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SCOTT SIMON, host:

A couple of generations have grown up with Kathie Lee Gifford. She was Tom Kennedy's singing sidekick on "Name That Tune."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Name That Tune")

Mr. TOM GIFFORD (Game Show Host): Kathie?

(Soundbite of song)

(Soundbite of applause)

SIMON: I wonder if you remember "Hee Haw Honeys."

Ms. KATHIE LEE GIFFORD (Author): (Unintelligible)

SIMON: Kathie Lee Gifford has joined us already from New York. I was going to play…

Ms. GIFFORD: (Singing) Memories, like the - oy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, we had other clips lined up, but you came in and pre-empted.

Ms. GIFFORD: I'm sorry.

SIMON: No. I'm glad you did. Don't worry.

Ms. GIFFORD: People should learn not to keep my microphone on, you know? Don't turn it on till you're ready.

SIMON: Well, we were hoping you would say something indiscrete. So that's why we kept the microphone on. Nice to talk to you.

Ms. GIFFORD: And to you, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: Let me just explain that after an eight-year hiatus from television, where she appeared with a guy named Regis, she's back now on the forth hour, the mid-morning hour, of "Today," and still singing and writing musicals. And she has a new book out, Kathie Lee Gifford's "Just When I Thought I'd Dropped My Last Egg."

Ms. GIFFORD: Which sounds so funny when you say it, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIFFORD: I love it when men say the title.

SIMON: You have a brief thing here where you touch on plastic surgery.

Ms. GIFFORD: Oh, right.

SIMON: You talk about the fact here that you have had some surgery done but on your feet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And for the life of me, I didn't know they had that kind of surgery for feet.

Ms. GIFFORD: My feet after 40 years in show business were 80-year-old gnarly Rockette feet. You know, my feet had decided where I was going to go, how long I was going to be able to do it. And when I - this is ridiculous, get this stinking feet cleaned. Not cleaned. They're always clean. Get them fixed and let's quit talking about this.

And it was one month of abject agony, I wanted to absolutely strangle my Zimbabwean surgeon, don't ask. But then, you know, when the booties come off and you're kicking it up, baby, and you're thinking about doing "Dancing with the Stars," he's a genius and he's absolutely revolutionized my life. That doesn't mean I won't get my face done this year. But there are no plans at the moment.

SIMON: People will hear us interviewing you.

Ms. GIFFORD: Uh-huh.

SIMON: And we will get complaints from people who will say she had her clothes made in sweatshops that exploited people.

Ms. GIFFORD: Right.

SIMON: I want to give you a chance to clear that up.

Ms. GIFFORD: Well, actually wrong, but go ahead.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, I want to give you the chance to clear the record.

Ms. GIFFORD: I had simply licensed my name for the production of my clothing. Wal-Mart had signed a code of conduct. I went to Albany and lobbied the state legislature there, which for nine years a bill called the hot goods bill had been languishing in committee.

Governor Pataki at the time said, Kathie, will you get behind this bill? I said absolutely. Because it wasn't something I was personally guilty of. But in the process of discovery, I realized that there are real sweatshops in the world. I truly did not know that. Certainly didn't own any factories, had never hired anybody, because how could I hire somebody to sow something if I didn't have a factory to sow it in? I can't imagine going through something like that if I'd actually been guilty of it.

SIMON: I was delighted but a little bit surprised to realize that, I must say, you and I have shared two of the favorite people in the world.

Ms. GIFFORD: Would Paul Newman be one of them?

SIMON: No. I got nothing against - Mr. Newman is a great guy. No, I was thinking of the unlikely duo of Stephen Sondheim and Dolly Parton. And a lot of people don't know, you sang in a Stephen Sondheim musical and he thought you were terrific.

Ms. GIFFORD: I did. I took over for Carol Barnett in "Putting It Together" in 1999. Of course I was doing five shows a week with Regis as well, so - but it was an unbelievable experience in my life.

Threatened, actually, my Broadway debut - it looked like there might be a stagehand strike looming. So I remember saying to Stephen, the one time I got to do my rehearsal with the band, orchestra, costumes, I got one shot at it before I had to open. I remember standing backstage in my dressing room with him and I said, you know, Stephen, if I never get my Broadway debut, I will have gotten everything I could have ever hoped for from this experience.

And he looked at me and he says, Because you did the work. I said, yeah, I did the work, and the work itself is the reward. And as it turned out, I was able to make my debut and got the best reviews of my life. I'm not used to good reviews. It might come as a big shock to you, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIFFORD: And if anybody really wants to kill me, give me a great review, I'll have a heart attack and die from shock.

SIMON: I don't want to lose sight of Dolly Parton.

Ms. GIFFORD: Well, Dolly and I have been friends for years. We met years ago when I was doing "Hee Haw Honeys." She is one of the first people, she and Barry Manilow, who just encouraged my writing career. I had written a song called "Only My Pillow Knows." Dolly loved it. She said, Kathie, that's one of the best songs I ever heard and I'm going to record it some day.

And I said, well, Dolly in the meantime will you sing back-up on it for me? So she's on my "Born For You" album singing back-up. The last six months I was at "Regis and Kathie Lee" she was a guest. I would send my songs to her and she'd write back and critique things. And I walked into my dressing room and she had written in lipstick on my mirror: Kathie Lee, you are a writer. Love, Dolly. And I left it there for six months.

Then she came in to my house years later. We were trying to get a sitcom together with Marilu Henner. And so our agent, Sam Haskell, came to the house and we three ladies discussed it. But I had warned my son, Cody, he must have been about eight or nine at the time. I said, Cody, if you even look at her breasts, I will move your hiney, I will just move it. So the day it finally came, Cody, he was so terrified, and so I said, I said, Cody Gifford, you come into this room right now. Do I have to, Mom? Yes, you do. So he backs into the room…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIFFORD: …with his head down looking at the floor. Dolly, of course, has no idea why he's doing that. She lifts him up, hugs him directly into the promise land, gives a big (makes noise) you know, snuggles him right in there. Cody about passed out. Cody, he has not been the same…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIFFORD: …since Dolly Parton came to visit.

SIMON: I know our clock is ticking down.

Ms. GIFFORD: Hmm.

SIMON: But I don't want to let you go without getting you to talk about your brush with the Manson family.

Ms. GIFFORD: Yup, yup. I was about 21, 22 years old, years ago. I went to the California's Men Penal Colony in San Luis Obispo, California with my sister to do a television show with Pat Boone and a man named Chaplain Ray, who had a prison ministry. It's 120 degrees, we were dressed in like Katherine Coleman polygamy cult-type dresses, because…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIFFORD: …heaven forbid these 2,400 maximum security inmates find us attractive. Well, we were in the middle of the finale when all of the power went out. The man that was chosen to be my sister's and my bodyguard at the penal institute is a guy named Tex Watson, who apparently had found God in prison. Well, that was after he murdered seven people in the Charles Manson murders. Now, when I think bodyguard, Scott, I think Kevin Costner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GIFFORD: That's what I think. I don't think Tex Watson. Well, here I am squeezing Tex Watson's hand for security because I don't know what those 2,400 maximum security prisoners are going to do while they've got us there and then the warden and his wife sitting in the front row. I have had a very weird life, Scott, very weird. Even weirder than yours.

SIMON: You know, I don't doubt that. Can I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But an interesting, fascinating life.

Ms. GIFFORD: Thank You, Scott. You've been so gracious and I'm so grateful to you. Thank you so much.

SIMON: Well, nice talking to you.

Ms. GIFFORD: You too.

SIMON: Kathie Lee Gifford. Her new memoir is "Just When I Thought I'd Dropped My Last Egg." Boy, you're right, I don't say that well at all. "Life and Other Calamities." Her next musical, "Keeping it Real," will premiere at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, date yet to be determined. And you can find an excerpt from Kathie Lee Gifford's new book on our Web site at npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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