If a member of the Airline Pilots Association had logged as many hours a month, he would surely be bounced from the union. And if it isn’t Monty Hall, then it has to be David Frost who holds the Guinness Record for deals. So David didn’t even break stride after he signed over somewhere between $650,000 and $750,000—with perhaps a revenue-sharing percentage clause—to Richard Nixon for a series of TV recollections of his Presidency. A day later Frost flew to New York to negotiate some new ventures in his corner suite in the Plaza Hotel. Then he zipped to London to polish a TV series about to premiere on the BBC. Over the weekend, Frost slipped down to Monte Carlo to see his steady of the season, New York socialite Caroline Cushing. Then back to London to check on his new movie musical of Cinderella. On to New York and the Plaza. Finally Frost yo-yoed back to L.A. whence the whole saga was begot.
That was the week that was for the frenetic Englishman who had just rolled the diciest coup of his 36 years but, typically, left everyone else several time zones behind. In arranging to bring Richard Nixon before TV cameras, Frost has cheekily succeeded where others, notably U.S. networks, feared to tread. Frost, the New York Times huffed indignantly, is merely “a news entertainer.”
Actually, the epithet fits, and is not all that unflattering. In the three years since his syndicated David Frost Show died on U.S. television, Frost has been as manically busy as ever, if not quite as visible in the States. He’s making TV programs (some rather embarrassing like the Guinness Record Book shows on ABC), shooting films, publishing books and music, and backing shows in London’s West End.
“I love being in the thick of things,” Frost proclaims, though the nights of five and six hours’ sleep are beginning to tell. Frost still suffers from terminal jet lag. (In the late ’60s he was up to 52 transatlantic crossings a year.) His face often looks drawn and pinched, his fingernails are gnawed to the nub, and his eyes are permanently underscored with pouches. Frost’s modishly lengthening hair no longer covers a bald spot, and he pops prescription pills to ward off double vision caused by sledgehammer migraines.
Frost’s frenetic life-style no doubt contributed to his recent reputation as the Harold Stassen of romance, a perennial jiltee who has been left just short of the altar twice in two years by fiancées Diahann Carroll and Karen Graham, who fled into marriages with other men. Earlier he had squired a conga line of international beauties—Carol Lynley, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson. Yet the forever chipper Frost, who judges almost everything “Terrific!”, is not bitter. “I wouldn’t swap my private life for anybody’s in the world,” he says, adding gracefully, “All the ladies that I’ve had a friendship with have enriched my life.”
Though Frost jokes that he’s most at home “in the lounge of a 747,” his legal domicile is a five-story Regency townhouse in Central London. When there, he furiously punches his 10-button telephone like an adding machine and barks out orders to his chauffeur, George, to “rocket” him to the airport. Frost’s own driving has so terrorized his business manager, Richard Armitage, that “I refuse to let him drive me; it’s not that he goes so fast, but he wanders about a bit when his mind is on other things.”
Frost entered this life a simple country lad born in Kent to a Methodist preacher and his wife. “If I have any equilibrium,” he says, “I inherited it from my childhood.” He rejected a pro soccer contract and, fresh from Cambridge, stormed British television in the early ’60s as the boy-wonder creator of That Was the Week That Was, a satirical revue that didn’t travel so well when it hit the U.S. Since then, he’s parlayed his multimedia operations into a personal fortune estimated at $10-20 million.
Frost sees his Nixon interviews as the latest Everest of his career-long climb and is preparing accordingly. Six researchers will bone him up for the 20 hours of taping that are to be edited into four or five 90-minute TV shows. Nixon, he says, will be shown the final version of the interviews, but only “as a courtesy.” “Are we going to find the real, private Richard Nixon?” he wonders rhetorically. “What makes him tick? What made him tick?” Suppose potentially explosive breaks leak from his taped sessions? “Then,” Frost laughs, “we’d wipe the tapes.”
Frost labels as “nonsense” the notion that his always ingratiating interview style means that he’ll just volley marshmallows with Nixon. “I have never made judgments after, much less before, interviews,” he maintains. “The main thing is for me to be the catalyst and to let the viewers decide.” He may be even more sympathetic than that. Frost interviewed Nixon in 1968 and in 1970 was invited to the White House to emcee a Christmas party. David’s 72-year-old widowed mother, Maud Frost, traveled from England to attend that affair and still keeps an inscribed, gilt-framed photograph of her with the Nixons in a prominent place in her bungalow in Beccles, Suffolk. She adamantly refused suggestions from friends that she remove the photograph of the discredited U.S. President. “David has always been very fond of Mr. Nixon,” explains his mum. “They’ve always got on very well, and Mr. Nixon has been so nice to David.”
Frost, as ever, is sanguine—both that Nixon “has a real desire to communicate” and that he will break through the network resistance and find a major U.S. outlet for his interviews. Of course, as David admits, “A scoop is always most popular to the person who gets it.”