women," as well it could have been. Princess Caroline is first to face Madame La Guillotine, who is pretty as a postcard in pink and pearls. Prince Rainier is consulted briefly, as is Princess Stephanie, and then we get to Caroline, "as gracious and as articulate as she is beautiful" (much the way Streisand's "will is as incomparable as her voice," later). She is asked standard Walters questions like "What is the biggest misconception about you?" (that she is a party girl) and "has motherhood changed you?" (yes).
On that topic, Princess C says, "Women are stronger and kinder than men, because they know the price of life. They give it." Nice. I like this princess! She has her mother's liquid crystal voice. But on to other princesses: Barbara meets Barbra, whom she says she first interviewed on her first prime-time special 10 years ago. "We looked a lot different then," Walters says, "we" meaning her, and she's right. Ten years ago she looked 10 years older than she does now.
Streisand and Walters get along fine, but then, Walters is a specialist at sympathy for the celebrated. She pours it out like hot cocoa from a thermos. Even Princess Caroline got some -- the poor little rich girl kind. "Is it hard for him?" Walters asked of the princess' husband. Aw, is being wich as Cwoesus a tewwible tewwible burden? Streisand gets plenty of empathetic sympatico. After all, she has suffered so for her art. And all that. And there she sits on her Malibu ranch (40 acres, five houses) trying to sort it all out.
It's a good interview, but just once it would have been nice if both these tough gals had let their guards down and swapped dirty jokes.
Streisand says she is "filled with self-doubt" and has "supersonic hearing" (which she doesn't seem to relate to the fact that her mother boxed her ears when she was 9), and, as she did with Geraldo Rivera in a rather excruciating one-hour "20/20" interview two years ago, disgorges the occasional pearl of darkest Hollywood beachthink: "It's very important for me to be who I am" and "I feel myself becoming whole."
The most interesting part of the interview concerns the snubbing Streisand got from the motion picture academy after her enviably accomplished first feature (as a producer-director), "Yentl," came out. "I was kind of amused by it," Streisand says, not sounding bitter. Walters asks if Streisand were the object of Jewish self-hatred. "I think there is some Jewish self-hatred among Jews," Streisand says. "They'd rather not draw attention to themselves," and therefore may have been uncomfortable with "Yentl's" proudly Jewish milieu.
Streisand is not asked what kind of tree she would like to be but rather, "If you were a character in a screenplay, how would you describe you?" ("a mass of contradictions . . . unattractive and beautiful . . ."). To a query about whether she wants to be married again, she turns tables and asks Walters, "Do you?" and Walters of course says "Yes" because she is engaged to Lorimar cofounder Merv Adelson. And if some day in the future Walters doesn't let somebody with cameras and mikes into her and Merv's place for one of these get-a-gander-at-the-digs encounters, well, shame on her, that's all. Say, maybe she could interview herself.
Finally, Priscilla Presley discusses life with the apparently incorrigible Elvis, who liked to stay locked in a chilly bedroom with her for weeks on end kissing and smooching and taking Polaroid pictures. He made her over to fit "a trashy kind of look" he liked in women (they met when she was 14 and he was stationed in Germany), once threw a chairful of records at her, and gave her Dexedrine and sleeping pills to get her up and down, she reports. Yet she still loved him and still loves him -- "that fat, bloated man," as Walters refers to him.
"Priscilla, will you tell me what was so wonderful about him?" Well, no, she won't -- not very descriptively anyway. But so what. This is still a lot more fun than watching the gang on "This Week With David Brinkley" play ring around the rosy with Caspar Weinberger. Probably more informative, too.
Let the record show, as Phil Donahue likes to say, that Walters has a different outfit and even a different hairdo for each interview (with Streisand she wears pants, with Presley a salmon and white sweater) and that if there is a human being on the planet Earth who could do a better job than she does at this sort of thing, or would want to, let that person speak now or forever watch TV.
Among other kudos, Walters richly deserves the straight face award. Who else could keep one when recounting with Presley how she ran off with her karate instructor after Elvis got fat and bloated, or indeed maintain one in all apparent seriousness when Princess Caroline says of herself and her royal spousey, "We're normal, simple people." It's not the first autumn leaf we yearn to see each September, is it? It's the first Barbara Walters special.