Wonderful Life

As a young girl she dreamed of being an actress. “I saw my first play at 9, “The Barrett’s of Wimpole Street,” and that was it. I remember sitting on the train at 11, sucking in my cheeks and pretending to be Marlene Dietrich,” she looks down and smiles. It is the shy innocent smile of that same young girl, alluring; you are instantly captivated, disarmed. It’s impossible not to like her.

Patricia Baxter Naggiar was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. She was the bad girl in school, “I’d put ink in the Holy water, anything to get attention.”

Pat studied drama at the Guild Hall and became an actress, “I was a dead body in my first part. My mother came to every performance and said, ‘You didn’t even breathe!’ She was my biggest fan, not so with my father.”

As National Service, following WWII, Pat toured the Middle East with John Gielgud in two plays. On break, she went alone to Tobruk. “There were 2,000 naked ‘Tommy’s,’ British soldiers, on the docks waiting as the ship pulled in. The captain shouted, “Woman on board!” and they all covered their privates and ran.” Pat laughs, “I did what Rommel couldn’t do.”

In Cairo, Pat met businessman Ray Naggiar. Pat and Ray fell in love and married. Reknowned Egyptian painter, Ezzeldin Hamouda painted her wedding portrait. The painting won the Venice Exhibition Prize in 1956.

Soon after their marriage they moved to Italy and ran a buscuit company for a time. When Ray closed the business they moved to Suez. The Battle of Suez erupted shortly after their arrival and they fled to America.

Pat found work: an actress on a CBS soap opera, learned news at Time magazine, and eventually hired on as a producer at CBS News. ZDF, German Television, had offices at the CBS Broadcast Center and wanted someone who could look at America through foreign eyes. Pat got the job. She traveled everywhere, interviewed everyone of importance for the show, “Portrait of a Person.” She became the Barbara Walters of German Television. One wall in her Hudson home is a gallery of those she interviewed; Dolly Parton, Ted Turner, Malcolm X, the Dalai Lama, Andy Warhol, James Garner, Kirk Douglas, Jane Fonda, Gerald Ford, Mother Theresa, Christopher Reeves (his last interview prior to his riding accident), Peter Ustinov, Arthur Miller, Loren Greene, George Bush Sr., Woody Allen and Ronald Reagan to name a few.

Pat became a bit of a genius at acquiring interviews. Every year, as Christmas neared her boss chided, “Get Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. And Garbo!”
During a chance meeting with a lawyer she noticed he had papers for Crosby to sign. Pat persisted and finally got a phone number. She called and Bing answered.

“I’ll give you ten minutes. I’m a stickler for being on time. I’m going to walk in and out, that’s it,” he said agreeing to the designated interview time of 5:30 p.m.

Pat booked the Cole Porter Suite at the Waldorf. It was October, but she found a Christmas tree and decorated it. Caterers delivered food and she waited. 5:30 came and went, no Bing. Finally, at 6:45 he arrived apologizing profusely, “I’ll do anything for you.”

“Will you sing White Christmas?” Pat chimed. Jazz great, pianist Joe Bushkin played and Bing Crosby sang for 45 delicious minutes, including White Christmas. Back at the office Pat’s boss said, “Well, you still didn’t get Garbo.”

Pat once sent an out of print recording of ‘30’s jazz clarinetist Edmond Hall to Woody Allen’s office. Woody called, wanting to know where she found it. Pat got her interview.

One trip found Pat among a throng of journalists nestled in the back of Air Force I. “Journalists paid three times the First Class rate to fly,” she points out. Discovering there was another bathroom in the front of the plane, she went to use it. Pat smiled at Nancy Reagan, not the President. She told the First Lady most journalists were wrongly accusing her President of dying his hair, pointing out the occasional gray hair in his thick dark locks. “No hairdresser can make it look that good,” she told Mrs. Reagan and Nancy invited her to sit down. Eventually she asked if the President might consent to an interview. “Oh, Ronnie would love to talk with you,” Mrs. Reagan beamed and Pat got the interview.

Pat’s favorite question, lifted from Walters was, “What’s the greatest misconception about you?”

Nancy Reagan confessed it was the misconception the President dyed his hair. “I’ll tell you something else,” she whispered. “Ronnie has no cavities.”

“Don’t tell the press,” Pat warned, “They’ll make fun of it. You know, ‘Look Ma, no cavities.’”

What was Dolly Parton’s misconception?

“That she’s stupid, it’s hardly the truth. She’s a very smart business woman.”

Malcolm X?

“He had a great sense of humor, falling down funny. He was a very charming man, fascinated with jazz and became a good friend to my family.”

What’s your dream?

“To win the lottery and produce a film, starring me.” Pat laughs her endearing laugh, looks down and smiles. When her eyes return they are filled with light, “I’ve traveled to every state in America, met extraordinary people. I’ve had a really wonderful life.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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