Good morning, Joan Lunden.
Morning America "-but somebody's got to do it
The moon is still ripe and hanging heavy in the sky when the female half of the "Good Morning America" team begins her day.
It's 3:45 a.m. when the bleat of an alarm clock pierces her slumber. She rouses from her bed, heads for the shower, and stands under the spray.
Good thing she's a morning person, or this truly would be hellish.
Next stop, the closet-and obviously, at this time of day flirty Calvin Klein dresses cut up to here don't cut it. She throws on a jogging suit, or if the mood strikes, Levi's and a Tshirt. (A fanatic about not waking her family, she has all her home's door hinges oiled once a month.) The blonde hair, damp and stringy, is pushed up under a baseball cap. The face is devoid of makeup. Luckily for her, she says, the double curses of puffy eyes and dark circles somehow passed her by.
By now it's 4:15, and a car is waiting by the curb of her Westchester County home, a California-style retreat 24 miles from the Big Apple. She gets in and greets the driver, and the car races into the darkness. At her side is the day's newspaper. She skims through it, all but memorizing the headlines, and then picks up the day's script. That she doesn't skim through. She crawls through it slowly, highlighting her segments, the information sinking deep into her still groggy brain. After 45 minutes of work, she's arrived at ABC's Manhattan studio.
The next hour and 15 minutes is spent on physical preparation. The hair is teased, brushed, and lacquered into place; the makeup that won't melt under harsh TV lights is applied. Next comes the wardrobe fitting, then maybe a quick bite of somethingbut forget an offer of coffee, because she doesn't drink it. Java makes her jittery.
By 6:30, she's in the studio talking with producers, going over changes. Then, from 7 to 9 a.m. comes "full alert"-it's "Good Morning America" time, when news of the weird, the wired, and the wonderful is dished out to millions of viewers with a smile and a nod of authority. That done, meetings about tomorrow's show begin.
Around noon comes lunch, or research, or wardrobe shopping. Then comes time for the kids-all three of them. The afternoon is largely devoted to familial concerns, unless she's taping her regular parenting program, "Mother's Day," which airs on the Lifetime cable channel.
At 5 p.m., she's firmly ensconced in her motherhood mode. Dinner, time with her husband, Michael Krauss, cleanup, play with the kids, what have you. This goes on for hours. By 9:15, however, she's in bed. Six hours later the exhausting cycle begins anew.
It's a tough job being Joan Lunden, but somebody's got to do it. Lunden laughs at such sentiments, of course, but in the next breath agrees. Yes, her schedule's tough. Question: with three kids and a budding career as the nation's TV parenting authority, why put herself through it? Answer: she's an information addict, and withdrawal is not an option.
"There is a reason you get hooked to this business," says Lunden, 38, who in 1988 celebrates her eighth year as a "Good Morning America" cohost. "There is a reason you get up at 3:45, why you stay with this profession through all the years of running down streets covering fires. And the reason, frankly, is curiosity. There's a certain feeling of specialness you get when you're the first to know."
She pauses, chewing on the thought. "You're the one who tells everybody else what's going on in the world-who just died, what blew up. That's a fascinating position to be in. Access to people-to be able to pick their brains, quite frankly-is really a privileged position, and one very few people have access to."
Lunden's curiosity transforms a mundane "GMA" segment such as "Dog Hero of the Month" into something, well, interesting. Of course, in the beginning, Lunden learned to make such animal spots and cooking-tip segments sparkle because she had to. When David Hartman was at the helm o"GMA" ship, Lunden was delegated to a sidekick role. Certainly she possessed the savvy to do more. And yet . . . a writer, Jane Hall, summed up their on-air relationship this way:
"Lunden seemed eager to play willing helpmate to Hartman, the unchallenged regent of morning TV. She practically brought him his slippers after a hard day's work on GMA's coffee-klatch set. While he interviewed heads of state, she was likely to be chatting up heads of lettuce. It was all very '5Os."
Lunden has mixed memories of her salad days. "David," she says"was very nice, but he could be difficult. I came into this job with open eyes. I had no illusion of grandeur. I also remember that I made him look good. I was there to give the line to the press that everything was O.K. It was a tough seat to sit in, that seat next to David Hartman. But I resolved that I would never, never-no matter how angry I got on those days when I'd come in and there would be nothing for me to do-that I would never fight him."
And so, she waited patiently, dotingly, hoping her day would come. Come it did in 1986, when Capital Cities purchased ABC and backed away from some of Hartman's contract demands. He left. She stayed, achieving in the process a new power balance with her co-host, Charlie Gibson.
"Joan is the most unselfish, even-keeled person I've ever met," Gibson says. "If you tell her we just lost a satellite hookup, or a guest, she won't ruffle."
Almost immediately after Hartman's departure, things began to change. Sure, Lunden still had the obligatory "Dog Hero of the Month" feature dumped in her lap. But she now also tackles presidents and heads of state. Now that she has finally shaken her reputation as a vacuous blonde, the newfound responsibility clearly agrees with her.
Gibson sums it all up this way: "Every morning I get up at 3:21, and every day it's a struggle," he says. "When I come into the studio, I'm dragging. But Joan? She comes in beaming."
Right from the beginningfrom day one-Joan Lunden had to fight it out.
She began her broadcast career in the early '70s in Sacramento, California, working for KCRA-TV and Radio as a reporter, then co-anchor, then producer. It was a tough climb. Lunden, it seems, had two things going against her. She was an attractive blonde, and she wasn't male.
Lunden isn't one to harp on discriminatory practices in her field, but she clearly has an opinion. "Women," she says, voice steady, "are not treated equally to men in terms of stature, news assignments, or pay. It's changing, sure, but slowly. I came into this business at a time when there weren't a lot of women around. I had to make a niche for myself. Well, I worked my tush off."
Paul Thompson, the former news director of KCRA, gave Lunden her entry into television. He agrees that Joan Lunden was driven by demons of overcompensation. "When she walked through my door, I saw that she'd be good for television," Thompson says. "She was attractive, yes, but she was also very bright. She didn't have any experience but was so interested in starting a TV career. So I hired her."
The first couple of months on the job were tiring, fun of stories about fires and crime and the underbelly of life. Chasing news bits in two-inch heels does not a happy back make. But then came an offer to begin a consumer-affairs beat, which she accepted. Andthe ball started rolling.
"She was so resourceful, more so than anyone else I've seen," Thompson says"It was a new beat-no one had ever done it. And Joan attacked it. She enrolled in consumer classes at a local college all by herself. She started going to legislative sessions. She amassed two filing cabinets. She self-educated herself."
Joan Lunden's tenacity eventually pushed her toward the opposite coast. In 1975, she joined New York's WABC-TV Eyewitness News team and a year later became co-anchor on the weekend newscasts. Lunden's quicksilver success, of course, did not endear her to everyone she met. "Barbie"-as in the Barbie doll of beautiful hair and fabulous wardrobe-became a new, much-loathed moniker.
"I just had to live down that stereotype," she When I started out, I was a sitting duck. They just made mincemeat out of me. For the two years I was in Sacramento, barely a week would go by that I wasn't destroyed in print by one of the critics. Now, I grant you, I was not good. I was just starting. I made tons of mistakes. So some of the criticism was deserved. But some of it wasn't fair.
"And when I came to New York, it was the same thing, the same bows and arrows. And it was only by staying on, and doing the job, and hanging in there that I finally got to the point where it stopped:"
Lunden's "GMA" beginnings were personally difficult, although she instantly took to the show's rambling format ("We're very aware that many times we're the first people other people see as they're just waking up") and realized the position could do wonders for her career. She arrived on the early-morning horizon in 1980, replacing Sandy Hill.
Lunden was determined to succeed where Hill had failed. Viewers immediately accepted her sunnyside-up attitude and warm rapport with Hartman. They became the Cleavers to Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel's cranky Kramdens on NBC's "Today" show. Behind the cameras, however, things weren't so rosy. Hartman was making nearly $2 million a year. Lunden, technically his screen equal, was pulling in less than half that. And then there was the little thing about responsibilities.
"All the good interviews," she says wistfully, "went to David-no question about it. I wasn't even given a chance." Long before the Capital Cities ABC takeover dethroned Hartman, however, Lunden began elbowing into the men's club. Her motto: I'll show them.
The klieg light of legitimacy fell all around her shortly after an interview with the one of world's most brilliant men. "One of the best interviews I ever did was the one I did for my 'Mother's Day' program," says Lunden, weaving the tale. "For years, I wanted to interview [Henry] Kissinger on 'GMA'-part of my little fascination with people who are close to power. Well, I always wanted him and they never would give it to me. It was always David's interview-I would never even be considered for it.
"So anyway, we booked him on 'Mother's Day.' We sat him down and said, 'Look-we don't want to talk on some esoteric level. Let's just cut through it aB.' I said, 'What do you tell your kids in real simple language'-and then I began listing'about Nicaragua, about Iran. . . .'
"For the first time, the guy was so understandable! You learn so much when you just cut through the formality. That's why they have a hard time on some of the news shows, I think. I mean, God forbid that a hard-news reporter should ask a basic question. Well, anyway, I came off that Kissinger interview feeling sooooo good! And you know what?"
She pauses dramatically, breathless. "The word got back to 'GMA' about how well it went with Henry, and the next time he was on the show, when David was still there, I got to do him! And I must say, it was a very good interview."
Joan Lunden virtually birthed each of her children before TV cameras. Talk about embarrassing. . . .
"Believe me, I had horrible morning sickness through all of my pregnancies," she says, punctuating her revelations with peals of laughter. "There'd be mornings when the studiolights would pop, and the babies would jump. And with my last baby, which was a breech baby, I got lots of heavy-duty kicks, which would bring tears to my eyes. And there would be times with breast feeding where . . . well, it was obvious to the people in the studio that my baby was ready. I had plenty of so-called mommy experiences, only I had them while doing this very high-profile job. And I had to roll with the punches."
The chief blow was largely selfimposed, Lunden says. Soon after learning of her first pregnancy, Lunden began worrying she might not be allowed to continue her broadcasting career with a bloated tummy. Would her employers balk at the happy news?
"I was convinced that a family and a career were not mutually exclusive. And the producers were afraid too. But when I did stay on the air, and, in effect, have my kids, it had an interesting effect on my career. And usually, the opposite happens. For a woman in business to take time out and have a kid, well, it usually doesn't thrust you forward. But for me, it did. It broke the sound barrier. People loved it."
In the beginning, however, ABC executives weren't so sure. "I remember the first day I came back, and they held a news conference. I was taken aside by the PR director at the time and told, 'Now, Joan, underplay the mother stuff. They're going to see the dirty diapers, and the bottles, and will think you can't do important news issues.' So I walked out there, and that's all anyone wanted to talk about-motherhood! Everyone was talking about how I stuck to my guns and made ABC kind of buckle and give me these concessions so I could do both jobs at once. And the media liked that. And before the news conference was over, the same people who told me to play it down brought the baby out to me. All of a sudden, they realized humanity ain't so bad sometimes."
"GMA" producers eventually realized that Lunden's pregnancies made their show a bit more humane, a bit more accessible. She became one of the first women in the history of the medium to discuss the trials and travails of expectant motherhood. After balking at first, "GMA" encouraged the discussion. Lunden did "motherto-be" exercise"mother-to-be" stories, and interviewed other "mothers-to-be." It was all very motherly.
Her daughters-Jamie (eight), Lindsay (five), and Sarah (one)were all but adopted by millions of "GMA" viewers who felt, Lunden says, "that they were there for the pregnancies, for the experience of motherhood." The bond between her and her audience, she says, has been maintained to this day.
Lunden's high-visibility parental role has opened several doors for her. Along with "Mother's Day" comes "Mother's Minutes," a series of TV spots offering incisive solutions to childrearing problems. She also hosts a video on parenting-"Your Newborn Baby-Everything You Need to Know"-which TV Guide recently named "one of the best instructional home-video programs ever produced." Then there's the nationally syndicated newspaper column "Parent's Notes."
Lunden's collaborator on all these projects is the independent producer Michael Krauss, whom you met early on back at the Westchester County home. At one time or another, Krauss has produced both "Good Morning America" and "Today." Krauss is "thrilled" about his wife's suc
cess, "thrilled" that they can intertwine their careers. He says he remains amazed that their family life is rooted in the public domain. "People are always shouting out, 'Hey! Congrats!' " he says. "At the supermarket three weeks ago, the owner looked at me and said, unsolicited, 'Hey, I know who you are. You're Michael Krauss. You're married to Joan Lunden, and you have three beautiful daughters.' We do, it seems, have this public image."
At the core of it all, of course, is Lunden herself, perceived by the public as one of those rare women who have it all. Erma Bombeck, on the back cover of Lunden's autobiography (Good Morning, I'm Joan Lunden) sums it all up in a wellexpressed blurb: "She is a prototype for women of the '80s who want it all without sacrificing integrity and the importance of family."
Lunden credits her popularity to her honesty. "Michael always says people say to him, 'What's Joan really like?' And he says, 'What you see is what you get.' People at home feel at ease with me. I'm a cousin to them, or a buddy, or a person at work. You know, if viewers feel they have something in common with you-the same dirty diapers and joys and sorrows and concerns-then all of a sudden there's a closeness. I really think that's happened with me. I'm living proof that people care about family."
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|Title Annotation:||co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1988|
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