Star Power

With her career soaring and no-nonsense attitude in full bloom, it's hard keeping up with this Jones

May 04, 2004|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN ARTS WRITER

Star Jones is the Diva of Dish.

She parlayed her gift for gab from the New Jersey projects where she grew up to the New York courtrooms where she was a top prosecutor to your television screen, where she reigns daily as one of the quintet of co-hosts on ABC's The View.

Her trademark candor and common sense will be on display tomorrow, when she talks about her life and experiences as part of the Smart Talk lecture series sponsored by The Sun.

"If there's one thing that I have learned from my audiences it is that they are discerning of truth," Jones, 42, says. "They may like the things that come out of my mouth or they may dislike them, but they appreciate that I am being honest with them."

Over the phone from New York, she is warm and chatty, bubbling away about her coming nuptials to Wall Street banker Al Reynolds (whom she has dated since November), the line of clothing she hopes to design (details still being worked out), and her footwear collection (current count: more than 500 pairs.) She offers her takes on The Passion of the Christ, Martha Stewart and atheists.

The only thing Jones won't reveal? Her dress size.

"That's none of your business," she says. "I've tried to explain to reporters over the years that the size of my rear-end does not make me who I am. I'm comfortable talking about it. I just don't think it's relevant."

Society is saturated with images that equate slenderness with sexual desirability, but Jones said that she never bought into that stereotype because she received so much positive reinforcement from her stepfather, Jimmy.

Self-confidence

"I never had a feeling that I wasn't beautiful or sexy or talented or smart, because my dad showed me every day that I was," she says. "To this day, he'll call me after seeing me on TV and say: `Princess, you were looking good today.'"

Starlet Marie Jones always knew she was royalty-in-the-making, despite being born out of wedlock in Badin, N.C., on March 24, 1962. A large extended family helped raise Star and her younger sister, Sheila, while the girls' mother, Shirley, returned to Trenton, N.J., to earn a college degree. When Jones was 9, her mom married James Byard whom Jones describes as "a kind, sweet jewel of a man."

She was an independent-minded little girl who decided when she was about 8 years old that she would become a lawyer when she grew up because, as her grandmother put it, "they're the ones who get people out of trouble."

Her fighting spirit came to her aid when she was diagnosed at age 20 with a supposedly inoperable tumor. The then-college student was given nine to 12 months to live.

Grabbing her laboratory results, Jones delayed starting radiation against the advice of her family and New Jersey physician. She returned to American University in Washington, where she was a college senior, and sought a second opinion from Benjamin Aaron, the surgeon who successfully removed the bullet fragment from former President Ronald Reagan.

An operation would be tricky, but Aaron thought he could pull it off. In her autobiography, You Have to Stand for Something, or You'll Fall for Anything (co-written with Daniel Paisner), Jones recalls the surgeon's last words before she succumbed to anesthesia:

"Just remember, Star, I'm going to save your life, you're going to be a very famous lawyer someday, and you will never sue doctors."

He did, and she never has.

TV debut

After earning a law degree from the University of Houston, Jones joined the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, rising to senior assistant prosecutor in 1991. That year she made her television debut, providing commentary on Court TV for the William Kennedy Smith rape trial.

Her analysis of accuser Patricia Bowman's testimony was classic Jones: "It's been my experience that women know where they take off their underwear," she told viewers. "When they don't, they have a credibility problem."

That's especially true, she said, when the underwear in question is a pair of control-top pantyhose. "Trust me on this one."

Jones was such a hit that she was quickly snapped up as a legal correspondent for Today and the NBC Nightly News and later, Inside Edition. She covered the Mike Tyson rape case, the Rodney King police brutality trial and the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

In 1997, she joined The View, a new talk show that played off the vibe between its five female co-hosts, of whom Barbara Walters is the first among equals. Jones became known as the opinionated one, and for the past six years, her tell-it-like-it-is 'tude has helped the show rack up a fistful of Emmys.

Not that Jones' views always sit well with her audience. She got in trouble two years ago when she said she wouldn't consider voting for an atheist for U.S. president. (Jones is deeply religious.)

Atheist organizations nationwide protested. Then, it was reported, falsely, that Jones had apologized. Outraged, she declared that she had done no such thing. "I don't apologize to anyone for my opinions," she said. "Ever. Under any circumstances."

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