Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams is all about curves. She isn’t shy about showing hers off, of course. And she isn’t above throwing one or two at the celebrities she interviews. The Wendy Williams Show is 60 minutes of live, hold-on-tight entertainment, where anything can happen and almost anything goes. Make no mistake, however. Williams is both under and in control. She understands her business as well as anyone and, although she lives for the moment, her eye is always on the horizon. Indeed, as EDGE’S Gerry Strauss discovered, the most important curve for Wendy is the one she always seems to be out in front of.

EDGE: When did you decide that you wanted to be in broadcasting? 

WW: Sixth grade. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in school, but I enjoyed reading books and I enjoyed writing. I knew I could do it. I thought that being a newscaster or a radio personality was definitely it. One of the two.

EDGE: Who were your influences?

WW: The black broadcasters in New York, like Sue Simmons, Vic Miles and Chi Chi Williams. In college, I majored in communications and minored in journalism. I immediately got involved with the college radio station, where I was reading news at the top of the hour. Radio was my second choice, actually, because I thought that you had to know an awful lot about music and you had to have an air of cool. I was a lot of things when I was younger, but cool was not one of them. I wasn’t in the in-crowd. So I read the news on the college radio station. One day, one of the DJ’s did not show up and they said, “You have to do it.”

EDGE: Were you scared?

WW: I was frightened to death. But I found that it’s not about cool. It’s not even about the music. Radio personalities—back then they called them DJ’s—were just the conduit from one song to the next. If you wanted the personality part kicked in, where I would know a little bit more about something, like: “That was LL Cool J, this new rapper on the scene with ‘I Need a Beat.’ When I was home at Christmas, LL Cool J performed at this club in yadda yadda yadda…and I heard that he left with three girls.” People would be curious, “What else do you know?”

EDGE: And as your career developed, how did you develop sources for celebrity gossip?

WW: At clubs. Fast forward to 1988. I was 25 years old and got my first New York job. It was at a dance music station called Hot 103.9, which is now Hot 97. I was a single, young New York girl making $60,000 a year, with no student loans and no car notes, living life like it’s golden. I would do two or three appearances a night, seven nights a week, being paid to go to nightclubs. I was in the VIP area so, of course, I would be seeing things that I would bring back to the radio. Through the years, that’s how it’s been.

EDGE: That kind of access is a powerful thing.

WW: It is. And when you have that access, you have to choose, if that makes sense. I chose the audience over the celebrities. People like that extra information, but you have to choose which side you’re on. You can’t serve two masters. You can’t be friends and go to a party and hang out with celebrities, and then betray their trust and talk about them. You cannot do that. That’s not being a good friend.

EDGE: As you worked your way to the New York market prior to 1988, did you spend time in some wacky places?

WW: Fortunately, I didn’t. It all happened pretty quickly for me. I spent eight months in Saint Croix, then I worked in Washington, D.C. for another eight months. I desperately missed Jersey while in Washington. They’re so conservative. And you can’t get a parking space! Then, right after D.C., I started working in Manhattan, and I lived in Jersey the whole time. Jersey has never been far from my heart.

EDGE: Your radio career coincided with the rise of the “shock jock,” and often you are mentioned as part of that genre.

WW: I don’t particularly care for the term “shock jock.” It brings up distasteful man humor and I don’t find anything that I say so shocking. My delivery is not so shocking—I speak like you speak. But I’ll take it as a compliment, only because it put me in good company with my friend Howard Stern, who is one of the greatest personalities on radio ever…which means that I must be one of the greatest personalities ever!

EDGE: Does that realness and honesty you bring to the air ever present a challenge for you when you’re off the clock?

WW: It can be challenging. When I walk in a room, people sort of react as if Godzilla walked in. They’ve always wanted to see or be near me, but they don’t know how to react. It’s like, “If I touch her will I burn? If she catches me looking at her, will she say something?” It’s partly my reputation and partly my presence. I’m taller than most men and women once I put my heels on, and I have a larger frame than the average woman—but it all works for me. I actually enjoy walking into a room and watching everyone scatter, because the truth is that I’m a pussycat. I’m honest, not mean-spirited, so whatever is making them scatter, I know that if they gave me a chance, they would love me.

EDGE: Celebrity gossip has become a 24-7 industry. As someone who helped to pioneer that type of reporting, what do you think of the way our celebrity culture has grown?

WW: I’m very happy about how the thirst for celebrity information has grown. But, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that we continually hear about basically the same 150 celebrities. They are in the weekly magazines. They are on TMZ. Every once in a while, you’ll get a new celebrity in the mix. But it’s basically the same 150 celebrities. There are a lot more than 150 famous people out there, but they are not in the magazines or on TMZ.

Photo by Nadine Raphael

EDGE: Why is that?

WW: Because they live in Jersey. Because they live in Maine. Because they live in Connecticut. Not Manhattan. Not L.A. or Calabasas, where the Kardashians live. If Alec Baldwin doesn’t want to be bugged, then he should move to Jersey. Do you understand? We know where to get “papped” [photographed by the paparazzi]. In Manhattan, there’s a place called Michael’s. They have Celebrity Wednesdays. I only go there with my mother and father because they love the whole celebrity culture. I think it’s cute. When they come to the show, they come on a Wednesday and we go to Michael’s afterwards. They know to straighten up because, as soon as we open the car door, we’re going to get papped—and then put in the Daily News the next day. If I don’t want to get papped, I’m not going to go eat lunch at Fred’s At Barneys. I’m going to go up the street to Lair. There’s no paparazzi at Lair.

EDGE: So you think a lot of it is voluntary?

WW: Absolutely. Can I tell you something? Paparazzi aren’t just sitting in people’s neighborhoods taking pictures of them strolling with their kids. Fifty percent of them get photos because they go to places like The Ivy or Michael’s. And then the other fifty percent, they call the photographer and say, “I’m going to bring a blanket in the park and I’m going to have my kids.” Isn’t that stupid?Stupidest thing ever!

Photo courtesy of Essence Communications, Inc.

EDGE: Let’s talk about your show. For those who don’t know, The Wendy Williams Show is broadcast live.

WW: I love that.

EDGE: How was that decision made?

WW: They told me You’re going to be live and I said, Great. I’ve got stuff to do after the show. I’ve got groceries to buy. Nobody has time to be up in this dusty studio all day. At 11:01, I’m free. I go home, I become Wendy Hunter. We’re live out of New York four days a week. We tape Friday’s show on Thursday afternoon, so Friday I’m free to go to Home Depot, work on an outside project, whatever.

Photo courtesy of Essence Communications, Inc.

EDGE: Do you ever worry about something going wrong on live TV?

WW: I may make it look like perhaps something will go wrong, but remember, I had almost 25 years of broadcasting live radio four hours a day. I’ve been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. I’ve won several awards. I’m part of an elite group. You don’t get that far by slipping up; you get that far by making it look easy. But it really is not. I curse like a sailor in real life but I’ve never cursed on the radio. I’m a trained broadcaster. So, for me, live TV? It’s the best.

EDGE: Who haven’t you interviewed yet, but want to? Who’s on your wish list?

WW: I would love to talk to Michelle Obama. I don’t even want to talk to her about First Lady stuff. And I wouldn’t ask her to do a push-up or to dance, or talk about issues. I’d want to talk about life. “When is the last time you drove a car, girl?What kind of moisturizer do you use?” I’d want to talk to her because she just turned 50, and I just turned 50. She’s a mother, I’m a mother. She’s a prominent person and I’m working on my prominence. In terms of having a wish list? Well, doing a talk show and being a professional talker, you realize that there really is no such thing as a wish list, because sometimes the very people that you wish for end up being the worst conversationalists. I’ve had better conversations with cab drivers than I’ve had with some celebrities I’ve met.

EDGE: If your show ever got to the point where they wanted to move it to the West Coast, would you consider that?

WW: Oh my gosh, I shudder and I wince and I wince and I shudder! There was actually an informal offer to do that back when I was in radio and I couldn’t do it. It’s a nice place to visit—all due respect—but I’m not that girl and those aren’t my people. These are my people in the Northeast.

EDGE: Will you reach a point where you’d want to do something other than TV, or just stop doing TV?

WW: I do have a date when I want this show to end if—God willing—it doesn’t get canceled. Listen, we’ve been renewed to 2017. I’ll need a few more years after that. I knew that when I signed up for this show, and I had the conversation with my husband. I told him that I don’t want to do this forever—and we hadn’t even gotten started at that point. I treasure my privacy. I treasure having a life. The best part about my job is actually doing my job. Maybe the worst part about it is taking pictures and doing autographs—the stuff that regular people would consider fabulous is really not. Right now, I’m taking steps to set things up to earn a living after The Wendy Williams Show, but behind the scenes as opposed to in front of the cameras. It’s a situation where my husband will take the reins, and my son will have a built-in opportunity to work in the family business. The Wendy Williams Production Company will create everything from reality TV to Lifetime movies to docu-series. That’s what I want next. I also want to establish a platform where I can do more public speaking—from keynote addresses to charity events to PSAs. I want to get out and be able to do things that I don’t really have the time to do now, things that would be helping to make the world a better place.

EDGE: Talk about the privacy issue if you would.

WW: Ten years ago, I could take my kid to Great Adventure and I didn’t have to think about what time or day we are going to go. These days it’s, “You know what?I can’t go. I’m going to have my assistant drive you and your friends.” Ten years ago, life was just different. I never want to discount my radio career, but it wasn’t as visual and it wasn’t as widespread. It was mostly an urban audience, and you knew where the How you doin’s were going to come from. Now they come from everybody. So yes, there are challenges, but nothing that I can’t get around. Also, I have to say that people treat you the way you put it out there. When I am driving around my town, I do all the Home Depot-ing, all the Target-ing, all of the grocery shopping—all of the everything—and people know it’s me. But when they say How you doin’ I say, “Hi, how are you?” and that’s it.

EDGE: Friendly.

WW: Right. You engage…and then you disengage. Busy, busy, busy. People respect that. EDGE

Editor’s Note: If you know anything about Wendy Williams, then you know that the entirety of this interview couldn’t possibly be contained within these pages. For more on her career choices, being a parent and role model, the future of radio, and her list of favorite things, log onto edgemagonline.com!

Robert A. Caro

Photo by Larry D. Moore/CC BY:SA3.0

Robert A. Caro has spent nearly four decades chronicling the life of Lyndon B. Johnson, tracing his roots from a Texas farmhouse all the way to the White House. Through his biographies of Johnson and Robert Moses, Caro has illuminated the American political process and how power is wielded within our government. He is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, and has won numerous other awards and accolades throughout his career. To EDGE interviewer Jesse Caro, he is something more than that: Caro is his grandfather (aka “Bop”). A recent college graduate embarking on a career in journalism, Jesse wielded his own political power to arrange a sit-down with the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author. The topic: Caro’s own formative post-graduate experiences in his chosen profession.

EDGE: After graduating from Princeton—where you were the Managing Editor of the Daily Princetonian—you became a reporter. What drew you, early on, to journalism?

RC: That’s a question I’ve been asked before, but I’m not sure I know the answer to that. In the beginning, I liked trying to figure out how things worked, and wanted to explain that to people. When I first went to work for this little paper in New Jersey, I almost immediately narrowed that down to an interest in politics because, it seemed to me, that’s what matters. Almost immediately, I realized the idea of politics I had in college had very little to do with the way politics worked, and that I didn’t know how politics worked. Every day, I was learning something as a reporter. And since I felt like, if power in a democracy ultimately comes from us and the votes we cast, then the better informed people are about the realities of politics—not what we learned in textbooks in high school and college, but the way they really worked—the better informed our votes would be. And presumably the better our country would be. So I almost immediately started to be interested in politics for that reason.

EDGE: How did that lead you into investigative reporting?

RC: Purely by accident. I went to Newsday, and I was the low man on the totem pole. But Newsday was a crusading newspaper.

EDGE: Is that why you wanted to work there?

RC: Yes, that’s I wanted to work there. But I hadn’t done any crusading—I was still low on the paper. They had a managing editor named Alan Hathway, a figure straight out of the 1920’s and The Front Page—rambunctious, freewheeling, crusading. But he really didn’t like the idea of the Ivy League. He had always said he didn’t want anybody from the Ivy League in his city room. While he was on vacation, his assistant, I think as sort of a joke, hired me. Hathway was so mad when he came back, he wouldn’t talk to me. He would walk by my desk without saying a word. But Newsday was doing a terrific thing.

There had been an Air Force base in the middle of Nassau County called Mitchel Field, and the Air Force didn’t need it any more. Real estate developers were coming into to Nassau County and they wanted it.

EDGE: How was Newsday covering the story?

RC: Well, the FAA wanted to give most of the land to real estate developers and keep part of it as a general aviation airport—which means a corporate airport—so all these big companies could have corporate jets and fly into the middle of Nassau County. Newsday was trying to prove that influence was being used by the developers and big corporations on the FAA, but the paper wasn’t having success in doing that. So I was in the city room on a Saturday afternoon and the phone rings. It’s a guy from the FAA. He said, “I know that what you’re doing is right, and if you want to be able to prove it, I’ll let you. Just send someone down here…there’s no one here but me.”

EDGE: So this story fell into your lap.

RC: Yes, totally out of nowhere. It was the weekend of the Newsday picnic, and everybody went except basically me.

EDGE: Did you try to contact anyone?

RC: I called all the editors. Everyone was away; everyone was at this beach. Finally, I get some editor who tells me I’ll have to go myself. Well, I had never done anything like this before. So I drove down and the guy let me in, and he basically pointed me to a couple of file cabinets. He said, “Those are the things you want to look at.” I didn’t go home—I worked all that night and all the next day, and wrote a memo for the editors on what I had found. The Monday morning after this, Alan’s secretary calls early in the morning and says, “Alan wants to see you.” Alan had never said a word to me. All the way driving in I was thinking, I’m going to be fired…I’ve got to keep my head up. When I get to the doorway, I see he’s reading the memo about what I found in the files. He looks up and he says, “I didn’t know someone from Princeton could go through files like this. From now on, you do investigative work.”

EDGE: Is it something you’d wanted to do?

RC: Yes, but you say it like I planned everything out. That’s an exaggeration. I knew that what I wanted to do was politics. What I wanted to do was find out how politics really worked.

EDGE: You’ve told me in the past you worked for a county Democratic organization in New Jersey in the 1950s? Did that experience spur your interest in politics?

RC: It did. I graduated from Princeton in 1957 and got married the day after I graduated. We went on this honeymoon for two months, driving around the country, and got back somewhere around Labor Day. I went to work on a paper in New Jersey that was tied in with the Middlesex County and New Brunswick political machine. It almost sounds funny—their chief political reporter would be given a leave of absence for every election so he could write speeches for the Middlesex County Democratic organization. He had a heart attack, so he couldn’t work for a while. He wanted to make sure he had this speech-writing job when he came back, so he wanted to be replaced as speechwriter by someone who was no threat to him. So who better than this kid from Princeton? That’s why I got the job. There was an election coming up and Joe Takacs was the political boss of the city of New Brunswick—a guy who ruled that city with an iron hand. I really did get a look at politics because he really liked me, and he took me with him everywhere. But then the following thing happened. On election day, he did what I later found out was called “riding the polls.” His regular driver took off, and a police captain was the driver for the day. We drove around in this big black car from polling place to polling place. At each place a police officer—a lieutenant or a captain—would come over to the car and basically say that everything was in order. Then we got to this one place where there was a commotion going on between a group of black people and police officers. This [police officer] came over to the car and said something to the effect of, “We’ve had trouble here, but we’re taking care of it now.” I looked over, and they had brought two paddy wagons, and there was a bunch of policeman herding these neatly dressed men—ties and jackets—and young women none too gently into the paddy wagons. They had been trying to be poll-watchers, to make sure the voting was honest, so they had to be gotten rid of.

EDGE: How long did you stay on after seeing this?

RC: When this happened right in front of me, a number of things got to me. It was the meekness with which they were taking this treatment—as if it was expected and they were resigned to it, and I couldn’t stand it. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to be in the car; I wanted to be out there with them. So the next time the car stopped I just opened the door and got out. I didn’t know it then, but my interests were coming more and more to politics, and more and more to how politics really work. I wouldn’t say I was interested in investigative journalism—I was interested in understanding how politics really worked. And then this [story] happened at Newsday, and Alan said to me, “From now on, you do investigative work.” With my usual savoir faire in moments like this, I said, “But I don’t know anything about investigative journalism.”

EDGE: I’m sure that’s what he wanted to hear.

RC: Well, he said, “I’ll sit you next to [Robert] Greene,” who was a great investigative reporter, and he taught me a lot. And Alan taught me a lot. I learned a lot of things that a lot of reporters never learned. I know how to go through court papers. I know how to trace land transactions. I learned that all from them. I was getting a lesson every day. I learned things then that have guided me all my life, and the simplest thing is: Turn every page. I was going through some files, and I asked Alan some advice about something, and I’ve never forgotten: He said, “Never assume a damn thing. Turn every page.” That has guided me through my whole life.

EDGE: You mean to be thorough, to make sure you don’t miss anything.

RC: Yes. You don’t assume. You never know what’s going to be on a piece of paper. When you get to the Lyndon Johnson Library, the first two floors are a museum. Then you come around the corner and there is this marble staircase. And here are Lyndon Johnson’s papers…there’s four floors of them. They go back—I keep wanting to measure this—it’s like hundreds of feet. The last time they counted, they said there were forty-four million documents, so you couldn’t possibly turn every page and read every page. You’d have to have many lifetimes to do it. My first book [on Johnson] was going to be almost all on his congressional period. So while there were thousands and thousands of boxes, the number of boxes that had to do with the congressional period was manageable—there were 349 boxes. I thought if I was doing what Alan taught me, I would go through every piece of paper in those boxes. It would probably take about a year and a half or something, but you can do it. And by doing that, I found out all these things that people thought could never be found out. All the biographies—there were already a lot of Johnson biographies when I started—they all sort of knew that Brown & Root, this big Texas contracting firm, had financed him. And everyone said, Well, we can never find out about it because no one would talk about it. But I said, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this the same way I was as a reporter—I’m going to turn every page.” And in some file—whatever the file was, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with this—there was this telegram from George Brown, an actual telegram from George Brown to Lyndon Johnson in October, 1940 saying, Lyndon, the checks are on the way.

EDGE: How many years have you spent on Lyndon Johnson now?

RC: I started in 1976.

EDGE: I imagine that immersing yourself in one person’s life for that long must give you incredible insight into who that person is—which is something that I don’t think you could get from being a journalist. Is that something you were seeking, or is that something that just happened based on the nature of your work?

RC: That wasn’t something I was really interested in, in the beginning.

EDGE: Do you feel as though it’s something you have come to appreciate?

RC: If you spend that much time with someone, you feel like you know them. My interest is not telling the life of a great man.

EDGE: It’s in political power?

Robert and Jesse Caro. Never turn your back on grandpa!

RC: Yes, but you immerse yourself, and when Johnson is doing something, you say to yourself, “Well now he’s going to do something.”

EDGE: The way you might with a friend or a close acquaintance?

RC: A really close acquaintance that you’ve spent a lot of time with.

EDGE: Have you found that LBJ’s political life reflected his personal life? Or was Johnson a different person at home than he would have been in the White House or Congress?

RC: Johnson—I can answer quickly—he was the same person.