Alec Baldwin: Rosie O'Donnell has been a standup comic, a Star Search contestant, an actress, a talk show host, a philanthropist, an activist, a magazine editor, a blogger, a Broadway and television producer, and a mom. Rosie has five kids.
Rosie O'Donnell: I love kids
Alec Baldwin: Doing it all was a pattern Rosie established early. In high school she was voted homecoming queen, prom queen, senior class president and class clown.
Rosie O'Donnell is not one to mince words, and she's never shied away from a controversial subject. Her combination of confidence and conviction has led to very public disagreements with celebrities such as Tom Selleck, Donald Trump, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck from The View.
But that same combination led to her hugely successful talk show, Rosie, where she sat down with the biggest stars of the time and talked about what mattered to them and to her. She earned herself the nickname the Queen of Nice. Rosie O'Donnell is nice and grateful for what she has. She might say that has something to do with her childhood when she suffered the hardest blow imaginable.
Rosie O'Donnell: You know, my mother died.
Alec Baldwin: How old were you?
Rosie O'Donnell: Ten.
Alec Baldwin: She died when you were ten?
Rosie O'Donnell: So that's – and there were two younger siblings and two older siblings.
Alec Baldwin: That's –
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. So that was really hard.
Alec Baldwin: That's the shadow over everything.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes, and it sort of –
Alec Baldwin: You were close to her.
Rosie O'Donnell: Not really. I mean I think that she was very Irish and reserved, like my father. There was no, 'I love you's' in the house. There was no hugging. You know, it was more – like I went to Jackie's house all the time – my best friend still – who lived across the street when I was a kid. And her mother would say, 'I love you,' to them. And I remember being struck like cold from that. Like you would say that to each other? Like no one said that to each other in my family ever until we were really older adults, and even then it was difficult.
So I remember when I had my first child – when Parker, who's now 18 – the 'I love you's' were frequent and fluid. And even now, I dropped my boy off at school this morning and he's 13 and I'm like, 'Goodbye, Blakie, I love you.' He's like, 'Love you too, mom.' Like casual, nothing, don't even – and that was so foreign to me as a child and I craved it. I craved it.
And when a mother dies in a family like that things turn to disarray. Because the washing machine, the – you know, things that my dad just had no clue about. Like he mashed the potatoes in the water. He was trying to make mashed potatoes after she died. But like all of the domesticity went out of the house and it was so kind of stark and cold and run down. You know the things that a mother's touch generally bring to your life were missing, and that's all the softness and the kind of safety and security.
Alec Baldwin: To prepare the family for a life without her, Rosie's mother taught each of her five children a different meal to cook. Rosie learned how to make London Broil, which she says she still won't eat because of the memories it conjures up. In her hometown of Commack, Long Island – not far from where I grew up – Rosie began to plot out her future in show business.
Rosie O'Donnell: I never wanted to be a talk show host. That was never my goal. I wanted to be on Broadway. So, you know, I wanted to be a Bette Midler backup singer, one of the Harlettes. So when I was, you know, in Commack High School South in 1979 and I would take the train in and see a matinee every Wednesday and cut out of school and do standing room. So my goal was Broadway. And I saw Bette on Broadway in Clams on the Halfshell, one of my first shows ever.
You know, I didn't grow up listening to Johnny Carson like every comic tells you. I didn't, you know, admire to be like –
Alec Baldwin: Joan Rivers.
Rosie O'Donnell: No. My mother didn't –
Alec Baldwin: And you didn't want to do standup either.
Rosie O'Donnell: No, I never even thought of it. My mother didn't like Joan Rivers. My mother thought she was mean and I remember my mother telling me Totie Fields was a real comedienne, Phyllis Diller was a real comedienne, but that Joan Rivers is not nice. She said you never go far in life if you –
Alec Baldwin: Because Phyllis Diller was self-deprecating.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly, and Joan made fun of Elizabeth Taylor, which I think to my mother was sacrosanct, you know? So I never like thought of it. So when I was in high school, I would do the play for the seniors, right?
Everybody makes fun of the teachers in like a Saturday Night Live type of thing the senior year. I was a freshman and they knew I was sort of into comedy and they said would you write the skits, so I did. So I was the only sort of freshman allowed to be – and for every year, sophomore, junior, I was writing these skits.
So the last year, my senior year, this guy comes in and says, 'Hey, did you write all this stuff?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Why don't you be a standup?' I said, 'I don't know how to do standup.' He goes, 'Well I own a club, the Eastside Comedy Club in Huntington, near you. Why don't you come and do standup.'
Alec Baldwin: Okay what year is that?
Rosie O'Donnell: That is 1978.
Alec Baldwin: What is a standup comedy club like in Huntington in 1978?
Rosie O'Donnell: Well I was 16 years old. I just got my license, but I wasn't really old enough to get into clubs. So I took my neighbor Doreen Norton's license. Remember when they were paper and you could take a little pin and scrape the – so I had fake I.D. to get in.
Alec Baldwin: So your whole career is built on a crime actually.
Rosie O'Donnell: Without a doubt. I was impersonating Doreen Norton.
Alec Baldwin: Okay, just wanted to clear that up.
Rosie O'Donnell: So I went in and you know, when you're 16 years old you're fearless, right? Also, everybody I knew from my high school showed up that night because it was a Saturday night or something and he let me go on and do a few minutes. I killed because everybody I knew was in the room, right? So I'd make jokes like, 'Marilyn's going out with Mitchell and Mike doesn't know.' And all my friends would be like [Laughs]. I made fun of the teachers – like common things that –
So the owner said, 'That was really good. Why don't you come back tomorrow?' So I went back the next night. I didn't know anyone. It was a school night. I bombed like you have never – oh my God, like a horrible death. And I went home and I thought, 'I don't want to do that any more.'
So I'm watching Merv Griffin and I see Jerry Seinfeld. And I see him doing his act and talking like this, and I remembered his act. There were no VCR's then, but I remembered like you know, 'My car stopped and I opened up the hood. And I'm thinkin', 'What am I lookin' for an on/off switch? On/off? And I'm thinkin' hey.'
So I remembered it. So the –
Alec Baldwin: Like we had to back then.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. So the club owner called me again, Richie, and said, 'Come back. Why don't you come back? You were good that first night.' So I come back and I do Seinfeld's act almost verbatim. And I get off stage and Richie and a bunch of other comics were standing around, 'Where did you get that material?' I said, 'This guy named Jerry who was on Merv Griffin yesterday.' They go, 'You're not allowed to do that.' I'm like, 'Why not?' They go, 'You have to write your own jokes.' I'm like, 'Wait a minute. Streisand doesn't write her own songs.'
Alec Baldwin: Did you do well – did the audience like it?
Rosie O'Donnell: Of course.
Alec Baldwin: And you're sitting there going, 'Didn't you hear those people?'
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, because they were laughing.
Alec Baldwin: They were loving me.
Rosie O'Donnell: A joke's a joke. I don't have to write the jokes. What are you, nuts?
Alec Baldwin: Barbra Streisand didn't – Harold Arlen wrote the songs, not Sinatra.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. She didn't write that stuff. So then they said why don't you just hang around here and you can watch. So I started watching, right? I started going there almost every night, watching comics. And then –
Alec Baldwin: What was the crowd like?
Rosie O'Donnell: Well back then was sort of the heyday. It was starting with the heyday. Like Eddie Murphy had just gotten on Saturday Night Live, so somebody from our little club broke out to the big time. Comedy clubs were kind of hot in the '80s.
Alec Baldwin: It was new.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah. I hit the wave at exactly the right time.
Alec Baldwin: Lorne Michaels said that to me once. He said when Saturday Night Live started back then in the mid-'70s – '75 – he said there were like six comedy clubs in the United States.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly, and you knew every standup working. There was a time when I started where I knew every female comic working in the country.
Alec Baldwin: It was all new.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. And everybody knew each other and everybody would help each other out, 'Hey, there's a Club Tickles in Warren, Ohio. I could talk to the guy for you.'
Alec Baldwin: Giggles.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. You wouldn't have to audition because you knew somebody who went there. And a lot of times I'd go to the clubs and they'd pick you up in a car at the airport and they'd have a sign. They'd be driving you back to the comedy condo and the guy would go, 'You know you're the fourth girl I had. The last three sucked. If you ain't good, I'm never bookin' a girl again.' I was like, 'No pressure.' You know, just my entire gender is riding on this.
So you know, the guy – the comic called me and said, 'Come back,' and I did. I was hanging out there and then I would do open mic night. So Shirley Hemphill – do you remember What's Happening?
Alec Baldwin: Uh-huh.
Rosie O'Donnell: Big, heavy black lady, she played –
Alec Baldwin: Uh-huh.
Rosie O'Donnell: Okay, she was the headliner. Now that was a big deal in 1980, right? She was the headliner and she's there a day early watching open mic night. I come off the stage, she comes over to me, she goes, 'Little one. Little one, come here.' I said, 'Yeah?' Now I'm an 18-year-old kid, Alec, but I look about 14, right?
Alec Baldwin: Sure.
Rosie O'Donnell: She says, 'You're funny. Come with me.' She takes me in through the kitchen to Richie's office and says, 'I want her to open for me this weekend.' And he goes, 'No way. She's too new. She doesn't have any act.' She says, 'I want her to MC. I want her to open and do every show, and I want you to pay her twenty-five bucks a night.' That was a hundred dollars. I was 18 and in high school. I thought my head was gonna explode.
Alec Baldwin: You were a Kennedy.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, exactly. My head was gonna explode. And so she really helped my career. I started doing that and then I never stopped.
Alec Baldwin: And you did that until – Star Search was '82.
Rosie O'Donnell: '84.
Alec Baldwin: '84 was when you were on.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes. Right. So I –
Alec Baldwin: Now obviously this idea of the talent search show, this goes back to Leonard Sillman on Broadway years ago. This has been forever, and then of course there's a renaissance of this now with The Voice and the hand and the foot and the tongue and every other show.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. Right.
Alec Baldwin: What was that like back then for you?
Rosie O'Donnell: Well it was unbelievable because unlike -
Alec Baldwin: Star Search was big.
Rosie O'Donnell: Huge. And unlike today where there are so many media platforms and there are so many shows like it, we had four channels, five maybe. I remember my Nana, whenever somebody was on, like Totie Fields was on Merv Griffin or the Don Ho Show, which was on at 12:00 in the afternoon, I'd have my Nana press play and record on the cassette player so I could listen to Totie Fields on the shows that I would miss at school. I think back about that now and it's kind of trippy.
Alec Baldwin: The TV was the fireplace.
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh my God, totally. So what happened was Star Search was so popular, and I was on the second season. Comics had two minutes, 120 seconds, to do material.
Alec Baldwin: Did you have a clean routine?
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Did you always have a clean routine?
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh no, not in clubs necessarily, but I had enough stuff –
Alec Baldwin: You had a primetime routine.
Rosie O'Donnell: The problem was I kept winning. So I had enough clean material for like five weeks and then I kept winning. And I was like, 'Shit.' So I called up comics who were my friends and said, 'Can I use that bit about this? Can I use that?' A lot of them said, 'Yes.' Janette Barber let me use a lot of bits, Carol Henry let me use bits. You know, I had people trying to help me. And so then I lost and I eventually – but I won like, God, it was like $12,000.00 Alec or like $14,000.00. And I remember thinking I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it.
I went for the final $100,000.00 thing and I lost and I remember never being so nervous in my life. TV was so different back then. In 1984 they put you up at the Sunset Strip, right? It was at Sunset and Vine where they filmed it, and I didn't have any money, right? They give you a per diem, but I didn't know to get per diem, so all that I had in my pocket was like, you know, $40.00. So I'd walk every day to Carney's – you know that hotdog stand on Sunset?
Alec Baldwin: Sure.
Rosie O'Donnell: And for $1.40 you get fries, a small Coke and a hotdog, and that's all I had. It's so funny, you watch me losing weight every single week because I didn't really – you know, but I ended up winning all this money and I went from being an opening act to being a headliner from Star Search overnight.
Alec Baldwin: And then you get into the movie business.
Rosie O'Donnell: Then I become a VJ. I do Star Search and then I do Gimme a Break. What happened was I was at a comedy club and Lorne Michaels was there with Cher and Brandon Tartikoff, and it's called Igby's Comedy Club in West L.A.
Alec Baldwin: I know Igby's.
Rosie O'Donnell: Okay. And Dana Carvey was auditioning to get on SNL, and I was the next comic up. And the waitresses were my friends and they said, 'We're not dropping the check until after your set.' So while Brandon – they wanted the check because they had seen Dana. I was on and I killed, right? Now it's – I had had a decade under my belt of doing standup, right? So they came up to me after the show, Brandon Tartikoff, and said, 'Hi. I want you to call this number at NBC tomorrow. We have a job for you.'
And I called my sister, it was like 3:00 in the morning New York time. I said, 'I got on SNL. Oh my God, Brandon Tartikoff was here with Lorne Michaels and I am gonna be on SNL.' And I walk in the next day to NBC and they said, 'We're gonna put you on Gimme A Break.' And I was like [makes deflating noise]. Now I was still thrilled to be on TV, and so that was the show. I did about 10 episodes of that in the last season.
After that – that was '86 – and then '88 they were auditioning VJ's for VH1 and at the Improv with Budd Friedman. I went there and I did my set and the guy came out and said, 'You're really good, but you don't really look like MTV.' And I said, 'I know.' And he goes, 'But we have another station, VH1 –' At that time it was Rita Coolidge. I don't know if you remember.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rosie O'Donnell: And so he said, 'Do you want to audition for that? You'd have to fly yourself to New York.' I said, 'All right.' So I flew myself –
Alec Baldwin: They played “White Wedding” over – like 90 times a day.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly right. They said, 'You can audition.' So I went on camera and I auditioned and went home to L.A. and then I wrote him a thank-you note, Steve Leeds. I said, 'Thanks for the shot. I really appreciate it.' And he was so moved that somebody wrote him a thank-you note that he sent the tape over to the VH1 people. The guy who was hiring was named Ed Harrington – a very Irish guy. He saw Rosie O'Donnell and he hired me. So it was a thank-you note that got me –
Alec Baldwin: How long did you do that?
Rosie O'Donnell: I did that for about two years.
Alec Baldwin: What was that like?
Rosie O'Donnell: It was –
Alec Baldwin: Because it seems like for the person who wanted the Clams on the Halfshell career, you meandering here and here, where it takes you, what was it like for you to be doing that show?
Rosie O'Donnell: Everyone said not to do it, people who were “advising” my career, like Budd Friedman. I didn't even have an agent really then.
Alec Baldwin: So why did you do it?
Rosie O'Donnell: Because I knew it was in 23 million homes and I thought that it would teach me how to be conversational versus presentational. Presentational is what you do with standup. You've already prepared it. It's a wrapped package. They undo the bow, they undo the thing and kaboom, there's the joke, right?
Alec Baldwin: It's a one-way street.
Rosie O'Donnell: But this is more conversational. Can you carry on a conversation with a camera and treat it like a person? I thought it was a skill that would really help me and I also thought that many millions of people seeing you, you can't say no.
Alec Baldwin: Was it also about money?
Rosie O'Donnell: It was $100,000.00.
Alec Baldwin: I don't want to assume, but are you like me where a lot of the decisions I made was about money.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah. At that time I was like 21 maybe and to get a hundred grand – because I remember saying to them, 'I'm giving up a lot of money to not go on the road.' I was making good money on the road. 'You would have to definitely have to cover that.' So they came up with a hundred grand. So what I would do is it was eight hours a day, but you could film that in about two hours.
It was four breaks an hour at two minutes a break. So they would give you the pitches that you had to do like, 'This is Rosie O'Donnell coming at you on VH1 – Video Hits One, the other music television. That was Whitney Houston, her seventh single off her debut album. Whitney Houston is doing VH1-A-GoGo, our dance show only here on VH1 Saturday nights, 8:00 to 11:00.'
Alec Baldwin: You have a good memory.
Rosie O'Donnell: But that was about 14 seconds. Now I had a minute and a half left to fill and there's nobody but me and two cameramen. So my goal was to get the cameramen to laugh so that the camera would jiggle, right? So that was my goal.
Alec Baldwin: I want to go back and see tapes to see if I can find that jiggling camera.
Rosie O'Donnell: I'll bet you can.
Alec Baldwin: I'll bet I can.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah. So I did that for about two years and that's how Penny Marshall saw me.
Alec Baldwin: She saw you on VH1?
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah. I had just gotten an agent and I sit next to this woman on a plane in coach and she's very bitchy to the stewardess and she's saying, 'I ordered a salad.' And I start making her laugh. I said, 'Here, take my salad, give me your dessert. You're such a –' and I put her luggage – and I was just making her laugh, right? And so it turns out she's an agent. She's a new agent at William Morris. She's Julia Roberts' agent's assistant, okay? So I'm like wow, that's pretty big for me.
So I start talking to her and she's like, 'What are you doing?' I'm like, 'I'm going out to audition for a game show.' She's like, 'Oh, good luck.' So I don't see her. I dropped her a note or something. Then six months later, I sit next to her again on another plane. Is that the weirdest story? She said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I got offered Win, Lose or Draw for kids on Disney. They're gonna pay me $50,000.00 a year, five-year contract, and I'm gonna host that show.' She said, 'You're not and I'm now your agent and we're too close to God for me not to intervene and it's too weird to sit next to you twice.'
Alec Baldwin: What's her name?
Rosie O'Donnell: Risa Shapiro.
Alec Baldwin: Risa Shapiro, of course.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes. And she becomes my agent. She gets a phone call, 'Hi, do you represent that VJ? Can she play baseball?' She calls me up, she says, 'Can you play baseball?'
Alec Baldwin: Can she play baseball?
Rosie O'Donnell: I said if there's one thing I can do better than Julia Roberts, it's baseball. And so I went and I auditioned for the movie. You had to play baseball to even get a reading, and I, of course, am very good at baseball. So I went in and got the part.
Alec Baldwin: So everywhere you're going, you're showing up obviously with standup and then you're making the guys laugh and jiggle the camera. There's a velocity and a pace and an energy to what you're doing. Now you're making movies, and does that become a different muscle for you? Did you sit there and go, 'Man, this is slow and boring?'
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes, but I loved the camaraderie. I loved the set of League of Their Own with all the people playing baseball –
Alec Baldwin: Tom.
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh not just the actors, the camera guys and like, you know, all of the crew doing that thing where they pick the cards and –
Alec Baldwin: You form a family.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly. And it was so loving and so beautiful. In standup you're alone. You're going on these clubs, you know –
Alec Baldwin: Right.
Rosie O'Donnell: For 10 years, 15 years I was alone on the road, you know? I'd go by myself. I'd get in a plane and I'd fly to someplace in the middle of the country and they'd pick me up –
Alec Baldwin: You feel homeless.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, and you feel lonely.
Alec Baldwin: And so when you go to make A League of Their Own and you get the response you would get, the movie is a huge success, everybody loves you, bah, bah, bah, do you say to yourself, well I mean I'm not assuming you do, but often people sit there, they go, 'This is it. I'm a movie star. I'm gonna be lightin' one off the other for the next 40 years.'
Rosie O'Donnell: [Chuckles] Well I will tell you this. When they said that Madonna was gonna be playing my best friend, you know, we had all been cast and Penny said that to me, 'She's gonna come in. You have to make her laugh and hopefully she'll do the film.' I had diarrhea. I thought, 'Madonna? Madonna? How do you be friends with Madonna? What the hell?'
Like in our lifetime – I'm 51 years old. We're almost the same age, right, and to see her at 20-something explode like she did. I remember she had been friendly with Sandra Bernhard a little bit, and as I was a VJ thinking, 'How can you be friends with her?' How could somebody be friends with like Elvis – like Madonna? And here I am playing her best friend, so I knew when she was cast in that role that my career was going to take a whole different trajectory because of it and it did.
Alec Baldwin: For you, that experience of working with her, it was positive.
Rosie O'Donnell: It was positive and it was sisterly. Like, you know, some people have said to me, 'I thought you guys were lovers.' I'm like are you out of your mind? Like, you know, even Sandra said to me one time
Alec Baldwin: She begged me, I told her, 'Get away from me, Madonna.'
Rosie O'Donnell: Please. I'm such an Irish Catholic girl, you can count on both hands how many people I've been with my entire 51 years. You know my friends – I don't know, it never crossed my mind because I met her the day after I saw Truth or Dare. And in that movie, Truth or Dare, she goes to her mother's grave and it's her own name on her mother's grave. And my mother, same experience. My mother's name was my name.
So when I went to see her grave, when I finally got my license at 17 years old, there I saw, for the first time, Roseann O'Donnell. And it's flippy to think to yourself I know someone else who experienced that same thing. So when I met her I said, 'I saw your movie yesterday and my mom died when I was little and I'm named after her too.' And it was like right away we had a sister thing, you know, right away going on.
Alec Baldwin: Now Penny is in the kind of Comedy College of Cardinals there. She did the hit show, she's funny as hell. Was she helpful to you as a director or did she just leave you alone? How did you work as an actor?
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh my God, she was amazing because she – I love to improvise and I, come to find out later in all the movies I did after that, not every director likes this. But she would go, you know, 'Okay, somebody gotta go over there, catch a ball, fall in the stands, come up with a hotdog. Who could do it?'
Now seriously, half the time people didn't understand what she was saying, so I'd raise my hand. And she'd go, 'Rosie again? All right.' So my part was not really that big and she kept giving me all this extra stuff to do.
After you got one take she'd go, 'Try it again.' Like she'd get the grip – the guy who played my dad was the grip. And he'd come down and he looked Irish, an older guy. She said, 'Okay, put a hat on him. He'll be your father and let's talk about a steak dinner near the bus. Go.' Like so it was a lot of improvisation, which for me is great, like doing Curb Your Enthusiasm, like you do, I know, so well. I love that. I mean that's, to me, the most fun because it's like standup where you can go anywhere and say anything you want.
Alec Baldwin: Did you go right into another film before League got released?
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes. I did Sleepless in Seattle.
Alec Baldwin: Right, exactly.
Rosie O'Donnell: So I did League and it wasn't out yet and then my agent...
Alec Baldwin: And now a woman who – I mean Penny is discerning and Penny is well-regarded as a director and so forth, but now you go and work with a woman who is the most discerning and who has the most options and could have cast anybody and had anybody and she chose you.
Rosie O'Donnell: And I'm so intimidated because this is Nora Ephron and I've read every single thing she ever wrote in her life. And I knew about her sister and her parents and what they had written. So I go into the Apthorp, into her big apartment that has a library full of – and I'm looking at what books she's reading and I'm – and you know, she calls me in and she says, 'Hello.' I say, 'Hello.' I'm so like happy to be there and we clicked right away.
She's like, 'Wow.' She goes, 'Wait a minute.' And she goes and gets the script off the fax that Delia had been working on and pieces a new scene, and she goes, 'Read this.' And I read that and then I left and I called my agent in the car and said, 'I got the job.' She said, 'You know, this is your second movie audition. You don't really understand. You got the first one, but you're not probably gonna get this.' I said, 'No, I got the job.' And I did.
And the reason, Nora told me, was that night at dinner she said, 'I interviewed this girl today. I think I might hire her. Her name's Rosie O'Donnell.' And her son Jacob, who was 10 at the time, who was a Madonna freak, was like, 'Oh my God, mom, I know her.' He ended up being a gay man now who is a writer at the –
Alec Baldwin: The Times.
Rosie O'Donnell: The Times. A great guy. And then Nora ended up getting me an apartment in the Apthorp after the movie ended and Jacob used to come over to my apartment and tell me about his being gay and not knowing how to tell his mom. So I sort of helped –
Alec Baldwin: What did you tell him?
Rosie O'Donnell: I helped him come out. His mother knew, but you know his mother said to me, 'Do you think he's gay?' I'm like, 'Yes, I do.' Right? He was like 10 or 11. She goes, 'I think he might be too.' I said, 'Yeah, he is.' Some nights I'd come home when he was like 14, he was drunk outside. I'm like, 'Come here. You're gonna go up to my apartment. Come with us.' I'd take him up to the apartment, I'd call Nora, I'd go, 'I have him. I'll bring him back in a little while.' It was like living in Queens. Everybody knew each other.
But he was a great kid and I have pictures of him playing with Parker, you know, when Parker was a baby. Then I have a picture of them when we did Love Lost and what I wore at the opening night. Parker's six-foot-something standing next to Jacob. And it's just so weird how life goes like that.
Alec Baldwin: I'm not big on the whole gay identity thing in terms of that story, because I'm sure you've exhausted that, but what I'm curious about is how, over the arc of a long career now, that's changed for you. And it was being a gay woman, being a gay performer going back to '78 when you were at the club in Huntington on through now. It's many, many years.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: It's 35 years since you were a kid doing this stuff.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yep.
Alec Baldwin: How's that changed for you?
Rosie O'Donnell: Remarkable the amount of change that's happened just in my lifetime. You know, I was coming out of therapy two weeks ago in Nyack, New York and I see two high school girls holding hands walking through the parking lot. And like I almost filled up with tears. I stopped them. I said, 'Excuse me.' Now they have no idea, right? There's a cutoff. My fame is over, right? Now I know there are people who still – but it's not like it was, right?
So I said, 'Excuse me.' And they sort of like, 'What's this old lady who's talking to me?' I said, 'I just want to tell you that I'm a 51-year-old gay woman and as a gay woman, to see you two girls – are you in high school?' They're like, 'Yeah, we're in 10th grade.' 'To see you holding hands in the middle of town, walking through – it just – it moves me so much.' They're like, 'Oh, really? Oh, thanks. All right. See ya.' I'm thinking here I am like come here to mommy. I don't know.
People sort of knew that I was gay, in my opinion, in show business because I never hid it. It's never like I pretended to have a boyfriend, although people say I did that with Tom Cruise, but it wasn't a sexual thing with him. I still have a crush on him, you know, but it's not like I wanted to screw him. I just thought, 'God, that is a – that is something about that –
Alec Baldwin: You'd like to have breakfast with him.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly. I'd like to have him, you know, with no shirt on painting something in my house, you know, and then leaving after he gave me –
Alec Baldwin: Serving you breakfast.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly right. So anyway, people knew is what I thought, right, but I remember like when Ellen called me up and said, 'I'm gonna have my character, Ellen Morgan, come out as a lesbian on my TV show.' And I remember thinking, 'Why the hell is she doing this? She's gonna ruin her entire career and her life.' It was such a foreign concept. This is pre-Will and Grace. No one had ever even considered it. The only people who were out were rock stars. There was no actor or actress or comedian who was out.
I remember thinking even Charles Nelson Reilly wasn't out. I mean the absurdly gay-ish people. I remember thinking she's making a huge mistake. And then there was that tremendous amount of fallout that happened afterwards. I was like it pained me for her, it really did. Now in hindsight, oh my God, the courage that it took for her to do that at the time she did it in the way she did it was pretty unbelievable. I did not possess that.
And so she did that and then Will and Grace came on and I remember them telling me at my show, 'There's a new sitcom that's starting. It's about a gay man living with a straight girl.' And I go, 'That'll never work.' Do you remember Love Sidney, with Tony Randall? He had his dead partner's picture on the mantle and the Catholic Church was protesting and it was off in two weeks and this was Tony Randall, right?
So I thought that'll never work. So then Will and Grace comes on, not only does it work, it blows up. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, it's like the society, culture – we've changed in such a quick amount of time, that people don't even realize it. To think that in my lifetime, in my career, that you can be an out performer/actor playing against type – Neil Patrick Harris playing a womanizer on that show, being out and married with twin boys – and it doesn't hurt your career. It doesn't do anything. So in a way it's the most beautifully astounding, inspirational thing that I can think about in my 51 years of living.
Alec Baldwin: Now in the time that you – from being a young woman and a performer in this business and you're making your way and you're succeeding, and you're a gay woman, did you ever think about marriage, kids, family? When did that Polaroid begin to become more into focus for you?
Rosie O'Donnell: I always knew I wanted kids.
Alec Baldwin: You did?
Rosie O'Donnell: Always, but I never thought I would get married to a man. I mean I didn't really think –
Alec Baldwin: Except Tom.
Rosie O'Donnell: Of course, but he didn't ask.
Alec Baldwin: He'd be the donor.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, I would not have turned that down. No, I just – you know, I dated one guy when I was 28 for about a year and a half, two years. His name was Mike. We lived together, great guy – six-foot-one or six-foot-two. I had only dated two women, before that I just sort of didn't do it at all. It was just like you know, whatever.
Alec Baldwin: I'm busy.
Rosie O'Donnell: Uh yeah, I've got a career to plan. And so I dated this guy and I remember thinking maybe I'm not gay. Look at this. Maybe I'm not gay. But it turned out, you know, I was wrong. So that was the only time that I thought to myself, 'Maybe I am straight.' Maybe this – I don't know what this is. Maybe – because what people don't understand about homosexuality, it's not that you can't have satisfactory sex with the opposite gender, it's just that your heart and your soul and your connection and your desire for emotional intimacy is only really served by somebody of the same sex.
Alec Baldwin: That's interesting. I've never heard anybody articulate it that way before ever. I've never heard anyone say that. I mean there was a period – Mike was his name?
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, Mike.
Alec Baldwin: Six-foot-two Mike.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: You're still in touch with him?
Rosie O'Donnell: Not so much, but we had been for about 10 years. I was 28. I'm 50 now, right, so it's half a life ago.
Alec Baldwin: Did you leave all those people behind? Did you shed a skin when you became famous and went into the business? Because for me, all my friendships began when I got in this business. It's so defining to me.
Rosie O'Donnell: I have two friends, Jeannie and Jackie. They're my friends since I was in elementary school and they are still my best friends. And the three of us see each other at least, you know, Jackie probably twice a week, Jeannie probably – because she's out on the island – at least once a month.
And the three of us are like sisters and they're family to me. Jackie's mother raised me, you know, after my mother died. I would eat dinner at their house like five nights a week. She bought me my first bra. She bought me tampons when I needed them as a kid. She was a mother, right?
So – and she's still alive, Bernice. And so I see Jackie like a sister all the time, but aside from those two I don't see anyone from high school. I don't see anyone from my old stomping grounds on Long Island, and most of my friends aside from those two, are friends that I met in this business.
Alec Baldwin: It's very hard for people to understand it is lonely.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: I mean it's so lonely. This business can be so lonely.
Rosie O'Donnell: And it's hard to explain it to someone else because they – it's held up as the be all and end all. It's held up as – and it really isn't. The reality of it is very different than what you expected from it.
Alec Baldwin: I'll never forget – this is going to seem mundane perhaps, but this really defines what I'm talking about. I would be sitting like – I'm in the Canadian Rockies shooting a movie with Tony Hopkins. And I'll never forget my assistant would FedEx me my mail. And I pick up this thing and it says the dates of the Bacon exhibit at the Met and it's going to close and I'm not gonna get back there. I'm gonna miss the Bacon exhibit. I felt so awful because I thought, 'I'm missing my life. I'm missing everything.'
But when I did 30 Rock people say, 'Why did you love 30 Rock.' I said because they would work the schedule with me. When you're in the movie business, they're so punishingly unempathetic.
Rosie O'Donnell: Because they got 90 days to do it if they're lucky.
Alec Baldwin: They've got to get this thing done and cutting days and cutting costs is what they were all about.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly. I remember when I was on my talk show and you were saying, 'I really want to get a sitcom.' You want to do a sitcom with me? Remember we were talking about it?
Alec Baldwin: What did I tell you?
Rosie O'Donnell: Right, you said –
Alec Baldwin: I said we're going to do Jackie Gleason and you're Jackie Gleason and I'm Audrey Meadows.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: I said you're gonna be the brassy top character and I'm gonna be your withering husband.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. So I remember when people were saying that there was a show, 30 Rock, and Alec Baldwin and some people were saying to me, 'He's not gonna do a sitcom.' I'm like yes he is, you know, because I knew because I had spoken – we had spoken about it, how taxing it is. And I knew you what you were craving was some kind of a normal schedule. A sitcom is the perfect gig for every actor. If you could get a 30-minute sitcom, I think that – one hour drama is just like doing a movie for nine months in a row. It's exhausting.
Alec Baldwin: In a minute, Rosie O'Donnell gives me the lowdown on what it's like having a baby in your 50's. This is Alec Baldwin and you're listening to Here's the Thing.
This is Alec Baldwin. For much of her career, Rosie O'Donnell has created and supported numerous children's charities from issues like pediatric AIDS to making sure New York City kids, and particularly inner-city kids, can see a real play with real actors on a Broadway stage. If you live in New York and haven't been to Broadway, as Rosie says it's, 'Like living in Hawaii and not having access to the beach.'
Rosie realized she wanted children of her own, so in 1995 at age 33 she adopted a baby boy, Parker. The balancing act between motherhood and career, particularly one in the entertainment industry, took her by surprise.
Rosie O'Donnell: When Parker was a baby, you know, I didn't know anyone who had a nanny. I grew up like you did. That was an unheard of thing. I didn't know anyone who had a babysitter, right, besides somebody who'd come over for three hours when your parents went to, you know, Red Lobster. So I did Harriet the Spy, my first movie after he was born and he was about three or four months old – maybe five months old.
And I took him to Canada to film and I asked my cleaning lady to come with me to watch him because I didn't have anybody to help. So she came and the third day that I came home from a 12-hour day on the set, he wouldn't come to me. I went, 'Come here, buddy,' and he cried. He wouldn't. He was staying with Maria. And I remember at that moment I called my agent and said, 'You need to get me a job that's gonna keep me in New York because I don't want him growing up on movie sets.' I want him to have his own bedroom. I want him to know his cousins. I want him to have a normal life. And so that's the reason I did my talk show was because I wanted –
Alec Baldwin: You and I, it's a mirror. That's why I did 30 Rock. And my daughter lived in L.A., but I said to Lorne – he said, 'What's it gonna take? I will give you off every Monday and every Friday and any weekend you want to go see your daughter,' who was in L.A. Which in the beginning, I would do. Then as my daughter got older, I mean I stopped going every other weekend because like I would drive out there and drive my daughter to a party and drop her off.
Rosie O'Donnell: Believe me, I know. I have teenagers and it's hell.
Alec Baldwin: But when does the moment come when you're like, 'Let's have the baby. Let's put this pot on the stove and get things going.' What happens?
Rosie O'Donnell: Well I did all those movies in a row that like – the number one movie three summers in a row, right? So first I did, League and then Sleepless in Seattle and then The Flintstones. Well that's pretty astonishing, you know, especially because I was like – I wasn't a trained actress. I was, come on, a comic. I didn't even go to college. I went for one year. So I thought that was pretty astounding.
And I wanted to do Broadway and Grease was coming out. So I called my agent and said I want to go do that. She's like, 'You're kidding me. You're on this roll movie-wise.' I'm like but I really, really want to do it. So I'd saved a lot of money. You know, I spend wisely. I'm not like a big – I don't go buy clothes and shoes and stuff.
Alec Baldwin: The sale rack at the Gap. I read that.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly. True. So I went and auditioned for Grease and I got it on Broadway. I said when I'm done with this run I'm gonna adopt a baby. So I was 32.
Alec Baldwin: How long did you do Grease?
Rosie O'Donnell: A year – and can I tell you, Alec? Dear Lord in Heaven, it was like Groundhog Day, the movie, only without Bill Murray. Oh my God, it was – I couldn't – I would love to do Broadway again, but I would never commit to that.
Alec Baldwin: We're gonna talk about that in a minute.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, Lord help me.
Alec Baldwin: I just got off of Broadway.
Rosie O'Donnell: I know. I'm sorry I missed it. But boy, that's something. That's something. And so I decided I was gonna adopt a baby and it wasn't – I wasn't dating anyone. I was seeing a girl who was in the cast of Grease, but I – it wasn't like we were gonna have kids together. I was gonna adopt this baby and she's like, 'What about me?' Well I don't know about you, but this is what I'm doing in my life. So I adopted – she's like, 'What would I be to him?' I don't know what you're gonna be. It wasn't like I was doing a 'we.' I was just adopting a baby myself.
And then I went and did Harriet the Spy and said to my agent I gotta stay in New York. And at the time Kathy Lee was threatening to quit. I said get me that gig with Reeg. They said, 'Oh, she's staying, but they are willing to give you your own show like that.' I said the only thing I'd want to do is Merv Griffin. I just simply ripped off his show. I would do exactly Merv Griffin, a talk show where nobody gets hurt, where everybody's friends, where nobody's going to embarrass anyone.
Alec Baldwin: Where people inhale helium balloons while you're blindfolded.
Rosie O'Donnell: You got it. You have fun cooking segments and everybody likes each other. It wasn't like scandalized. So I drew the set. Like I said this is what I want the set to look like. Like I drew where the band was supposed to be. I had decided I wanted I wanted a curtain – like I knew exactly what – I did the logo myself. Like I was totally like here's how you do it.
Alec Baldwin: You were doing Seinfeld's act in the club all over again.
Rosie O'Donnell: I was doing Merv. I just did Merv.
Alec Baldwin: Merv's gone. He's not coming down here.
Rosie O'Donnell: Well actually he was around then and he was so sweet to me. And Mike Douglas, because it was a tribute sort of to both of them. And Dinah Shore who was gone, but those were the shows I watched as a kid.
Alec Baldwin: Isn't it funny how when you talked before about a world without VCR's and so forth and when we were kids we'd watch TV. I watched Dinah Shore.
Rosie O'Donnell: Me too.
Alec Baldwin: I'd sit in the house and be like I don't know who in the hell this broad is, but I'm gonna watch because the point is what else was there?
Rosie O'Donnell: There was nothing.
Alec Baldwin: You learned to like those shows or digest them because what the hell else were you gonna do?
Rosie O'Donnell: Magilla Gorilla.
Alec Baldwin: It was either that or The Little Rascals.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right, or Kimba the White Lion. Remember that?
Alec Baldwin: Kimba the White – it was Speed Racer. Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah. So I did the pilot and then I went to NATPE, and all of the TV people, which is a convention for television executives and station owners. They came and they said, 'Well if it doesn't work are you gonna do like Geraldo and Jenny Jones,' because those were the shows that were number one at the time. It was –
Alec Baldwin: Are you going to reformat.
Rosie O'Donnell: They were afraid that this wouldn't work because it hadn't been on in 25 years, right, and they were afraid that I would become just like the other shows where people were punching each other and 'I had an affair with him' and that I would change the genre.
Alec Baldwin: Right, like who's the real father, yeah.
Rosie O'Donnell: Correct. I said I will never do that. I will just walk away before I'd do that. And they said, 'All right, we'll try it.' So they were hesitant, because station owners –
Alec Baldwin: I can imagine you on a show, 'It's not your baby.' And you'd be like, 'Okay, calm down everybody.'
Rosie O'Donnell: Yeah, "everybody please." I couldn't do that. I really couldn't. I don't know how they can sleep. I watch – Maury is still on and I'm like that guy, what does he and Connie talk about at night? 'Okay, today I had two transvestite short people and their tall boyfriend.' I don't know.
Alec Baldwin: How many years did you do the talk show?
Rosie O'Donnell: Six. I told them initially, I had a baby who was one. I said I'm gonna do the show for five years and then I'm quitting before he goes to Kindergarten. I said I just want you to know, before he starts like first grade – real school – I'm quitting because this is a toxic business. I can't imagine what it would do to a kid. It's too much for me. And I also knew in success how much money it was. It was an insane amount of money.
So I told them from the beginning I'm only doing five – it was a four-year deal. I said I'm only doing four years, because he would be five.
Alec Baldwin: And they bought it.
Rosie O'Donnell: They said yes, but in year one it was such a big hit that they said, 'Please give us two more years. Please. We'll give you, you know, the Oprah deal.' So I agreed to do six. Now in my fifth year they said, 'Please sign –
Alec Baldwin: That's when I begged you to do the Jackie Gleason spinoff and you turned to me and said? You leaned into me very calmly – and you said, 'I can't.' I'll never forget this. You leaned into me and said, 'I can't.' You said, 'I'm about to sign a deal. I'm gonna make, quote, that sick Oprah money.'
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly.
Alec Baldwin: I remember sitting there going, fuck. That goddamn sick Oprah money.
Rosie O'Donnell: It was. It was sick Oprah money, yeah. So I signed on for two more years and then, you know, in the fifth year they kept saying – you know, I had one year left – 'Come on, we're gonna offer you this.'
Alec Baldwin: And you didn't. Why?
Rosie O'Donnell: Honestly, Alec, the truth is I felt if you have a hundred million dollars in the bank and you think you need a hundred million more, you're missing your life. I had three children at the time, right? I had three kids under the age of five and my mother died at 40. I was 39. My show ended right when I was 40. I thought any day they're gonna diagnose me with breast cancer. I'm gonna be gone. I wanted to go spend the time raising my children the way my mother didn't get to. So there was no amount of money. They kept upping the money and upping the money. And you know, Dick Robertson –
Alec Baldwin: They always buy you. They tried.
Rosie O'Donnell: Dick Robertson has said to me – who is still around, the older guy who used to work at Warner Brothers – he said never in his life did he see somebody walk away from that much money. He said he still doesn't believe. Sometimes he thinks about that moment, you know, because he walked in and he was like, 'I've been authorized to present you with this,' you know, and thinking I was gonna go "well, okay."
Alec Baldwin: But when you walked away from that, because this is something that I wrestled with sometimes. You want to be more proactive and involved with your kids, and I don't dispute that. That's obviously very, very important. I made a lot of my choices around that as well, and continue to now that I'm having another baby.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right.
Alec Baldwin: Like beyond this thing of not wanting to have money control your life, was it also – did you become someone – you said, 'I'm sick of her and I'm sick of that.' Like that's Rosie in one stage of the rocketship and now it's time to walk away from that.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes. I had morphed into a different person. Right, because at the beginning of that show the concept of knowing Barbra Streisand, of knowing Tom Cruise, of knowing you – like I had worked with the actors I had worked with. I knew those people and I was friends with them, but that didn't mean that I felt I was part of the showbiz community. But then that show took off and I had literally interviewed everyone from Walter Cronkite to Joan Plowright, like to –
Alec Baldwin: And everyone was happy to be on your show. It wasn't an obligation.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes, exactly. And it was – you know, it was the first one of its kind. There's a lot of them now, and you know Ellen has done it amazingly well. She had all of my same producers. She had Jim Paratore, she had the same team, and she went and she did it and I think she's very good at it, you know? I really do. But I know that I could not have done it any longer than I did it. I knew I was not a marathoner.
Alec Baldwin: Then when you stopped what happened?
Rosie O'Donnell: I was – I felt free. First of all, I had just sort of come out, right? I had written my first book and it talked about my being gay and all of the struggles that I had with how to announce that and I did it in conjunction with an ACLU case about foster care because I was a foster parent and blah, blah, blah. So I didn't want it to just be about hey, like let's talk about my sex life and sexual preference. You know, I wanted it to be about something more.
So there was a case with – the Lofton-Croteau case down in Florida – two men who had adopted the children and they seroconverted from HIV positive to negative because both men were nurses and they wanted to take the kids away after they seroconverted. So I actually – there was a law at the time in Florida that gay people could not adopt even the foster children they raised. So I went through this lawsuit.
Well the book came out three months after 9/11, so it was sort of like nobody really cared. 9/11 happened, and thank God I was off the following May because I did not – and I think there was some, you know, intervention from above that I was off during the Bush administration. I think I would have probably lost my mind on national television. You know, when I could not believe when my show was off and we were going into war, going to Afghanistan and Phil Donohue was on again and you know, I spray painted “No War” on the back of my denim jacket.
Alec Baldwin: You rock.
Rosie O'Donnell: I could – yeah, right – I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it.
Alec Baldwin: Now apropos of that, obviously you, like me, you don't hesitate to speak your mind.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right.
Alec Baldwin: Now you went from being ubiquitous, the show and do you enjoy that now or you don't? You're not out there and you're not an opinion maker?
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes, but the fall between one and the other extreme was intense and sharp and shocking.
Alec Baldwin: How so?
Rosie O'Donnell: Well you know, I'm – when I was on the cover of Newsweek, you know, when my show premiered, it said, “The Queen of Nice.” I remember holding it up on live TV and saying, 'This is gonna bite me in the ass one day because you know what? I'm not that nice. If you ever saw my standup act, I go after people and issues that I find abhorrent and repulsive and I present them in a comical way that makes you laugh and yet think.'
So I knew that that was never, ever the totality of who I was. So I was not, you know, naïve enough to think that I was going to simply glide slowly down towards the anonymity, but it was very, very harsh and it was very, very quick and it was a very big shock. Also I was sued by the magazine company and when you're sued by a corporation, right, I was sued for $300 million dollars, right, by this corporation.
Alec Baldwin: Why?
Rosie O'Donnell: I – when my show was ending I was convinced to do a magazine like Oprah did with my name on it, Rosie.
Alec Baldwin: Right.
Rosie O'Donnell: And I was – totally had creative control and they had the sales kind of control. What happened was, after my show ended the guy who worked there said, 'Well, you signed a stupid contract and your lawyers weren't good and I own the show and I'm gonna do what I want,' and fired the staff and wanted to do like 'Thinner Thighs in 30 Days,' and all the things that are not me.
And I said, 'You can't do that.' And he said, 'You didn't see this loophole in the contract.' So I remember saying to my friends or to some learned people I knew, 'Who is the toughest and the best female lawyer in New York?' And they said, 'Mary Jo White.'
And Mary Jo White, who brought down the first bombers at the 9/11, and she has just been appointed with the Obama administration. She's like a huge mucky-muck. Well I went into her office on a Saturday. She had shorts on and a T-shirt. And I gave her the contract and I said, 'Now I want to ask you. Am I right or am I wrong?' She said, 'You're right.' And I said – she goes, 'But I don't know that that means you're gonna win.' I said, 'But I am right. What I'm saying is right, that this man cannot take what I've worked for for 20 years – my name and what it represents – and reformat him because I signed a contract.'
Alec Baldwin: And make me into Suzanne Somers.
Rosie O'Donnell: Correct, who I actually like and think is very smart.
Alec Baldwin: No, yeah, but it's a different thing [Crosstalk].
Rosie O'Donnell: More like making me into a Cosmo girl, right?
Alec Baldwin: Okay.
Rosie O'Donnell: And she said, 'No, you're right and if you're tough enough you'll win but they're gonna put you through hell.' And they did. I was on like the cover of The Post like 93 times.
Alec Baldwin: But when you came out of it, you prevailed.
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: But it was an exhausting, extensive and painful litigation. I've been there.
Rosie O'Donnell: It certainly was.
Alec Baldwin: Now we're gonna run out of time so I'm gonna say two things.
Rosie O'Donnell: Okay. Go.
Alec Baldwin: And I want to say this carefully because this is not about personal animus or somebody who pissed you off. What's one thing you were involved in that you went to the mat cause-wise or something – or an event – something you really went out there and was the most outrageous – that made you the most indignant?
Rosie O'Donnell: You know, I think it would probably be the right of gay people to adopt in Florida. We actually did a canvassing of the state of Florida back in the '90s when my show was on, because I thought if we're gonna fight this, if we're gonna lobby, let's try to see what the temperature is of the state. And found a surprising amount, like a disproportionately large amount of people would prefer that children had no parents than gay parents. That was at the time in the '90s.
Now look how things have changed now, right? The ruling has been overturned and, you know, gays are allowed to adopt in pretty much every state I think at this point. And we're allowed to get married and we're allowed – so a lot has changed since then, but that was quite disheartening at the time. I think also, you know, my saying that I do not believe the official story of 9/11 has brought a tremendous amount of angst into my life. I don't accuse anyone specifically or say that I know any answers. I simply say it defies the laws of physics.
Alec Baldwin: I mean here we are, it's the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination and people still don't want to talk about that.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly. Well and that's – when people come over to me and say, 'I want to talk to you about 9/11,' I say, 'Before we have the conversation I just want to ask you one thing. Who killed John Kennedy?' And if they say, 'Lee Harvey Oswald,' then I say, 'We're not going to have a conversation.' But if they –
Alec Baldwin: Right. Right.
Rosie O'Donnell: Honestly, you either have the benevolent father image in your mind and you can't –
Alec Baldwin: Of Uncle Sam.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right. It's that cognitive dissonance. You can hold two opposing ideas in your brain at one time. You can love the United States of America –
Alec Baldwin: Bingo.
Rosie O'Donnell: Right, and still –
Alec Baldwin: I love my country and therefore I want to seek this, this, this and this.
Rosie O'Donnell: Exactly right. And therefore democracy demands descent and if you have questions, that's part of being a democracy.
Alec Baldwin: And you and I have shared that, we're people with doubts –
Rosie O'Donnell: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: Our patriotism, because we're critical. I mean if you look at my Twitter feed –
Rosie O'Donnell: Like I'm gonna go off Twitter.
Alec Baldwin: I think I am too.
Rosie O'Donnell: Because it's too much negativity and it's too much negativity that I don't get in real life. I can walk anywhere, even to – like my son goes to a military school. These are old Republicans, and you know, 'Hello, Ms. O'Donnell.' Like unbelievably kind people in the world.
Alec Baldwin: Right, the cordiality, right.
Rosie O'Donnell: My experiences are –
Alec Baldwin: And the anonymity of Twitter sets that up.
Rosie O'Donnell: Correct, and that's what it is. It's like standing on a stage in a darkened comedy club and people throwing shit at you and you still trying to do your act.
Alec Baldwin: I want to close with one thing.
Rosie O'Donnell: Go.
Alec Baldwin: And that is I watch people who are virtuosic musicians and they – I mean I do this announcing for the New York Philharmonic, I just went to Lang Lang's benefit on Monday at Carnegie Hall. I have this tremendous, tremendous almost insatiable appetite for the classical repertoire and the people who play it well. And I think to myself, where is that in what we do? Like acting, people talk about Olivier and Kevin Kline and Colin Firth and all the really, really beautifully-etched actors of their day.
And then I think about you and I think about to be able to talk on a talk show and be able to communicate the way you did, you remind me, in the conversational mode, of a classical piano player because you can touch – you can do anything.
Rosie O'Donnell: That's very sweet.
Alec Baldwin: You can play anything. You are funny as hell. You're tough, you're smart. You are so many things, you could have done anything. You're so tenacious and you're so smart, if this hadn't worked out for you, what was among the fallbacks? What might you have done with your life if you didn't do this?
Rosie O'Donnell: I never had a fallback on purpose. My dad used to say that all the time, 'You need a fallback.' But I knew that this career was so difficult to succeed in that if you had a fallback you would fall back, so I didn't have one. However, I know I would have been a teacher because it was teachers who saved my life. We were in an abusive home. My dad had some issues after my mother died and even before, and it was teachers in the public school system who saved my life, literally.
I don't think I would be here. I don't think – you know, when my grandmother died, who had lived with us after – when my mother had died – you know, when she died when I was in high school, all the teachers came to the funeral. All the – like we were – we were five orphaned children pretty much who were embraced and taken in by the teachers in our communities and I definitely would have been a teacher. I love kids and congratulations, because you know – wait until you see what it feels like doing it at 50 versus doing it at 30. Honey, it's a different gig.
Alec Baldwin: Tell me how.
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh, my God. First of all, it's so much calmer. You're so much more relaxed. You enjoy every moment so much more. Like this baby, first of all she's a dream. She wakes up – she goes to bed at 9:00 after a bottle, wakes up at 6:00, give her a bottle and she sleeps in the bed with us until about 9:30 or 10:00. Every night, Alec.
Alec Baldwin: Can I have her?
Rosie O'Donnell: That's what – and Michelle, my wife, this is her first kid, goes, 'Let's get another one.' I'm like, 'You're out of your mind. They don't come like this normally.' No, she's just – it's a dream and I feel younger because of it. I feel like my desire –
Alec Baldwin: Alive?
Rosie O'Donnell: Oh my God, Alec, it like turned on every creative – it's just – it rebirthed me. It rebirthed me in a way that I was not expecting and I'm so thankful for. There's something about this experience that's very different from the other kids. You know, when your first baby – because you only had one – so your first baby, I always say the other kids never get what that first kid got and I'm not the first kid in my family, right? My brother Eddie is. So in a way this baby feels like the first kid all over again.
Alec Baldwin: Rosie O'Donnell, entertainer, activist, philanthropist extraordinaire, and above all, a mom to five. Imagine the hand-me-downs in that house.
Alec Baldwin: Thank you for doing this, and I love you.
Rosie O'Donnell: And I love you too and I'm sending you so many baby things. Don't buy everything because I have a lot of extras.
Alec Baldwin: This is Alex Baldwin. Here's the Thing comes from WNYC Radio.