She is the grand dame of morning television, an editor at large, a radio show host and a mother. And when Gayle King sat down with me for this week’s “Renaissance Man,” she was most amped about her newest role: Grandma.
Her “favorite” (and only) daughter Kirby gave birth to a little boy, Luca Lynn Miller, in mid-September.
“I wanted to be a mother since I was in seventh grade,” she told me. “I was going to have a boy because I wanted older brothers. Then, I was going to have twin girls and their names were Rusty and Dusty. And I was going to brush their hair every night and put in pretty little bows.” She said it is “so fulfilling” to see her daughter becoming a mother.
Just don’t call Gayle Grandma or Nana. The “CBS This Morning” co-host is on the hunt for a cool grandma name, and no, “Glamma” isn’t it.
“Somebody said to me, well, you could be called Glamma. That’s a little extra. I don’t want that either,” she said. I wanted to remind her that Rusty and Dusty are still available but she has an idea of what she wants.
“I just want something that the baby can say and that just sounds friendly and happy,” she said. “And right now I’m leaning toward Gaia because Gaia means Mother Earth and it kind of kind of sounds like Gayle.”
Friendly is Gayle’s brand. On television every morning, she oozes the warmth of a lifelong pal. And heck, next to “The Golden Girls,” she might be America’s most famous friend. Her closest companion is Oprah.
The public feels it because she is often stopped by fans with many requests. Some want a photo, others hand her their phones to talk to their moms. One just dished out her unvarnished opinion of Gayle’s search for an alternative grandma moniker.
“I’m walking down the street. And this black woman came up to me, as only black people can do, saying ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with grandma because I’m called grandma. So, Guyana, whatever you want to call yourself, that’s stupid,’” Gayle recalled the woman saying.
But she welcomes it.
“I’m always very mindful of the fact that for most people, it’s the first and last time they will ever see you. And so I don’t want them to walk away and say, ‘Oh, God, Gayle King isn’t what I thought she was going to be.’ Or ‘Gayle King was a b-tch’ or ‘Gayle King was nasty.’ I don’t want to ever leave anybody with that impression,” she told me. “It’s better, Jalen, than somebody walking up to you and going, ‘You suck.’ At least they’re saying, look, ‘I watch you. I admire you. Could I take a picture with you?’”
Somebody once followed her into the bathroom because she recognized her shoes and asked for a photo. Gayle calmly said: “Can we do it when I get out of the bathroom?”
She is good-natured, but she isn’t a pushover. As a seasoned journalist, she is also paid to go head to head with celebrities and other public figures — some in crisis mode. Who can forget her showdown with an emotional R. Kelly. Still she insists that she doesn’t ask “hardball” questions.
“I am not a gotcha person, where I’m trying to lead you to something to trick you up or, you know, catch you in something that may be controversial. I think any question can be answered. You just have to have the right tone, the right place and the right situation,” she said. “And I’m never out to hurt anybody or harm anybody. I always say I’m giving you a platform to tell your story … Even if somebody has gone through something that’s very controversial, very awkward, maybe there was a police activity. I’m still giving you the opportunity to tell your story the way you want to tell it.”
Gayle has her own interesting story and much of it started in Ankara, Turkey, where she lived from first to sixth grade. Her family didn’t have a television.
“I went to the library. I was a book nerd. I had a library card, back when you had these things called library cards. Checked out a lot of books. I was a big, voracious reader and did a lot of travel,” she said. “I’ve been to all over Europe, and I can remember being in the Acropolis in Greece saying to my dad, ‘Why do we have to walk around and look at these hot rocks? It’s hot. Why can’t we go back to the hotel and go swimming?’ He said, ‘One day. You’ll appreciate that.’ Now, of course, I do.”
She had zero intention of becoming a broadcaster, but while at the University of Maryland, where she was studying to become a child psychologist, she worked next door to a TV station. The man who worked there offered her an entry level position because he liked her voice and personality.
“But I never thought I had the looks or the talent or any of that to be on television. And you go in the newsroom, and I was just so blown away by what they do,” she said. Oddly enough when her family returned to the US, her father watched Walter Cronkite and she thought he was a real snoozefest.
“So it’s so ironic to me that … I’m now at CBS in our studio where Walter Cronkite used to sit. I just think that’s amazing. That’s a full circle moment,” she said. “But I couldn’t have dreamed this.”
Now she has to balance Gayle King the woman and Gayle King the broadcaster.
“CBS didn’t hire me to give my opinion on the news … I also never lose sight of the fact I’m not a robot. I am a human being. And in addition to being a newscaster, I also am a citizen of this country and a mother and all of those things and a woman. And all of those things matter to me,” she said.
We talked about a few other things, including vaccines, Obama, her yellow dresses and my buddy and her new co-host Nate Burleson. When he was retiring from football, he asked for my advice about the transition from playing ball to broadcasting. I can’t tell you how proud I am that he landed such a gig and that he has someone like Gayle King singing his praises. Here’s just a sample: “He has got the goods, as you know. Yes. He walked in and he was prepared,” she said.
I had to ask about Oprah, and Gayle told me: “I don’t see myself standing in her shadow. I see myself standing in her light … So I never run away from it. When people say, ‘Are you Oprah’s girl? Yes, I am.’” Being unapologetically curious, she flipped the script and interviewed me about my family and my daughters.
And speaking of family, Gayle said every Thanksgiving, she takes her extended crew on a vacation. Her dream would be chartering a yacht, like my man Magic Johnson, who has turned into Thurston Howell III in his retirement.
“It’s on my bucket list one day to be able to charter a yacht — they are super expensive. So I could never do it,” she said.
With that in mind, Oprah, your girl is now a grandma. Give her a yacht vacation, so she can take the Kings on the high seas.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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