Carly Fleischmann’s Interview With Holly Robinson Peete
Transcript– March 13, 2011
People know you as a tough savvy business woman on The Apprentice and an articulate woman on The Talk, but how would you describe yourself in real life?
You are starting with hard hitting questions, Carly. I feel just really lucky to be able to talk about the things that are important to me and people listen. It’s very simple. A platform to be able to share what I’m passionate about. And sometimes you have to be tough to be able to express those things properly.
Carly: “I like that.”
Holly: Thank you. I’m glad you like that.
With all the T.V shows you have done, which one would you say you had the most fun on set with?
That’s an awesome question. No doubt, it would have to be hanging with Mr. Cooper. Because Mark Curry, who played Mr. cooper was crazy and made me laugh. When you can go to work and laugh all day? That is a fun job!
Carly: “That’s really cool.”
Your acting career has had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. One of your first movies Howard the Duck tanked at the box office. How did that make you feel at the time? Did it discourage you or push you forward?
Um, Howard the Duck was supposed to be a giant hit, but instead it was a giant duck. It was done by the makers of Star Wars, George Lucas. It was an amazing experience. It didn’t do so well, but it encouraged me to go on and do some more movies and do more television shows.
Whenever you have a movie that doesn’t do well, that’s a bomb or a failure, you have to learn from your experience and apply it to your next job.
Carly: “That’s awesome.”
Your father was a celebrity in so many children’s minds. He played Gordon on Sesame Street. Now with your rise to fame your children have a celebrity as a mother. How do you feel that impacts their life? How do you think they are handling it?
When my father was on Sesame Street, Carly, I was the most popular four year old in all of the land. I have to say that having a celebrity as a dad was great for me. He didn’t like it very much which was one of the reasons he decided to stop being on Sesame Street after four years and become a writer behind the scenes. But I think if I speak for my kids, there is some good stuff about being the son or daughter of a celebrity and there’s some bad stuff. The good stuff is that they get to go to cool places; they get to meet cool people like you. The bad stuff is, sometimes when we’re out, and people want an autograph or whatever, they push past to get it. They can be kind of rude. I think they’d say the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff.
Your career has taken off in so many ways, being a semi-finalist on The Apprentice and now a talk show host of a popular talk show. What would you say keeps you grounded in your life?
What keeps me grounded? My four children! That’s what keeps me grounded. My four kids, who when you come in that door you’re not a celebrity, you’re not a popular talk show host. You’re just mom. And there’s homework to be done. And beds to be made. And dinner to be cooked. That’s what keeps me grounded.
In 1982 your father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What kind of impact did that have on your career and life?
Such a good question. Another great one. When my father was diagnosed I was a freshman in college. I had just started college. And I was excited and nervous the way everybody is in college during their first time away from home. So when my father came to visit me, or pick me up around Christmas time, he was limping. I noticed something was wrong with his leg. He wasn’t honest with me about what was happening. But when we got the diagnosis of Parkinsons I was devastated! It was before the Internet, before Google, before Michael J. Fox and Mohammad Ali and all of these amazing Parkinson’s advocates. It was the ‘80s so it was difficult time. Um, it had a profound effect on me because I was so young. I was 19. And my big strong dad was really ill. So it was a very difficult time. But I did it.
It’s very sad because my father was such a brilliant man. He went on to write the Cosby shows. He went on to write all of the Cosby shows. Do you ever see the Cosby show? You know the Cosby show? Do you have that show in Canada?
Carly: “Yes. We get it in Canada.”
And Cosby, Bill Cosby was my father’s friend. They went to school together in Philadelphia years ago. And he gave my father a job when nobody else would because of the Parkinsons. It was hard for him to work. It was sad. You’re right, it was really sad. But I did the best I could as his daughter to take care of him.
Still to this day not many people know that you have a child with autism. What was your reaction when he was first diagnosed?
We were confused because we didn’t really know what autism was. When we got the diagnosis in 2000, we had heard about it, but we didn’t know anybody who was affected by it. So we were scared, confused, a little worried. But, we thought it might be a challenge that we welcomed and RJ has been really amazing. It’s been a good experience for us. We’ve had some down times, but a lot of good times. What do you think of that Carly?
Carly: “G-d bless you.”
Holly: “Thank you. That’s beautiful. You are better than Barbara Walters.”
What is it like raising a child with autism? What are the daily challenges?
The biggest challenge is communication. The biggest challenge is communicating. The biggest challenge was that he had a hard time connecting with his twin sister but so many joys about our son have replaced the challenges so I’d say probably communication and connecting is probably the most difficult thing.
You and your daughter wrote a book about having a sibling with autism. How would you describe your daughter’s and son’s relationship?
My daughter is her twin brother’s best advocate. We wrote my Friend Charlie because we wanted to start talking to kids early. Four, five or six about what autism was. Our theory was the earlier they learned about it the more they would accept and understand what it is, the less autism would have a stigma about it. So we figured…you know children have a much easier time understanding things than adults. And that’s what we wanted to do explain it to the children.
Carly: “Wow, that’s so cool.”
In 2005 you and your husband started an organization called Hollyrod4kids. What impact has your organization made in kids lives living with autism?
First of all, I am so impressed by all the homework you’ve done. I cannot believe all the work you’ve done Carly for this interview. You are more prepared than most interviewers who get paid a lot of money to do interviews. So that’s my comment to you.
Our goal at Hollyrod4kids was to help families to pay for treatment, services for their children. The problem with autism is that it is very expensive. And children with autism need to be able to have all the treatment they can possibly get. And it shouldn’t depend on how much money or finances your family has. So we try to help families and children access treatment they wouldn’t otherwise get. Other than my four children, it has been the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done in my life.
What do you think has to be done to help children and adults living with autism?
For me it’s about community awareness. Awareness. Understanding what autism is. Not being scared of it. Not being worried about the stigma of it. The more people understand something and the more accepting they are, the better or everyone. for society. So, for me it’s about people understanding and not judging.
What is the future like for your foundation and how are you getting the awareness about autism out in the public eye?
Remember when I did Celebrity Apprentice? I only subjected myself to that torment because I wanted the country to know, and some parts of the world. I wanted to get global awareness out about autism. And I know that even though I had to deal with crazy people on that show, I still could have conversations with people globally about what autism was and what families have to deal with on a daily basis.
My biggest goal, I went down to Memphis Tennessee, to St. Jude’s, and that’s a place where children can go who have cancer and they can get treatment and it doesn’t cost them anything. And I thought what about if we had a place like this for autism? Where is St. Jude for autism?? It just doesn’t exist. So my biggest goal…you have to reach for the stars, Carly…so my biggest goal is one day to open a huge place where families can go for treatment for autism and don’t have to pay for it.
Carly: “Thank you!”
Holly: You are so welcome.
Carly: “What one thing would you like to know about me?”
Holly: I’d love to interview you one day on The Talk. I would love to have that opportunity. You’ve been interviewed by so many people. What’s the one question nobody has ever asked you?
Carly: “Why am I so cute?”
Holly: Oh my gosh, I love it.