Kathie Lee's Second Act

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, famously, that there are no second acts in American lives. Maybe if you're a novelist with a magnolia - and gin - haunted past. But the old canard can be disproved with drive, passion and fearsome amounts of energy. And talent. Which brings us to Kathie Lee Gifford.

For fifteen years, the Live With Regis & Kathie Lee morning show on ABC brought Kathie Lee Gifford's bright, wisecracking presence into our homes. She was everywhere, it seemed, during those years: playing nightclubs, cohosting the Miss America Pageant and award shows, sharing family and faith in a series of holiday specials, recording CDs and writing books, delighting a cynical David Letterman with her keen, self-deprecating humor. She became a household name, with the kind of fame and celebrity she had only dreamed of as a star-struck little girl in Maryland, a child of modest and fiercely hardworking parents. But she left all that behind in 1999, to concentrate on her family and to pursue her dream of writing musicals.

"It happened little by little," she says of her decision to step down from the daily grind, "but I remember the moment when I knew. I was interviewing Lily Tomlin for the umpteenth time. I adore Lily Tomlin, and I'm sitting there listening to her talk about her next project. And I remember thinking: I don't want to interview Lily Tomlin ever again as long as I live; I want to work with her. I felt like I was being an observer of other people's lives, as opposed to being a participant in my own. Nobody believed I could walk away from that kind of power, that kind of prestige, that kind of money. But ultimately, it would have taken more courage to stay."

Kathie Lee is, as you might imagine, chatty and funny and warm, and ridiculously easy to talk to, not so much because she's been interviewed hundreds of times but because, clearly, she likes people and she likes to talk.