"Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad." - Proverb
Nick Clooney -- brother of Rosemary, father of George and Ada, husband of Nina -- is a man of many talents. Over the span of his long, successful career, Clooney has taken a turn as a news anchor, starred in his own TV show (The Nick Clooney Show), hosted a local game show (The Money Maze), wrote a column for The Cincinnati Post, hosted a national television show (American Movie Classics), ran for Congress, and, with son George, became an activist for Darfur. The man obviously never sleeps! (And, for the record, he's charming, has a delightful sense of humor and is a true southern gentleman.)
The Kentucky native's look-a-like son is one of the most notable actors on the planet. People pay attention. The headlines never stop. ("Ball ironing"? Seriously? Stop! We're not even going to go there!) The Oscar-winning actor's body of work can be matched only by a select few in the Hollywood community. Nick was kind enough to sit down with The Huffington Post to share his memories of being a father for the past 52 years to that famous guy (whose sense of humor keeps him grounded) -- and perhaps spilled a cute little revelation about the teenage jester, George Clooney, that will bring a laugh or two. Who doesn't like cute kid stories? (If we only had the photos!)
Hey, Nick, how are you?
I'm just fine. I'm better off than you. I don't envy you.
(Laughs) You should. I'm talking to you!
That makes my point for me. I wrote a column for 18 years for The Cincinnati Post -- three a week -- and the one I could never pull off was the cute kid stories.
We're going to pull that off today, how's that?
You can do it. (Laughs)
There's nothing more important in life than being a good parent, as you know. You're a father. I know your son is one of the most famous actors in the world, but he's still your son. So let's talk about the part of his life as it pertains to the two of you.
I must tell you, I've spent most of my life doing the best I could to tell the truth because I've been a reporter all my life, so I have to tell you I think there's a whole bunch of overblown [statistics] of this parent stuff. I think they come out pretty much the kind of people they're going to be. They come out of the womb that way. We have very little to do with it. I tell you, if he were a serial killer, this would be an entirely different conversation you and I would be having, and I'd be running away from you.
But the most important fact is he's not a serial killer. You did a darn good job. He's absolutely one of the nicest actors I've ever interviewed in my life! So polite and gracious! You and your wife obviously raised him right!
It's in his nature. I wonder at it myself. I see him in really tough situations, and he'll make a call. He'll return the call. It's amazing. I would have ducked down and closed the door for a week or two after some of the things he's been through. But he didn't. So I salute him. He's turned out to be kind of a great guy.
In my research, I was looking at some photos, and I was just amazed at how much George looks like you when you were a young man. It's uncanny. Has your son gotten around to thanking you for his good looks?
I always thought he'd outgrow it. (Laughs)
He's like a little clone of you.
Believe me, not on my best day did I look as good as George. Not ever.
I saw the pictures. I beg to differ.
Someone must have retouched them. (Laughs)
OK, I want the cute kid stories. When you're sitting around the dinner table at Christmas or Thanksgiving, do you have a favorite story that you like to keep sharing with the family and friends -- family tales of a young George?
Sure, he did things. George had a kind of a sense of irony and justice from the very beginning. When he was very, very little -- maybe three -- we were at his grandparents, and there was a puppy there. He was playing with the puppy and the puppy snapped at him. That was the first time that had ever happened to him, and he was outraged. And he cried, but he also picked the puppy up and bit it. (Laughs) What a perfect sense of justice. The puppy was just as outraged as he was. That's one of the stories we talk about.
How cute is that. Did the puppy have to get a rabies shot?
(Big laugh) That's the tag of that story. You picked it perfectly. No, neither one of them had to get shots.
When he was a little guy, grade school age, do you have a favorite Father's Day gift he gave you?
When the kids were little, school would just be out, and they would have just made the most important decision, which is what to give mom. Mother's Day is important. Father's Day is an afterthought. (Laughs) And so they would all of a sudden remember, just having started summer vacation, "Oh, good heavens, I've got to get something done for pop." So then they would hurry up and makeshift something, and it would always be great! George is a wonderful caricaturist, and he made wonderful caricatures of me. I have a drawer full of them. All of them, unfortunately, look exactly like me. (Laughs) He captures me perfectly.
How many has he done over the years?
Oh, heaven knows. As a matter of fact, in high school he went to a festival in a nearby town and he sold caricatures. People would sit down, and he would do a caricature for five bucks. I imagine some of those are framed in Kentucky households.
Did you frame yours?
Oh, he signed mine, and as a matter of fact, I put them on the front of my collection of columns that I published 120 years ago. He's very talented. My daughter would make little ties for me. Those [Father's Day presents] are wonderful memories in every household.
When you were guiding George through those teen years from 13 to 18, how did that play out?
The [key] was a sense of humor. Even if we were having a difference about who should get the car and when, even if it got a little heated, we would find something -- either right at that moment or soon after -- that was funny; that always seemed to get us through.
We were a very progressive family in a very red state so that didn't always mix well. The way George tells it now -- they would be very young, maybe going through their puberty years -- we'd be in some restaurant where there would be a gathering, one of those chicken and peas dinners you would go to and you'd bring your family. Somebody would say something that, to me, was outrageous, and I would start a discussion. The discussion would get more heated, and as George and Ada watched, he told me later, as soon as he saw that I was getting pretty upset about what this other person was saying, he would call the waiter over and both George and Ada would make sure that they got their dessert because they knew I was going to be walking out. (Laughs) So they got their dessert first before I stormed out and gave one of these big ridiculous speeches: "Oh, yeah! So's your old man!" (Laughs) George and Ada would be furiously getting the chocolate cake down. He tells that story regularly now.
Are there any other cute stories you'd like to share?
There's one I've never been able to write. The funniest story that I remember about George and his teen years happened on Easter. There was a very, very rare earthquake that occurred in Kentucky. Our little town was not far from the epicenter. It was a significant one, 5.6. The cornices were falling off the houses. Nina and I were gone to the in-laws, and we were driving back. George stayed home because he was going to do a little show for the little kids for Easter.
Up in the attic we had a trunk full of stuff we had used on television, costumes and little props. He was in the attic, and he found a wonderful old full-length rabbit suit with the ears that were crooked and the great big feet and the big fluffy tail. And he thought, "Boy, this would be funny. I wonder if I can get into that thing?"
He put it on in the attic and the earthquake occurred at that moment. Everyone ran out into the street scared to death. And George, in full regalia, in the rabbit suit, came running out into the street, and the lady across the street -- a very religious woman -- looked at him and thought that the pit of hell opened up and all the animals were coming out. She screamed and very near fainted. She sat on the porch, and George finally had to take the head off so that she would see that it was him and everything was OK.
So getting that visual: earthquake in Kentucky and George in a full-length rabbit suit, big feet and all, awkwardly running out into the street, and this woman fainting at the rabbit coming out of hell. (Laughs)
I want that picture. George Clooney in a rabbit suit. You just send that to me. I'll frame that one.
I didn't realize that George played baseball and basketball in high school and tried out for the Cincinnati Reds. Were you hoping at that point in his life that he would become a professional baseball player instead of an actor?
I knew that he would in one way or another end up in a public business. That was just in the cards. He was just too gregarious and too talented and too funny not to be in the business. If athletics was the way that went, that would be great. I, naturally, was hoping it would be broadcasting. I was hoping it would be news. He has a wonderful sense of current events. And if sports had worked out, that would be great. I love the Cincinnati Reds. I lived and breathed them most of my life. If it was going to be that, great; if it was going to be news, great; if it was going to be the best disc jockey in Ashland, KY, that would have been fine. Instead it turned out to be what it did.
Did George ever give any serious thought to becoming a news anchor like his dad?
We talked about that a lot. I talked about broadcasting generally. When he first got interested in the idea of acting, which was a little later in his teenage years -- actually after he got out of high school -- I was arguing against it. I was saying how silly that was, what a dumb idea for him to be an actor. I said, "George, let's look at the numbers. How many people are making a real living as an actor right now in the world? In the United States, maybe 5,000?" I said there are probably 50,000 of us making a living in broadcasting. So I was pushing him hard. Of course, the moral of this story is: always listen to your father.
Does your son take advice from his dad now that he's over 50?
Of course not. Never did and never will. (Laughs) And we now know how smart he was not to take my advice.
Do you ever wish he would take your advice now?
I got over that in a hurry. Before things started working for George, you could tell that he had found a place that fit. He was content. Then I butted out.
What's the best advice you gave your son that he actually took to heart?
You know I don't think there was ever a thing that I said to him that ever worked perfectly. I asked him once that same question. I said, "Did I ever give you any advice that was worthwhile?" He thought about it for a minute or two and he said, "You told me never to mix grape with grain."
Well, there you go. He understood that logic, right?
That's one. (Laughs)
I'm a huge fan of your sister, Rosemary Clooney. What a singer! She had a beautiful voice.
You've got great taste.
Do you sing?
I had two sisters and I was the third best singer in the family so I decided I better start talking for a living. I sing like everybody sings at the family reunion. I'm that guy. But, no, I was raised with two world-class singers so I decided I better find out something else to do for a living. Rosemary wasn't just a world-class singer, she was a world-class sister. She also had a vibrant sense of humor. I think that's what I miss most of all. I miss the laughter. We laughed all the time.
Does George have a good singing voice?
He sings like me. He certainly has a presentable voice for a friend's gathering, but, no, he's not going to knock Bing Crosby off the charts.
I think he's doing just fine...
Without singing... (laughs)
He found his niche, and he's pretty darn successful. You must be a proud father.
That I am. I'm very proud the way he handles things and how he thinks. I'm very proud of his priorities. I'm a very lucky dad.
When George was growing up, did you teach him to follow his dreams or his heart?
You know, I don't suppose... I'm not sure those are inseparable, are they really? Let me think about that. I would suppose that would be pretty much the same thing. All I always said, "There are things that you believe and I believe. We believe that we should always help people that have less power than we, and we should always challenge people who have more power. We should always be suspicious of all power, especially any we get ourselves." Every time I look at him and listen to him, I think that he subscribes to that.
I have to ask you about George's pet pig, Max. I love farm animals. Did you get along with Max?
Max, the wonderful pig. Yes, Max and I were pals. At George's house, Max had his own house outside. But he would always come in the morning and lay across the doorstep outside so nobody could get in or out without stepping over Max which was no small [feat]. And he thought he was a great singer. He was a terrible singer, but very loud. He sang all day long.
What's your greatest wish for your two children from this moment on?
What I wish for my children is that what they are striving for comes true. I also hope, at the end of the day, they have as great a life as I've had.
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