In the wake of Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, her memoir of her time at Fox—working alongside Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, Steve Doocy, and other prominent conservative news personalities—is more relevant than ever.
In this candid memoir, celebrity news anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson shares her inspiring story and offers important takeaways about what it means to strive for and find success in the real world. With warmth and wit, she takes readers from her Minnesota childhood, when she became a violin prodigy, through attending Stanford and later rising to anchor of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson on Fox News after working her way up from local television stations.
Carlson addresses the intense competitive effort of winning the Miss America Pageant, the challenges she’s faced as a woman in broadcast television, and how she manages to balance work and family as the wife of high-profile sports agent Casey Close and devoted mother to their two children. An unceasing advocate for respect and equality for women, Carlson writes openly about her own struggles with body image, pageant stereotypes, building her career, and having the courage to speak her mind. Encouraging women to believe in themselves, chase their dreams, and never give up, Carlson emerges in Getting Real as a living example of personal strength and perseverance.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Gretchen Carlson is an award-winning journalist and the former host of FOX News Channel's The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson. She previously co-hosted Fox & Friends for eight years and served as a CBS News correspondent and co-host of the CBS Saturday Early Show. She was the first classical violinist to be crowned Miss America in 1989 and serves on the board of the Miss America Organization. She is also a National Trustee for the March of Dimes. She is married to sports agent Casey Close, has two children, and resides in Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
Speaking My Mind
“Have you had sex yet . . . or are you waiting for marriage?”
The New York press is a tough crowd, especially for a twenty-two-year-old suddenly thrust into the spotlight. But two days after being crowned Miss America, at my first national press conference, the last thing I expected was confrontation, especially from one dogged reporter named Penny Crone, who seemed eager to take me down.
Her question elicited a chorus of boos from the other reporters in the room. They’d had enough. Before she “went there,” Penny had barraged me with a series of test questions, supposedly designed to prove I didn’t have a brain, because all the media were reporting that I was a senior at Stanford, positioning me as the “smart Miss America.” As if to say, “Okay, let’s see how smart you really are,” she gave me a quiz right in the middle of the press conference: “Do you know who Mary Jo Kopechne is . . . Do you know who Daniel Berrigan is . . . Do you know whose face is on the twenty-dollar bill . . . ?”
I held up under the pressure, but I felt humiliated. What young woman wouldn’t? The memory of that press conference stayed with me, and when I later looked back with more perspective, those questions made me angry. Why would a seasoned reporter think it was newsworthy to take down a young woman in such a gleeful manner? Ratings? Meanness? It made a deep impression on me.
At the time I just smiled and moved on. Then, more than a decade later, in 2000, when I was a correspondent for CBS News, I was at a pep rally for the Mets and Yankees in Bryant Park. They were playing a Subway Series that year. I was standing on a platform with others from the press, and there was Penny Crone. I recognized her. And it struck me right then: I was going to say something to her. When we were done, I walked over and said, “Penny, I’d like to reintroduce myself. I’m Gretchen Carlson.” I could tell she had no idea who I was. I said, “I’m the Miss America you demoralized in 1989—and I’d just like to let you know that I still made it. I’m a CBS News correspondent . . . and you’re not.” It was out of character for me to seek revenge, but I went for it. Although I’d often thought about giving her a taste of her own medicine, rarely in life do we get those opportunities. I did it for myself and for all the other women who’ve been made fun of, called names, put down—just because.
I didn’t wait for a response. I didn’t want one. I walked away smiling. It felt great!
There’s something about the title of Miss America that brings out the snark. When you’re wearing the crown, some people see it as an opportunity to knock you down a peg. On my first morning in Atlantic City, I was intent on inspiring girls who were overweight, letting them know they could still pursue their dreams and win. So I told the story of being a chubby child and how my brothers used to tease me, calling me Hindenburg and Blimpo. The next day, walking through the airport, my first brush with fame was glimpsing a banner headline on that week’s Star magazine: “Blimpo Becomes Miss America.” It was a rude awakening.
William Goldman, an accomplished and famous screenwriter, whose credits include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, was a judge at the pageant my year, and he actually wrote a book about it, which was published in 1990. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about the book until later, because it might have shaken my confidence a little to read page after page about my inadequacies, wrapped around the title he gave me, “Miss Piggy.” He also called me a “God-clutcher” because I said my faith was important to me. To Goldman I was too “chunky” (at 108 pounds!) to even make it to the top ten. He seemed downright offended that talent should count as half the score, and he didn’t much care for my winning violin performance of Gypsy Airs, which he referred to as “fiddling.” He admitted to favoring Miss Colorado. Still, his criticism of me throughout the book was a little over the top. His objectification of me and the other women in the pageant was demeaning. Rereading it recently, I was surprised to find that it still stung. I was embarrassed, even ashamed. It made me realize that shaming is a potent force. For decades I hid my feelings about Goldman’s takedown because it was so belittling. But I certainly have no reason to feel that way. Now I understand that this kind of degrading talk is what keeps young women from being fully themselves—or even trying.
When moms ask me what their little girls should do to become Miss America, I tell them they should take piano lessons, play sports, and study hard. In other words, be the best they can be. You have to build from the inside out, have an inner core, and know who you are to have the confidence to achieve your dreams.
• • •
My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and that’s how I’ve lived my life. Thanks to their love and the values I learned in my small midwestern hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, I grew up with a fierce determination to make my own destiny. For me being Miss America had less to do with how I looked and more to do with who I was and how I could use my talent and hard work to advance myself. I started the process of becoming myself not on a pageant stage wearing a gown, but as a very young girl who discovered the gift of music.
The first time I picked up a violin it just clicked. By the age of ten I was playing with world-renowned concert violinist Isaac Stern before large audiences. I wasn’t nervous because nobody ever told me I was supposed to be nervous. There was affirmation in the applause. Even when I was a very young girl, I played in church, and people clapped. That was a shock—you weren’t supposed to clap in church! But I smiled, enjoying the moment.
I loved performing and I was passionate about music, but the accomplishment came with a lot of practice. I practiced my violin three to four hours a day. I missed playing with friends and being a Girl Scout and having lazy days when I did nothing at all. I’ve never regretted that time, though sometimes I struggled, and it was lonely. The point is, by the time I was twenty-two, I had earned a place on the public stage. I would never have been Miss America—much less Miss Minnesota—were it not for my violin.
Nevertheless, after I won Miss America, people felt comfortable referring to me as a blonde bimbo. I always get asked whether being Miss America was good for my career. Overall, I have to say yes, but sometimes it took people a little time to get there. The first job I applied for in TV after I graduated from Stanford was in Richmond, Virginia. When I called the news director and introduced myself, he remembered me from the pageant. “Weren’t you Miss America?” he asked doubtfully. “My wife doesn’t even let me watch the Miss America pageant. I’m sure I’m not going to like your work.” I kept my cool—by then I’d had a lot of practice. “Why don’t I send you a tape and maybe you’ll change your mind,” I suggested. Fortunately, he hired me.
Even now I have critics who refer to me as an empty St. John suit in five-inch stiletto heels, despite the fact that I’ve been practicing journalism for twenty-five years. They assume that because I do a show on Fox News I must be required to toe a party line, and they’re shocked when I tell them I’m a registered independent, free to say what I want.
I have always been one to speak my mind, and I don’t sit still for being stereotyped. A friend who knows me really well called me “Badass” one day, a nickname that stuck. It was all in good fun, but Barbara Walters pounced on it the day I cohosted The View. I think she was mystified that anyone would call me that, but to me it was a badge of honor because that’s who I am. I stand up for myself and speak freely, whether the subject is faith or freedom or my own potential. People like to criticize the “bimbo” or mock people who openly profess their faith. If someone wants to label me as a God-clutcher or a culture warrior, go for it.
I don’t mind being called a culture warrior, and that includes being a warrior for women’s equality. The National Organization for Women has never invited me to play on their team, and that’s okay with me. I don’t like boxes or labels. But no one feels as strongly as I do about equality for women.
When I was on Fox & Friends I got a lot of publicity on one occasion when I stood up for women. I did it in a lighthearted manner, but it resonated. My in-box was jammed that day. Steve Doocy was doing a remote segment about the Navy Sea Chanters, commenting that it had been an all-male group until 1980, when women were allowed to join. On the set with me Brian Kilmeade joked, with faux disapproval, “Women are everywhere. We’re letting ’em play golf and tennis now. It’s out of control.” I stood up and walked off the set, calling back, “You know what, you read the headlines since you’re so great. Go ahead, take ’em away.”
Brian laughed. “Leaving an all-male crew . . .”
“In all your glory—go for it,” I called.
I didn’t “storm off” the set, as some reported. I didn’t “shout angrily,” as others portrayed the moment. The manner was strictly teasing. But I guess I made my point, especially in the eyes of the blogs and journalists who usually don’t come out swinging for me. Suddenly they all loved me for standing up for women’s rights!
I put myself out there, so I’m fair game. Now that I have my own show, called The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, I hear a lot from my viewers. I often have to laugh when I read my e-mails. A woman writes, “How can you consider yourself a Christian woman with that kind of cleavage?” Then the very next e-mail will be from a man: “Could you please wear that dress every day?” That makes me chuckle. I love my viewers, and I recognize that, like me, they are individuals with their own viewpoints. They are interesting and diverse, and keeping up with them is a big job.
I fight for women to be respected for everything they are and do, and I ask it for myself. We’re all complex beings, full of unique gifts and opportunities. I’m blessed to find fulfillment in each of my roles—as a wife and mother of two, as a journalist and anchor of a television show, as a musician, as a woman of faith whose weekly highlight is teaching Sunday school alongside my husband. Like every woman I know, I juggle a full load of both joys and stresses.
In one of those early New York interviews, after I won Miss America, the newsman Jack Cafferty challenged a statement I’d made that I didn’t become Miss America because of “luck.” My words seemed to offend him. He prodded me: “If you had to say it again, wouldn’t you rephrase it?” I think he had the idea that you just walked out on a stage, flashed a pretty smile, twirled, and took your chances. I assured him that luck didn’t get me there. I worked my butt off for that opportunity.
We all have some luck in our life, but believe me, I don’t tell my children, “Maybe you’ll get lucky.” I tell them to work hard and study and give it their all. I make sure they understand what it means to have strong values and always strive to do the right thing. Looking back, I remember myself at the age of eleven—my daughter’s age. My dream then was to play the violin on a world stage. No one told me I wasn’t good enough, or skinny enough, or any other “enough.” My life stretched out ahead of me full of possibility, and I lived with the ever-present idea that I could do anything if I set my mind to it and was true to myself. In my life I’ve encountered some big obstacles and made my share of mistakes, which I’ll tell you about in this book. But I’ll also tell you about how I’ve moved past those obstacles to get back up after I’ve failed. I’ve learned to dig deep inside and figure out which direction to take, even when the path is not clear. I’ve tried to be honest about my shortcomings, even though the truth isn’t always pretty. I’ve learned to speak my mind and not be intimidated by critics or demoralized by negativity.
And I’ve always tried to stand up for myself, because being myself is the greatest gift God has given me.
My heart was beating in my throat. My hands felt clammy. Waiting in the wings for my name to be announced, I closed my eyes and repeated the words to the Lord’s Prayer once again. At thirteen I was about to give the biggest performance of my life.
The Minnesota Orchestra was onstage at Orchestra Hall playing the rousing piece Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. The music was fast-paced and uplifting, with trumpets blaring. I was up next to play the first movement of Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole.
When the soundproof doors opened, a rush of cold air came at me and I began the long walk across the stage, violin in hand. I was a chubby girl, awkward in my floor-length white dress, but on that day I was also a concert artist, who would lead an entire orchestra in a performance.
Although it was only 10:30 in the morning, the auditorium was full for the orchestra’s popular Coffee Concert. This was a venue for some of the most famous soloists in the country, and today the stage belonged to me. I took my position, fighting nervousness, and everything became silent. The oboe player gave me an A note to tune to. And I began to play.
Just like that, the nervousness fell away and I was lost in the music. I was always a very physical performer, and I poured my heart into interpreting the uplifting Spanish melody. It was not only a matter of technical skill. It was an emotional experience, a feeling of euphoria I’ve never experienced in any other setting. By the time I was done, my dress was damp with sweat, as if I’d just run a race.
The audience rose to its feet cheering. I heard, “Bravo! Bravo!” The applause seemed to go on forever as I left the stage and returned twice more for encore bows. It was a thrilling moment, and then it was over. Normal life resumed.
Back in the dressing room I changed out of my long white dress, and then my mom drove me to school. I got there in time for math class, where we had a test scheduled. My fellow students didn’t even know where I’d been that day. To them I was just one of the kids. They didn’t understand the other me—the one who had just performed with the Minnesota Orchestra.
That dichotomy was the story of my young life. I was a girl who lived for my music, and I spent much of my time in the hallowed circles of great musicians. But I was also engaged in a constant quest to be a regular kid. It was a sometimes frantic, sometimes confusing double life, and beneath my normally sunny exterior there was a nagging loneliness when I felt that my friends couldn’t really know me or be a part of my life with music.
Those two sides of me were in conflict many times over the years. Looking back as an adult, I’ve come to see that both were a gift of my remarkable upbringing in a small Minnesota town, where exceptionalism and normalcy were valued in equal measure.
• • •
From the time I entered the world—almost three weeks late—I made my presence known. I had a big personality as a baby, one that demanded attention. My dad always said that he’d rock me asleep, and the minute he took his hand away my eyes would pop open and I’d start yelling. I believe what they say about personality, that it’s there at birth. Mine sure was. I liked having an audience. I was a born ham.
Early entries in my baby book provide clues to my personality:
“Gretchen loves all food and gobbles it down as fast as you can feed her.”
“Gretchen talks like crazy.”
“Gretchen can turn somersaults!”
Eating, talking, and performing. My most notable characteristics before the age of two. But my personality was more complex than that. I was born on June 21, on the cusp between Cancer and Gemini, and I chose to be a Gemini because I personified the mix of yin and yang. Both outgoing and reserved. Both lighthearted and intense. Both a spitfire and a person who fought for self-confidence. Both a serious musician and a regular kid. The two sides of my personality were on display in everyday life.
I grew up in Anoka, Minnesota, a town that could have come straight out of a snow globe. It’s a wonderful little place whose claim to fame is that it’s the Halloween Capital of the World. Garrison Keillor is from Anoka, and it was an inspiration for Lake Wobegon, so that gives you an idea.
My parents and both sets of grandparents are of Swedish descent, and Anoka is a town with a heavy Scandinavian influence. When Mom stood on the front porch and called me and my best friend Molly in for lunch, all the schnauzers named Gretchen and the black Labs named Molly came running. From a very early age I knew an important fact about myself: I was 100 percent Swedish. This was a point of pride because even in my small town it wasn’t common for people to be 100 percent anything.
My grandpa Hyllengren gave me a nickname that he thought fit a talkative, feisty child. He called me “Sparkles.” When he said it in his affectionate tone it came out “Schparkles.” I loved that nickname then and I still do. It was a gift from my grandpa, something all my own. I was a short, chubby, willful kid. But to Grandpa I was Sparkles. I used to ask him, “Why do you call me that?” And he’d answer in a soft voice, “It’s just the way you are, Schparkles.”
Grandpa Hyllengren was a Lutheran minister who grew up in a small farmhouse in Vasa, Minnesota, the son of immigrants from Sweden. His life story is a testament to the value of perseverance, which was embedded in my family story. It was passed on as the theme of my life—to never give up no matter how difficult things were. Grandpa was the fourth of five children and the only one in his family to go to school past the eighth grade. He was determined to go to high school, which was twelve miles away, and after he secured a position as right guard on the football team, he lived with the coach so he could attend. He eventually won a football scholarship to Gustavus Adolphus, a private college in Saint Peter, Minnesota, that was founded by Swedish immigrants. He played on the football team for four years, but it was the church that called him.
When Grandpa became pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Anoka, it had 850 members, but under his inspirational leadership it grew to 8,500, becoming the second largest Lutheran church in America. He built his congregation the old-fashioned way, by visiting every new family that moved to Anoka and inviting them to be a member of his church. He told people he was selling insurance for eternal life. He worked incredibly hard and never took a raise.
Grandpa was quite liberal and Grandma was a Republican. We used to ask them why they even bothered voting, since they canceled each other out. But Grandpa never preached politics from the pulpit. He preached about values that transcended political ideas. These were simple homespun messages, using anecdotes from culture and life. To this day I dislike it when a minister preaches politics from the pulpit, and I learned from my grandparents that you could love someone who had different ideas. What a revelation, right? I think we forget that sometimes.
My mother was a high-spirited, outgoing girl, an absolutely beautiful natural blonde. She knew her own mind, and she was very smart. She skipped three grades in elementary school and went to college young. She attended Gustavus Adolphus College, her parents’ alma mater, for a year and then transferred to the University of Minnesota. She graduated at age nineteen and became a teacher. Mom had her share of suitors, including the guy she was “pinned” to when she met my father.
The story of my parents’ meeting is cute. She was home from college during Christmastime, and her mother was having a tea and had invited people from church and the neighborhood. My father’s family lived right down the street and attended Zion, but she had never met Dad because he’d been away in the service. Mom walked into the living room, and standing at the punch bowl was a handsome young man who caught her eye. His name was Lee Carlson. She went right back into the kitchen and told her mother that Lee Carlson was the man she was going to marry. Her mother probably laughed, but you have to know that my mother has always possessed an extreme level of determination. If she set her sights on Lee Carlson, he didn’t have a chance.
But my dad played a bit hard to get. That’s where my mom’s strategizing skills came in—how to get him to ask her out. In the spring she put on her hottest two-piece bathing suit and started lying out in front of the house in a lawn chair just when she knew Lee Carlson would be driving by to go home for lunch. Quite racy for the minister’s daughter! Dad would whiz by in his red convertible, and I guess he took notice. He finally asked her out.
At first my grandfather didn’t approve of Dad because he thought he’d been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But he soon came to see what a hard worker Dad was. He worked at Main Motors, the car dealership that had been in his family since 1919. It’s one of the oldest family-run businesses in Minnesota, with a storefront showroom on Main Street. It was originally owned by my dad’s great-uncle, and he sold Chevrolet cars and trucks, and then added Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac. In 1934, the year my dad was born, his father, LeRoy Carlson, bought the dealership from his uncle.
My dad started pumping gas at the dealership when he was ten years old. Dad did every job, from laboring in the service and parts department to selling cars. “He worked like a slave,” my mother once said. No sign of a silver spoon. When his father died in 1966, Dad took over the dealership with his brother.
Dad worked a lot, often returning to the dealership after dinner. Car dealerships are very volatile businesses, closely tied to the state of the economy. If there’s a recession, or even a hint of one, sales dry up. The 1970s were an especially difficult time because of the oil crisis.
Family always came first with my parents, and their four children were the center of their lives. My sister, Kris, was first, then two and a half years later I made my entrance, followed by my brothers Bill and Mark. We all had our unique personalities. Kris was a pretty girl with a lovely personality. I always envied her beautiful long hair, because my hair was thin and brittle and when I was young, I wore it in a short shag that was almost boyish. (At one point my mother started getting my hair permed, and trust me, it wasn’t a pretty sight.) Unlike Kris, I was a tomboy. I preferred to hang out with my brothers and their friends. We’d congregate and roam around the neighborhood, playing army in the woods or football on the lawn. There was nothing I liked more than to play dodgeball or watch golf and football on TV.
My dad was raised in a traditional Swedish environment of strictness and stoicism, but he ended up being the most sentimental, loving person I know. There wasn’t a lot of emotion in his upbringing, but Dad can be a virtual waterworks of emotion, crying at movies, sporting events, and sad or happy stories.
My dad’s father was definitely the head of the household while he was alive, but after he died Grandma Vi really came into her own. I knew her as an amazing, independent woman who traveled the world with girlfriends. In my eyes she was a trailblazer. She was also somewhat eccentric, with her own style. She never changed her hairstyle during her whole adult life, wearing it in a short pageboy. She got a kick out of me. Whenever I walked into a room, she’d announce, “Here comes trouble with a capital T.”
We also spent a lot of time at Grandpa and Grandma Hyllengren’s house and always had fun. Grandpa was a religious man but he had a great bawdy sense of humor. His favorite TV show was The Benny Hill Show. He was also a big jokester. We’d beg him to tell jokes, but he never did it on demand. Instead he’d surprise us with one when we were least expecting it. We loved his elaborate schemes. On Easter he would organize a giant Easter egg hunt. He’d hide candy all over his house and then write elaborate clues that were very convoluted. We loved the challenge of figuring out his clues. Grandpa would get frustrated with me always guessing the clues first, so he would announce, “Now, this next one is for everyone except Gretchen.”
Grandma Hyllengren was a very mild-mannered woman, almost meek, but love poured from her. She was beloved by the congregation, and I always felt that we had a special connection. She wasn’t at all like me, but she seemed to understand me and accept me for who I was. I was drawn to her peaceful nature, like a reprieve from my more aggressive spirit—and my mom’s too. She had played violin in college, so she was especially proud of me when I started playing “her” instrument. Grandma had never played seriously, but I liked that we shared this bond through the violin.
Grandma Hyllengren was my sounding board. If I had a fight with my mom, I’d get on my bike and go over to her house. We’d bake cookies together and drink Fresca—the only soda my grandparents bought. She’d listen to my woes, and she’d even defend me to my mom. She once said to her, “You can’t stop Gretchen from being Gretchen.”
My mother was as outgoing as her mother was shy. She was the social force of our family, and the life of the party, with a gregarious nature and a great laugh. She was a terrific cook and loved to entertain, and her parties were popular. Kris and I were enlisted to dress in cute matching outfits and carry around hors d’oeuvres. The guests ate and ate, and we returned to the kitchen many times for refills. Eventually we’d get tired and complain, but Mom would just say, “Get back out there and put a smile on your face,” and back we’d go until our trays were empty.
• • •
Faith was a constant in our lives. It seemed as if we were always in church. It was the centerpiece of every week, especially on Sundays. Our whole family pitched in. Kris and I sometimes performed for all three services, playing violin, cello, and piano, often in duets. We also sang in the choir, and I taught Sunday school in high school. Mom taught Sunday school and Dad sang in the choir. If I was playing for more than one service, I liked to sit in the sacristy—a little room off the altar. It felt like being at a private club during church, because I’d see Grandpa each time he came back during the service. The church was like a second home to me.
Having Grandpa in the pulpit was like watching a rock star. He was a dynamic and inspirational preacher, and he had an amazing way with people. He made church personal for me. I remember going up to the altar for Communion and kneeling down. He would brush his hand (slightly curled from the arthritis he refused to have treated) softly across my cheek before giving me the bread and grape juice, as if to say, “You’re my girl.” I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it.
I always say that my wonderful grandfather gave me the gift of faith. He baptized me, married me, and baptized my daughter, Kaia. Sadly, he died just three weeks before my son, Christian, was born. But Grandpa’s gift is still alive inside of me. As curious as I am about so many things in the world, the one thing I’ve never questioned is my faith. No matter what goal I have tried to achieve in life, I’ve always known that God is right by my side.
In our household, being a Christian was more than going to church on Sunday. We weren’t Bible thumpers. We practiced a daily Christianity that was as practical as it was spiritual. My father always told me, “Gretchen, people will know you’re a Christian by the way you act.” He was a perfect example of that. It was important for him to be a good person in the community. My mom, too. Growing up, I just took it for granted that everyone had warm and charitable hearts. It made me admire my parents even more when I learned how special their kindness was. Mom was a regular volunteer in the church and in the community, participating in Meals on Wheels and making Easter baskets for those in need. Dad belonged to the hospital board and Kiwanis. That spirit of involvement is not as prevalent today. People say they’re too busy. But my parents were also busy, running a business and raising four kids. It comes down to priorities—and to caring. People always comment on how nice Minnesotans are. But that niceness is practiced in action. That’s the way I was raised.
Today when I speak my mind, the topic is often Christianity. I’m not a “God-clutcher,” as William Goldman depicted me. That’s not the way I was taught. I was taught to be accepting of our nation’s diversity, including its religious diversity. I often get criticized for supposedly not liking people who are atheists. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a free country. But I feel compelled to speak out when I see society veering off course to an unhealthy extent—on the one hand becoming more tolerant of diversity and on the other hand trying to marginalize Christianity. Sometimes it’s downright crazy. Take the recent debate about a cross at the World Trade Center memorial site. When the World Trade Center collapsed, there appeared in the rubble a seventeen-foot cross-shaped beam. That cross wasn’t created by people—it was naturally formed in the collapse. A lot of Americans found it comforting. For me it was a sign from God that we can find unity as a nation and a world after a horrendous act of terrorism. But whether you take it that way or just see it as two beams in the rubble, it’s a historical artifact. It actually happened that way. I covered Ground Zero as a reporter and saw it for myself. But an organization of atheists challenged a plan to include the cross at the 9/11 Memorial Museum on the basis of its being a Christian symbol. They later lost in court, but I just shake my head in amazement at these kinds of antics. It bothers me that some people express an antipathy to Christianity. The American notion of freedom of religion doesn’t preclude celebrating your faith.
I come to these views sincerely after a lifetime of religious practice, but I also want my children to have the opportunity I had to fully celebrate Christianity without its meaning being hijacked by people who don’t really give a rip. Rituals and symbols of faith were essential to my life growing up in Minnesota. They anchored the lessons my grandfather preached from the pulpit, and I know they made me a better person, more compassionate and giving.
It was thanks to our religion that we had exposure to the world at large as kids. Every year my grandfather would organize a trip to the Holy Land for his church, and we went to Israel several times. We’d usually combine those trips with visits to other locations, so one year we went to Egypt and another year to Germany.
When we went to Israel, we’d bring packs of gum and pens and pencils to hand out to the kids in poor areas. They’d see us coming, and within a few seconds we’d have a huge crowd around us. Many of them had never seen gum before. The 1970s were a very tense time in the Middle East, and even as young children we were aware of that. When we traveled from Egypt to Israel we went through heavily armed checkpoints and were all searched. The sight of men with rifles everywhere and the sense of constant danger made me appreciate our life back home.
My parents and grandparents often quoted the passage from Luke, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” And they showed us the world to give the passage meaning. It became an enduring theme of my life—the idea that I was so blessed and that I had to have high expectations for myself and give back as much as I could.
• • •
Even as a child, I tried to stand up for myself. I was an early reader, and my mom will tell you that she doesn’t even know how I learned to read so young. But by the time I went to kindergarten in the fall, I was quite good. On the first day of school our teacher, Mrs. Grosslein, divided the class into kids who could read and kids who couldn’t, and she put me in the group of kids who couldn’t read. All morning I kept raising my hand, saying, “But Mrs. Grosslein, I know how to read.” And she’d tell me to keep quiet. Finally I went up to her desk and cried, very upset, “Mrs. Grosslein, I know how to read!”
She hushed me and said, “No, no, we’ll just keep you where you are.”
I ran all the way home crying and slammed the door behind me, screaming, “I know how to read! I know how to read!”
I can still remember the agony of that experience—being able to do something and being told you couldn’t. My intense reaction was a precursor to the way I always pushed myself to achieve. I never wanted to be told I couldn’t accomplish something. So in a way, maybe I have Mrs. Grosslein partly to thank for some of my later fiery determination.
My best friend growing up—and to this day—was Molly Kinney, who lived ten houses away. We both lived on the Mississippi River. Her father was a doctor and she was one of six kids. We became best friends in first grade after we both showed up for the school photo wearing the exact same blue-and-white dress.
Like I said, I was chubby as a kid. Molly was skinny. My mom used to keep our kitchen stocked with all kinds of goodies, although she always had her eye on me. “Do not touch those doughnuts,” she’d warn. Then she’d leave the house and Molly and I would sneak in and eat a few doughnuts. When my mom came home and saw they were missing, I’d blame Molly—and Molly always went along with it. I was happy about that. The only problem is, I kept getting fatter and Molly kept getting skinnier.
I just loved doughnuts and pastry. Hans Bakery was right on the way to school, and I’d stop and get a doughnut or an elephant ear, a puff pastry confection, huge and flat in the shape of an elephant’s ear, flaky and sweet.
At the time I was a huge fan of Fran Tarkenton, the famous Vikings quarterback. I knew he didn’t sign many autographs, but when we went to Vikings games I’d wait in the parking lot in my snowsuit, hoping for a chance. One Sunday as dozens of us were swarming around Tarkenton and his car, he announced, pointing at me, “I’ll do one more autograph—for the chubby little girl with the pigtails.” I was ecstatic and didn’t even care that he called me chubby because I had his autograph—and still do. I’ve interviewed Tarkenton several times on Fox, and we always chuckle at the autograph story.
My mom had me on a diet constantly. She instructed my babysitter, future congresswoman Michele Bachmann (who was Michele Amble at the time), not to let me drink any sugary sodas, but Michele did anyway, and I loved her for that. Michele had long, straight brown hair, which I envied. Many years later she joked in an interview, “It was my Cher period.”
Excerpted from "Getting Real"
Copyright © 2016 Gretchen Carlson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Speaking My Mind 1
Chapter 1 "Sparkles" 9
Chapter 2 Little Girl in a Big Orchestra 29
Chapter 3 Seize the Day 61
Chapter 4 Becoming Miss America 77
Chapter 5 American Womanhood 101 113
Chapter 6 The Work I Love 149
Chapter 7 Kindred Spirits 171
Chapter 8 My Miracle Family 195
Chapter 9 Woman in the Middle 215
Chapter 10 To Whom Much Is Given 241
Epilogue: The Music of My Life 253
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a fantastic book! Carlson is very funny and candid, telling of her struggles and faith in such a relatable way. It's a great read!
Gretchen Carlson has accomplished a lot. She won the Miss America pageant, but didn’t just rely on her beauty. She became a successful FOX News anchor, showing off her intelligence and charming personality. This firsthand look into Gretchen’s life is very interesting. Definitely a thumbs up on this one.
What an inspiring book for women (or men) of all ages. I can't wait for my 15 year old daughter to read it too. She is destined for greatness, but need's to see that it will be a tough road, and I'm sure Gretchen's story will help give her the perseverance she will need to succeed. God bless you my Sister Gretchen, and thank's for being real. Amen.