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Encore Presentation: Interview with Bree Walker, Jim Lampley

Aired July 17, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Bree Walker. A genetic deformity that fused her fingers and toes together could not keep her from making it as a TV anchor woman or from having two kids with the same condition but becoming a mom proved so controversial she ended up having to leave the anchor's chair. Bree Walker tells us all about it next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: We have a great show in store for you tonight. We have an old friend. Bree Walker is with us. And later, Bree Walker will be joined by the well-known Jim Lampley, her ex-husband, but -- we'll find out about that later. Sounds weird, but he's ex but not really.

Bree Walker has a genetic hand and foot deformity called ectrodactyly. She has two children who also have it. She's a former news anchor, and a very popular one at WCBS in New York and KCBS in Los Angeles.

She's an activist in the fight for the rights of those with disabilities.

Thanks for joining us, Bree.


KING: We're starting with...

WALKER: It's a pleasure. Well, ectrodactyly is not a common word, so to the average viewer you could just say it's just fused fingers and toes. And it doesn't happen that often, maybe one in 90,000 people, as much as doctors know about it.

But when I had the blood drawn to join the Human Genome Project to isolate where ectrodactyly comes from, it was interesting to learn that in fact it's part of a larger family, including the ectodermal dysplasia, of which there are many.

KING: What does it mean? What does the word mean?

WALKER: Well, it means fused bones and joints of the digits.

KING: Did anyone in your family have it? WALKER: My mother had it, but when she was born and raised, everybody thought it was rheumatoid arthritis, because the funny thing about ectrodactyly is it manifests itself in different shapes almost every time it arrives.

KING: But arthritis looks like that?

WALKER: Her fingers didn't look like this. They looked much like if your hand were bent in a claw-like posture. So that's what the doctors thought.

And the missing link in my family is that my grandfather was someone we never even knew was Mosovich (ph). And so my mother got her birth certificate when she was 65 years old and applied for Social Security benefits. And she saw the name Mosovich (ph) and said, "I don't know who this is?" Her mother was already passed away.

So there's a missing link in the family, and we think maybe it was part of the Mosovich (ph) family.

KING: You have brothers and sisters?

WALKER: I do. I have two brothers and a sister.

KING: Do they have it?

WALKER: The two oldest don't, and the brother closest to me in age does. So 50-50, just as the doctors had predicted.

KING: Do we know how many people have it?

WALKER: Approximately one in 90,000 to 100,000 people with an ectrodactyly that shows up like this, but the ectodermal dysplasia family has a lot more people with various manifestations.

KING: It's worldwide?

WALKER: Absolutely. In fact, there was a tribe a long, long time ago in Africa, and it's been charted in anthropology books, that were all ectrodactylists. Of course, they were in-bred. They didn't get out of their tribal village, so there were many of them.

But they were the best tree climbers, because my fingers and toes are good grippers. You wouldn't necessarily think so with my hands, especially, but my feet have...


WALKER: Yes, yes. It's no problem. I mean, the thing about being born with a disability, as opposed to acquiring one...

KING: You don't know anything else.

WALKER: You don't know anything else.

KING: George Shearing (ph) told me once he never wanted to see, because he was born blind and that's the world he knows.

WALKER: It would be like those horses that used to go down in the coal mines, when they brought them back and they could hardly handle it, the shock to their eyes was too much.

KING: Yes.

WALKER: Plus sometimes the world's kind of ugly, isn't it?

KING: Yes. It must have been rough for you as a kid.

WALKER: Yes. You know, teenage...

KING: Made fun of you?

WALKER: But you know, don't you think we all feel mangled? I mean, isn't that really what is the common bond...

KING: I mean, you're a beautiful girl. When you started to go on dates, or first time...

WALKER: That was awful!

KING: What was it like?

WALKER: I think this was why I got married three times, or maybe four. We'll talk about that later. I couldn't stand dating. I just got married as soon as I could. Got married at 19, the first time.

KING: Well, what was it like when the guy first called for you, on a date?

WALKER: It hurt. I mean, my first boyfriend was a nice boy, but I found out later that he had dated me on a dare from his friends and that really hurt. And they dared him to hold hands with me.

But you know, those are the things that they do...

KING: How young did you know you were different?

WALKER: Kindergarten. And not a minute before. Going to school.

KING: There were no preschools, anyway?

WALKER: There were no preschools, not in my little town in Minnesota.

KING: You went to school. Did the other kids make fun of you?

WALKER: Yes, absolutely. Public school is, I think, perhaps as cruel as any private school these days, but kids are cruel. We are all cruel when we fear things.

KING: How did your parents tell you how to handle it? WALKER: Well, they thought that it would be my job to make everybody comfortable with me, so I should be the first to put my hand out to shake hands.

So I always used to thrust my hand out as a little kid to shake hands and then get used to the fact that there'd be a little bit of shock and when the person gets over the shock, then if they ask a question, "what happened?" tell them I was born like this and it doesn't hurt.

They told me it was my job to make sure people got comfortable, and that would get over the fear they had.

KING: Does it give you later problems in life? Joint problems, arthritic problems?

WALKER: I probably will develop arthritis in my hands and feet. I already have...

KING: You have it in the feet, too?


I have two toes on each foot, they are curved inward. I've had many surgeries on my feet. None on my hands, but...

KING: But you walk fine.

WALKER: Yes. But you know, some of that is adaptation. I don't really have a ball on my foot. I don't have an instep. I have very flat feet.

KING: Special shoes?

WALKER: I -- when I have to wear heels, I've had special shoes made. I was vain enough to spend a lot of money on having a couple pairs of shoes made. But otherwise, I wear children's shoes.

KING: So life growing up was difficult?

WALKER: Difficult for the experience of sharing this with other kids who didn't understand. But I grew up in a small town, and it's relatively insular. So I had a lot of good friends.

KING: How did you come to choose a vocation that would put you on camera?

WALKER: You know, Jim and I have spoken about that a lot. But I know it goes back as far as my childhood. Jim will say that it's because of my disability/deformity that I feel like I must be out there in the public eye.

I think it's because it goes back to what every girl wants when she's a little girl, which is to grow up and be a movie star. And I loved acting and I loved...

KING: Were you in school plays?

WALKER: Yes. I was in all the school plays.

KING: How did you pick newscasting?

WALKER: Actually, I think it came down to it picking me in the sense that I had been studying journalism. I was in radio, like you. I started in radio and I loved radio.

KING: Where was this, in Minnesota?

WALKER: I started radio in Kansas City, and then New York and San Diego. And that's where I crossed over into television, San Diego. But I essentially thought that I wanted to have an opportunity to use my love of news and what was going on. I'm an action junkie, so, you know.

KING: So news was the thing that drew you to it?

WALKER: Yes, it was.

KING: Did any television station say, "Hey, we can't use you"?

WALKER: Most of them. In fact, the very first station that I worked for in San Diego was run by a general manager who I think is the bravest television executive I've ever met. Because I don't think there are too many television executives that would be brave enough to hire someone with this kind of...

KING: What was his name?

WALKER: ... hand disease. Ron Myers (ph). Long since retired. But I knew that he had some question about it.

So I did my vain turn, and I offered to wear prosthetic gloves, which I'd had made in a particularly weak, vain moment in New York, when I was working in radio but doing a little bit of modeling on the side. I had fake hands made.

I offered to wear them, and I wore them for two weeks on the air. But I've got to tell you, Larry, it's the first time I really felt handicapped.

KING: Wearing them?

WALKER: Yes. Rubber gloves prevented me from being able to turn the pages of my copy easily enough. I was an investigative consumer reporter, a job I just adored. But, of course, you have to handle a lot of things when you're out in the field doing consumer reporting, and lot of close-ups.

KING: And when you took them off, did you take them off with the station's permission?

WALKER: What happened was...

KING: Hold on, let me go fix a grabber. Enough grabbers in television.

We'll be right back with Bree Walker. Jim Lampley joins us later. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bree Walker is here with us now and she has more on that report.

WALKER: Jack, you may remember that in September we told you about the findings of Dr. Richard Wordman...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Squeeze the trigger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a .357 Magnum you're shooting there.

WALKER: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You looked like you knew what you're doing. I'll call you Ms. Walker from now on.

WALKER: It is maximum security. Originally this was built to house Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten, the three women convicted in the Manson murders.




WALKER: I was born with deformed hands and my feet are pretty strange-looking, too. Of course, I've been this way all my life and it's all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and it's no big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But by anybody's standards Bree Walker is a big deal. But the problems exist not just in the workplace and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the illness can strike anywhere.

WALKER: The couple had not been charged with abuse or neglect yet (UNINTELLIGIBLE) came to take the children and put them in a foster home.

Of course, the health department says that they want this to be an average sampling representative of the entire society in the way that the AIDS virus moves.


KING: We're back with Bree Walker. All right. She's in television. She's working in San Diego. She's wearing gloves to hide a deformity. Doesn't like wearing them, feels disabled wearing them.

WALKER: And I felt like a fake. I felt totally like a fraud.

KING: Did you go to the general manager and say, "I'm taking them off"?

WALKER: I didn't have to. He called me in and he said, "Bree." He said, "We like your reports. We think you've got good investigative consumer smarts. But -- but you have no body language that will work for the set." He said, "You're stiff."

And he said, "Is it the hands?" And "I can't imagine that you'd be that comfortable wearing the gloves."

And I said, "Yes. And I don't think I can keep doing this job." And I broke down in tears, and I said, "I'm going to offer to resign so that you don't have to do the tough work of telling me that I'm fired."

And he said, "I wasn't going to say that." He said, "Why don't you just take the gloves off?"

And I -- I mean, I felt like a weight of a lifetime had been lifted off my shoulders.


WALKER: And the calls came in.

KING: Now, did you explain it when you went on the air? Or nothing?

WALKER: No. We said nothing. So much of what happens on TV, like when anchors leave and go to a different station, the television station won't say anything. It's so -- why is that? People want to know what's happening.

It's the same thing. Oh, she showed up with different hands one day. I always like to think that...

KING: Viewers call in, letters?

WALKER: Some people noticed, but by and large most of the people just said, "Hooray. We're glad you've shown the truth."

KING: Did other people with the disease come forward? Is it a disease...

WALKER: It is not a disease. It is simply a congenital deformity.

KING: Did they come forward? Did you hear from people?

WALKER: I still do. In fact, I was told by someone recently that when you go online on Google and look under the word ectrodactyly, there's my picture.

KING: Really?

WALKER: I've become a clearinghouse for this deformity.

KING: So after that, it never hindered your TV career?

WALKER: I think that I've had a very lucky career. However, I have run into several prejudiced television executives, yes.

KING: Who what?

WALKER: Who essentially said, "I couldn't hire someone like that to work during the dinner hour, because it would put people off their food. Yes.

KING: So they put you on at 11 p.m.?

WALKER: So I ended up working for the very program director who had a problem with my hands. He happened to be working for a competitive station when I was working in New York. And then he landed at KCBS in Los Angeles, and I did not give my notice.

And I knew that he had a phobia.

KING: How long have you been off the air?

WALKER: I've been off the air from Los Angeles 10 years.

KING: Not -- have you tried to be hired somewhere else?

WALKER: Well, I worked another contract in San Diego at the NBC station there. But by this time, the production company that I have with my ex-husband...

KING: Still husband. We'll talk about that.

WALKER: And another partner. It's thriving, so we've been focusing a lot on -- on working...

KING: Don't you miss being on the air with the news every night?

WALKER: Only when there's a very big news event. And then they...

KING: That's like every day.

WALKER: Well, I know, we are living in interesting, strange times.

KING: You co-anchored with your husband, did you not?

WALKER: I did. And you know, that's how we met. We were a scandal, because we were both going through divorces at the time. So, yes, they brought me up from New York to join him on the set just at the time that he was starting his work as a news anchor. So it was an interesting chemistry.

KING: Was there...

WALKER: There was a lot of stuff going on under the desk.

KING: Was it interesting? Did you have an interesting...

WALKER: There was an instant attraction, yes. There was a lot of chemistry. But we were both still married. It was -- it was important that we remain friends and nothing more for the first six months until things were cleared up with our ex-spouses.

KING: Before I ask about your production company, would you go back on if someone said, "Come back on and anchor"?

WALKER: I don't know.

KING: Would you report?

WALKER: Yes. Yes, I probably would report. If it were the type of job that would allow me a little bit of editorial influence.

KING: Now, a controversy developed around you. You were going to have a baby, right? And the whole Los Angeles, some talk show, who was it? Somebody...

WALKER: Well, in Los Angeles it was KFI Radio, and the talk show host was a girl that isn't there now but it was Jane North (ph) and she was filling in for Tom Leicus (ph).

KING: And she whacked you for having a baby?

WALKER: I was eight...

KING: You were pregnant?

WALKER: I was eight months pregnant, showing like crazy on the set.

KING: This was your first child?

WALKER: Going through -- my second child. A similar event happened in New York.

KING: With the first child? Because both children have it?

WALKER: That's right.

KING: Are they two girls?

WALKER: No. I have one boy and one girl. So now we're speaking about Aaron, the youngest.

KING: And this was a campaign against your having the child or they wanted you to give it up? What did they wanted you to do -- you were pregnant already.

WALKER: Yes. It was -- the approach to the story was does Bree Walker have the right to have a child, particularly knowing that the chances of her having the deformity happen again are 50-50 and she's already had one child with ectrodactyly.

Should she choose to have a child again, knowing that it could happen?

KING: Were you pregnant already, or...

WALKER: Yes. I was eight months pregnant.

KING: So what did they want you to do with it?

WALKER: You know, I mean, clearly she was just...

KING: Did they want you to give it up or...

WALKER: What she wanted was to build her career off this controversy.

KING: And what did they ask you to do, those who were against you having the baby?

WALKER: Most people felt that I should have chosen abortion. And in fact, when I had gone to my ob/gyn in New York at Mt. Sinai Hospital. I was sent up to the chief ob/gyn to have a conversation after we saw that my first child, Andrea, who's now almost 16 in a sonogram did, in fact have my hands and feet.

And I saw it. I saw her little hands and feet pushed up against the uterine wall, and I said, "She's got my hands and feet." And at that time, the sonogram operator ran outside, left -- leaving me there lying with just the sheet and then the chief of obstetrics came down to speak with me.

And he said, "Please come up to my office." At which point, he said, "Here are the options."

And I looked at him, thinking, "This is an automatic conversation that the medical community and social science community had with women that have disabilities that are congenital. There is an automatic conversation that you're going to be expected to choose abortion."

KING: You never thought of it?

WALKER: Of course I thought of it. I mean, I'm someone who believes that a woman's right to her own body -- body is a supreme thing.

KING: Did you take this -- you took this to the FCC or something?

WALKER: We did when we had the complaint opportunity in Los Angeles.

KING: Let me go to -- as we go to break, here's Jim, and Jim will be with us in a little while, and Bree talking about that. Watch.


WALKER: What we hope to accomplish with the FCC complaint is to serve notice that KFI Radio's irresponsible broadcasting of prejudice and fear will not go unnoticed by the disability community which was victimized by its July 22 evening talk show.

As broadcasters ourselves, Jim and I are proud to work in a business where freedom of speech is at the core of everything we do. But we're also expected to be accountable for how we use that freedom of speech.





WALKER: Aaron James.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: But look how beautiful your face is. Wow, pregnancy really agrees with you.


KING: We're back with Bree Walker.

Where did all that go, that FCC complaint? Where -- eventually, you had the baby, a little boy.


KING: He's how old now?

WALKER: It was a stressful summer. Aaron's almost 13. This was the summer that we almost lost him.

The stress of that broadcast and what to do about that broadcast really did have an impact on my pregnancy. And I started to give birth about a week after that was broadcast. We stopped him from coming too soon. I finally did give birth about six weeks early, at the end of August, August 28.

KING: What happened with the whole FCC thing?

WALKER: We filed the complaint, knowing full well that, especially as people who not only were using free speech and their inalienable right as newscasters, we might look a little hypocritical.

But we went ahead and did it because I just could not get it out of my craw. I was so upset and angry at the prejudice, the prejudging of the quality of life that my children might have before they even have a chance to walk the planet. But I had to do something about it, Larry.

KING: But you didn't have a case, right?

WALKER: We didn't have a case. And we knew that the FCC would probably decide to not hear the argument. And in fact that's what happened. But we accomplished what we wanted to do, which was create a certain unity in the disability rights groups out there. We had about 150 public figures signed onto our complaint.

And essentially, the wording of the complaint said that if you're going to talk about reproductive rights, let's make sure that we're accurate, that we're balanced, that we're fair.

Now of course, KFI Radio at the time had just launched their controversial all-talk radio, which means no one had to look for balance or fairness. But after she called it a contagious disease, on the air, that was it. There was smoke out of Bree's ears.

And you know, I've been a disability rights spokesperson for a lot of years. I've helped write up the guidelines for using the proper language in newsrooms. I've been part of the governor's committee on employment for people with disabilities.

And I at this point thought, "OK. What if this is the moment that I roll over and do what the CBS management at the time preferred me to do, which was ignore it? What if I do that, just at the time that my children are having their very existence questioned? What kind of a hypocrite would I be?"

KING: Did they get mad at your activism? CBS?

WALKER: They were not happy about it.

KING: Did they fire you?

WALKER: No. No. Did not fire me. It was simply a sort of a quiet pall that dropped over my career at the time.

KING: Because it was in the newspapers every day?

WALKER: It was everywhere.

KING: What rights are denied them?

WALKER: Well, we live in a time, luckily, when as of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. But as time has marched on, a lot of that ADA has been gutted.

So we're living in a time now when, as you know, our popular culture has become pretty toxic for young women and for aging women. It's the same toxic problem. As the bar continues to be raised on what is physical perfection and a more narrower definition is given us, what's acceptable, we have an impossible standard. And we're forced to focus on superficial values.

That hurts the disability rights movement, because of course this kind of diversity isn't celebrated when you're living in a culture that worships only the pursuit of physical perfection.

KING: Give me an example of what's been gutted. WALKER: Some of what is required in the ADA is pretty simple to be accomplished by the average employer. Most of the accommodations that have to be made in a work place for someone with a disability are $500 or less for most disabilities.

Because enforcement dollars have been reduced in the area of a lot of the human resources in the human services under this administration, we're losing a lot of the teeth in the law of the ADA. And many more challenges to the ADA are being presented.

So we happen to be in a time when it's just losing a lot of its power.

KING: Well, is there something denied you?

WALKER: I think I've had a very lucky life. I think that's because I've been showered with love by my parents. I think that I have been...

KING: Fortunate enough to be attractive.

WALKER: You know...

KING: People who aren't attractive and have this...

WALKER: I want to tell you a funny story about that. I was on a subway in New York, my very first time, when I was working there in radio. I was 22 years old.

And I was learning the subway system. And I was sitting opposite a woman who was staring at me. And I got just a little bit peeved at some point and gave her that look like, "What are you looking at, lady?"

And she said to me, she said, "Oh, I'm sorry. But you know, it's such -- it's such a tragedy, such a pretty girl but such ugly hands."

So I said, "You think I should have been born ugly, too, huh?"

And it was uncharacteristic, because my parents always raised me to say, "It's OK" and kind of mollify.

KING: But you have an advantage in being pretty, right?

WALKER: I think that in this -- in this society, as in every culture, we focus a lot on -- on pretty. Yes. And I'm grateful for having conventional equipment everywhere else but my hands and feet.

KING: So what...

WALKER: These are pretty, too.

KING: When you're an activist for disabilities, what do you do? What is there?

WALKER: You do a lot of speaking engagements about self-esteem. I like to focus on self-esteem for teenage girls, because this is a really tough time for teenagers to grow up. Our culture just inundates them with all these images of what they're supposed to look like. And it's a pretty narrow definition of what's pretty.

So I like to do a lot of that, and speak about what disability is and what it isn't, how it's different from deformity. In some ways, deformity is a lot more difficult to handle than disability. Disability is something that you can acquire. Everybody does acquire some as you age.

KING: Deformity is...

WALKER: Deformity is just plain ugly.

KING: Psychiatrists say that the person looking at this is afraid that, "There but for the grace of God go I."

WALKER: That's exactly right. You're astute. It's just absolutely about fear.

But that's why I think it's important to do advocacy work. The more we get this out in the open, the more people see it's OK to be out there and look different. And it's a diversity we should celebrate.

If my kids are precluded from a future that's genetically engineered, then what have they removed from our culture? What do they have to offer, and who gets to decide?

KING: In a minute, when we come back, I'll ask Bree about stem cell research, the possibility of changing the genes. And then, in the last two segments, Jim Lampley will join us.

Don't go away.


WALKER: Andrea will often say this thing, don't breed or buy while shelter pets die. And I think it's a beautiful philosophy for someone who understands that the unwanted and neglected creature are proliferating. We have a lot more of them. And we tend to be a disposable society, sort of a life boat mentality that goes with that.

So, if someone doesn't take on the animals that some human wrecked, then they are just going to get destroyed.




ANDREA LAMPLEY, BREE'S DAUGHTER: It's OK to have a disability, and it doesn't define who you are as a person. I've never had problems with it. I get the feeling that sometimes my little brother might, but I'm not bashful about it or anything. I've never had any problems with people either. All my friends are -- they understand.


KING: What's Andrea like?

WALKER: Andrea is a gifted writer, and she loves animals. She's a staunch PETA member. She's very much a political thinker.

KING: You ride horses, too, right?


KING: Does she -- does she write about her little brother? Does he still have trouble with this?

WALKER: You know, Aaron is just a little bit more shy at first glance. But you get Aaron talking and you're seeing that boy is a politician, too. I think he's going to be fine. He just happens to have a more drastic manifestation of ectrodactyly than does Andrea.

Andrea has the hands that her uncle, my brother, has. And Aaron has my hands. The difference is that having an opposing digit on both hands is very helpful. I mean, most of the time I think I don't know what you people do with all those fingers, frankly. But once in awhile they come in useful and I have to ask for a little help. That took me a long time to learn how to ask for help.

And Andrea has two opposing digits. Aaron has one. And we've had several surgeries on his hand. They've both been through several dozen surgeries.

KING: You're done with all your surgery, right?

WALKER: Yes. Not necessarily done with theirs. I'm done with mine. I had my feet redone and that's it.

KING: Will stem cell research, if it goes through to fruition, what will it mean?

WALKER: I think ultimately we will genetically engineer most disabilities and deformities out of our culture. I'm all for getting rid of diseases that reduce the quality of life. I don't want to decide anything for my kids. I think they will be faced with the decision of do we engineer this out of their futures? I don't know what they'll choose. We don't discuss it too much, other than to say this will probably be a possibility within their lifetime.

I think, however, it's important to remember that diversity is what makes human beings so interesting. And who's to say that, as we become more alike, genetically engineered to be all blue-eyed or brown-eyed or X number of girls versus X number of boys in the world, who is to say that we don't so challenge what is important in humanity that we've ruined everything? KING: Nancy Reagan the other night came out strongly for embryonic stem cell research, I'm sure not endearing her to the current White House. What do you make of embryonic...

WALKER: Well, I've got to tell you, I'm proud of you for your stance on that, too, because you certainly...

KING: I am...

WALKER: Well, you have the fundraising effort in Los Angeles, which was very important. I'm very proud of her for that. That could not have been easy. You know, she's lived with this in her face for so long and witnessed the devastation of Alzheimer's.

I think if at one point she didn't believe it was right, having lived through it, she changed her mind. I'm very proud.

KING: You are in favor of...

WALKER: Absolutely, and I think as California goes, so goes the nation many times.

KING: You called this the last civil rights movement. What do you mean?

WALKER: It is the last civil rights movement. There are about 50 million people that fall under a category of officially disabled in the ADA, in various clarifications, which means one in five. And of course, every -- all age...

KING: One in five people are either disabled or deformed?

WALKER: You've got it. Well, mainly a disability, because there are plenty of deformities that don't fall into a category...

KING: Right.

WALKER: ...of disability. If it affects many things that -- well, I mean, frankly, if you have something that people would say is really ugly. And I know that people who have obesity deal with this all the time...

KING: It's not a disability.

WALKER: It's not a disability, and yet the way our society treats people with obesity is pretty disgraceful.

KING: Burns are not a disability because you can still speak, you can still talk, you can still work. It's just people look at you funny.

WALKER: Right. The true definition of disability is does it affect X number of life activities. And in my case, it does.

KING: And I thought -- should have thought it was all cleared up with the act in 1990. WALKER: Yes, but it's not.

KING: Ramps. There are ramps for wheelchairs, right? All new buildings have to allow for it.

WALKER: All new buildings, right. But a lot of old buildings never do get retrofitted. And it really isn't just about ramps. It's about attitude. I mean, you know it takes many generations to change a society's attitude.

So a lot of work psychologically has to be done. But we still do live in a world that's designed for all of you 10-fingered and 10-toed people. And so for people like me, it isn't as convenient a world. That's OK. Because adaptation is what I'm good at, that all people with disabilities and deformities learn that adaptation is their best gift. So that's all right.

But yes, there are plenty of areas that we have to approach because the greatest number of people with poverty are people with disabilities. They're underemployed, and yet they make some of the best employees because they're grateful for the jobs.

KING: Yes. That's very well put.

Now, it's extraordinary. We've seen you come a long way, but yet we had a disabled president. We had a president in a wheelchair. Couldn't walk. He was paralyzed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

WALKER: That's right.

KING: Four times we elected him. Could that have happened in a television age?

WALKER: No. I think not.

KING: If we see him wheeled up on stage?

WALKER: Yes, because the perception of weakness. It's not automatically a tragic thing to have a disability. It's not automatically a tragic thing to have a deformity.

What's tragic is that we have this fear and this misperception about weakness and vulnerability. And that's what we perceived about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

KING: What's the hardest thing about what you have?

WALKER: Not being able to wear a wedding ring. I've been married so many times you think I'd want to be able to wear a wedding ring, right? Not having manicures. It's all vain stuff.

But the truth is that my feet hurt. So I have to deal with...

KING: They hurt a lot?

WALKER: All the time, yes. I just -- you know, your threshold of pain gets very big when you live with chronic pain. But I do have -- I do have some shoes that make my feet more comfortable. So walking long distances can be challenging when I'm wearing absolutely the right shoes

KING: What's the hardest every day thing to do?

WALKER: Button buttons, pick up coins, pick up little things. Stupid little things, really, typing. I'll hit, on my computer keyboard, I'll hit four words and -- or four letters instead of one.

KING: But you don't have to pick up a check.

WALKER: You know what? That never goes away.

KING: Bree Walker is our guest. And when we come back, Jim Lampley will join us.

And we saw her daughter. Let's see her son.


AARON LAMPLEY, BREE'S SON: It hasn't really affected my life that much, because I don't have those other fingers to break or get in the way or anything. It's helped me in some places and made it worse in some places, like writing. Sometimes my friends tell me that they have extra fingers that get in the way sometimes and that my handwriting looks pretty good.




AARON LAMPLEY: And then Mom wanted to get me fingers, so they just wrapped stitches around and cut it with a knife and then just wrapped stitches all around my hand and they dissolved into my hand. And that was done before I was 3 years old, I think.

The bones were sort of tangled, so the doctors had to untangle the bones and then sort of maneuver their way through my hand and create fingers. And I came out with fingers that don't bend. And I can go like that, but that's moving my hand, not my fingers.


KING: That's a brave little boy. Aaron Lampley.

Welcome back to Channel 2 news, the 5:30 report with Jim Lampley and Bree Walker.

WALKER: We remember.

KING: You used to sit like this a lot.

JIM LAMPLEY, BREE'S EX-HUSBAND: Yes, and actually one day I began by saying, "I'm Bree Walker and she's Jim Lampley." As if inevitable, I think, when you work together as over a long period of time.

KING: Now, straighten something out so we get right to that. You're not married but you're married?

J. LAMPLEY: She divorced me August 10 of 2000, but she never was able to completely get rid of me. Don't ask me why.

KING: So you live together?

J. LAMPLEY: Yes. We do, in fact, live together and we...

KING: You wear your wedding ring.

J. LAMPLEY: I wear my wedding ring. We talk about when we're going to get married again, which we hope is going to take place some time in this incredibly hectic calendar year.

KING: So it's obvious to ask why did you divorce?

WALKER: Well, let's just say it isn't always easy to have two strong personalities in a household, and there are some things you learn late in life. And we both needed some reality checks.

KING: But they're still in the household.

WALKER: We have a chemistry that won't go away.

J. LAMPLEY: No. We're way too much the same person, Larry. I mean, you know, way too much the same person. We have basically the same attitudes, desires, drives. And we see ourselves the same way.

We're both accustomed to being the center of attention. We're both accustomed to being spoiled by the people around us. And we don't expect to have to compete with somebody for all of that.

KING: Except you don't have a deformity.

J. LAMPLEY: No. That's exactly right. And to a certain degree, I'm the odd man out in the family, aren't I? I mean, I'm the only one who actually has conventional fingers and toes.

KING: Did that affect the chemistry? When you first met?

J. LAMPLEY: Unquestionably. I mean, I spent 30 years in the world of physical perfection, right? I've known most of the world's most perfect physical specimens over the course of the last 30 years.

KING: Actually, you do.

J. LAMPLEY: I think any and all of the would have given a lot to have the kind of drive and determination and self-perception that she has. Her -- her up front charisma and magnetism is like virtually nobody that I've ever met.

KING: But when you first met her, what did the hand situation do to you?

J. LAMPLEY: You know, not really. I didn't have to be there to hold her hand, let's put it that way. I mean, when I first met her, she wasn't a scared teenage girl in the schoolyard, either.

When I met her, she was a big time news anchor with incredible focused research. I was scared of her, really, because here I was. I was taking a new job as a news anchor, and even though I had 16 years of network sports casting behind me, it was different enough sitting in the studio and trying to make that connection through the lens.

That's the first time I sat on a set with her and looked at the monitor while she was doing her stuff and I was off camera. And I can remember having a sensation and saying, "Oh, my God. What am I going to do sitting next to that?"

So it was sort of if you can't lick them join them. I mean, eventually I prevailed upon her to show me, for instance, how to read a story without blinking your eyes.

KING: What's it like, though, to be odd man out? To have...

J. LAMPLEY: Well, I'm part of disability rights mentality and efforts, as well, because I'm connected to her. I'm connected to Andrea and Aaron.

But there's still many times that I'm at a loss to be emphatic enough to really understand and respond to the small inconveniences, the differences -- the moments where I have to say, "Here, let me do that."

And also the moments when I opt to be the one to avoid saying, "Let me do that."

KING: Because they want...

J. LAMPLEY: Because it's something that they really can do, you know?

KING: Yes, all right. When you -- when she went through this not having a child, the uproar over the public, how did you handle that?

J. LAMPLEY: You know, when we first listened to the tape of that radio program, I said to Bree, "Ignore it. Forget it. Leave it alone. Let it wash over you, and just go on by it, because it's utterly meaningless in the overall scope of your life."

Took me about eight or 10 days to realize, in the course of that discussion, that that wasn't the animal I was dealing with, that this was a mother lion, in effect. And if there had been a threat to the brood, there was going to have to be a response. So it was going to have to be a forceful response.

So ultimately we sat down and formulated the idea of the FCC complaint, knowing that administratively it would go nowhere. But it would provide the right hook, the right platform, the right opportunity for other disability rights groups and individuals to join on and speak up. And that gave Bree, I think, what she needed to get in terms of catharsis out of all that.

KING: I'm glad you're getting remarried. We'll be right back with Jim Lampley and Bree Walker. Don't go away.



J. LAMPLEY: Good evening. By now we know what happened. Iraq invaded Kuwait with overwhelming military force. What we don't know is that President Saddam Hussein, now known as the Butcher of Baghdad, will get away with it.

WALKER: Nearly 4,000 Americans live in Kuwait, and there are reports that some of them, oil workers near the Iraqi border, were rounded up and moved. No one knows where they are.


KING: Is it funny to look at for you?

WALKER: Oh, it's hilarious. All you can think of is that big hair.

J. LAMPLEY: I was waiting for them to cut to the single so she could read the lead story. I don't recall ever reading the lead story in the years I anchored with Bree.

KING: In the question of the deformaty.

WALKER: It still rankles him.

KING: Family members who don't have it, are their children in greater danger of getting it?

WALKER: For a long time, it was believed that they would carry the gene. And now it appears because they did not throw the gene, as they say in the business, they don't carry it. So it's in me. It's in my brother. It's not in my eldest brother or my eldest sister.

KING: And their children won't have it?

WALKER: Right.

KING: Did you think about having children?

J. LAMPLEY: Yes. When I got involved with Bree and we decided to get married, under those circumstances at that time, I knew we were going to have a child. So I said to myself from the beginning, this child will inherit ectrodactyly.

I mean, I just said, as an assumption, our child will inherit ectrodactyly. That was the safest place for me to be psychologically for approaching that. That way if the child didn't inherit ectrodactyly and had conventional hands and feet, it would be a bonus, you know, sort of a conventional life bonus. Because I already knew Bree, so I understood completely that it's not exactly a life destroyer to have ectrodactyly. You can -- you can deal with it.

KING: Was it difficult with the children, raising them?

J. LAMPLEY: No, it's been incredibly inspiring. I mean, you know, I get a tremendous positive charge every day just from knowing these kids and who they are. I mean, Larry, my 12-year-old son is my hero in life. Could there be a greater privilege than that? I mean, I can't imagine anything that would be more exciting.

KING: That said, you're going to cover boxing for NBC Olympics, right?

J. LAMPLEY: No, no. I'm actually the daytime host of the Olympics on NBC. Because of my...

KING: Costas at night.

J. LAMPLEY: Costas at night, me in the daytime. And then Pat O'Brien and Keith Olbermann and other people on the cable channels, and of course, a cast of thousands out in the field.

KING: Are you concerned about Athens?

J. LAMPLEY: Well, obviously you'd have to be brain dead not to be concerned in some way. But -- but I also have kind of an expectation that nothing will happen. Just because when everybody expects sometime to happen, that's when somehow your expectations get confounded.

And I know everybody believes this is a given, so I'm going to go there and say to myself, "Maybe it doesn't happen." And I hope that's the case.

KING: You worried, Bree?

WALKER: Not really, no. I actually worry more about what's happening in this country.

KING: Will you let Aaron go with him.

WALKER: Aaron is going. Aaron's going, Andrea's going, Brook and Victoria are going, his two daughters by his previous marriage. So it's going to be...

J. LAMPLEY: We're making a big family excursion out of...

KING: You're going too?

WALKER: Absolutely. I wouldn't miss it.

KING: Now, there's more fear of this Olympics than any in memory. WALKER: Of course.

KING: Athens is not the world's most protected city.

WALKER: Right.


J. LAMPLEY: But mathematically, you know, I mean, really, do you say to yourself, "We're the ones who are going to be the victims of something?" No likely. I mean, I don't see us being likely targets for something else that. And what an incredible experience for our kids to be in the cradle of, you know, cultural civilization. At this particular moment in history I just couldn't resist it.

KING: What tape are you carrying?

J. LAMPLEY: I'm giving you a copy of the high school football documentary that our production company is the executive producer of, because I know you like high school football.

KING: The last game.

J. LAMPLEY: When I was a teenager in Miami listening to you on 610 WIOD, you...

KING: You heard me.

J. LAMPLEY: Oh, yes.

KING: I hate when they say that. When I was teenager...

J. LAMPLEY: Well, we weren't that far. I think you were only 19 or 20 at the time, Larry.

KING: I did well there.

J. LAMPLEY: You did tremendously well. You were an icon.

KING: And now tell me about the production company. What do you do?

WALKER: For the last eight years, we have been working various films, television projects, documentaries, you name it. If it's got great content we probably are trying to get it, or have it.

And we just didn't like that Sisyphus pushing that builder up the rock.

KING: How much of it's sports?

J. LAMPLEY: You know, we -- we start with a mentality that we'll take a sports project if its good. And we're certainly not on the lookout for them, because to be honest we don't have to. They walk in the door. So probably half of the development slate relates to sports in some way, but there's half that doesn't. So I mean, we have the movie development project at DreamWorks right now, which is a book adaptation. It has absolutely nothing to do with sports. It's about slavery in the 19th Century.

WALKER: And Mark Twain.

J. LAMPLEY: And we -- and we're developing a sitcom, a sitcom pitch loosely based on our crazy married/slash unmarried life. It's a partnership with Edmonds Entertainment. Fabulously successful company.

KING: You also own restaurants.

J. LAMPLEY: We're really excited about that.

WALKER: Not any more. And I'll kill him if he ever (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

J. LAMPLEY: We got rid of the restaurants because, in seven years, we learned our lesson about the difficult of making money in the restaurant business.

WALKER: Been broadcasting the stuff...

J. LAMPLEY: It's great fun, though. It's great fun. We threw a seven-year party.

KING: When will the remarriage take place?


J. LAMPLEY: Well, I don't know, you know. Eight boxing matches. I have to go to the Olympics.

WALKER: You've got a tight schedule.

J. LAMPLEY: Et cetera, et cetera. And she, I think her schedule is more hectic than mine.

KING: Why don't you jyust go down to city hall?


J. LAMPLEY: I don't know. What do you want, September?

WALKER: You know. You know. We go to Vegas a lot. Maybe -- no.

You know, I recently became baptized. I've been raised a Christian Scientist, so we don't have a church to go to. Maybe we'll actually have a church wedding. That would be a first for me.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Christian Science?

WALKER: I was raised a Christian Science.

J. LAMPLEY: Yes, but now she's an Episcopal girl.

WALKER: I'm an Episcopal girl now.

J. LAMPLEY: Nice Episcopal girl.

KING: You didn't take medication?

WALKER: I actually did. In fact, that was my split from the church. I liked doctors, I wanted to be a doctor. If I hadn't been such a ne'r-do-well as a teenager and partying too much of my college years, I would have been a doctor.

KING: How can a Christian Scientist be a doctor?

WALKER: I think that was the reason I wanted to be a doctor.

J. LAMPLEY: She's a mass of contradictions, isn't she?

WALKER: Yes. I was such a rebel.

KING: Christian Scientists, who don't go to doctors.

WALKER: I know.

KING: You're a Christian Scientist who wants to be a doctor?

WALKER: I did when I was 16.

J. LAMPLEY: I don't think you were really a Christian Scientist.

WALKER: It was always a very difficult religion to me.

J. LAMPLEY: I think you were just a teenaged rebel.

WALKER: And I was, it's true. It's true. And I'm more spirtial, than I'm religious.

KING: What's life been like with this?

J. LAMPLEY: Well, I mean, I would say you would expect that that has some big effect, but it really doesn't.

WALKER: He hates when I throw a pity party.

J. LAMPLEY: Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'm not conscious of ectrodactyly. It isn't really -- it isn't a part of our existence in terms of thinking, "OK. What do we have for dinner tonight that we can all eat without having to worry about holding the fork and stuff like that?" It's just...

KING: You don't think about that?

J. LAMPLEY: No, you just go. You just do what you're going to do. You know, every once in awhile I'll think to myself, "Can Aaron really do this? And if he can't do it, is he going to get hurt?" I mean, you make tactical decisions.

Baseball, for instance, it's a given. Everybody wants to play baseball at some point. But Aaron has two fingers on each hand, and on one hand he has no thumb. So if he had a glove in front of him and somebody throws the ball hard, the glove's going to come off and that ball could hit him in the face. I just can't let him play baseball. I wish I could. But soccer's a great sport. He has fun.

KING: Thank you both very much for a great hour.

WALKER: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Bree Walker and Jim Lampley, together again forever. Thanks for joining us. I'll be back in a couple minutes.


KING: Thanks for joining with Bree Walker and Jim Lampley. I'm Lary King. Stay tuned now for more news around the clock on your most trusted name in news, CNN. See you tomorrow night, good night.


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