February 1999
Reprint from - People en Español New York, NY

Going her own way

  Reporter Giselle Fernandez leaves Access Hollywood after two years and opens new avenues for her career.

  As a reporter for CBS during a 1994 press conference in Havana, Giselle Fernandez didn't want to be just one more in the crowd of reporters shouting questions to Fidel Castro. So, when the controversial Cuban president left the podium, Fernandez told her cameraman, "Follow me, I'm not finished with this interview." What happened afterward made history: the beautiful brunette cornered Castro and got the first interview for American television that he'd given in several years. "Fidel was a stroke of luck in my career," says Fernandez. "I truly felt it was a test of perseverance."

  As a matter a fact, it was that determination which helped Fernandez win five Emmy Awards and become one of the most recognized reporters in the United States. Even in her beginnings she reported on some of the major stories of the decade. Fernandez, age 37, has spent the last two years reporting on the more enjoyable aspects of life. As a co-host of the NBC entertainment news program, Access Hollywood, she would frequently bring into play the intimacies of stars such as Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand. Along the way, she also became a star. Last year she along with Cheech Marín co-hosted the Latino Laugh Festival in San Antonio, Texas, and was named in a Vogue magazine ad as one of "the women to watch."

  Now, Fernandez has astonished many television industry experts by taking her career in a new direction after leaving Access. "People ask, 'Why are you leaving such a good job?'", says Fernandez, sitting in the living room in her villa on the Santa Barbara coast. "The salary was excellent, and it was fun, but I am still young and I want to do other things." Even though she doesn't reveal exactly what those other things are, Fernandez says she would like to develop programs for both Hispanic and Anglo audiences, as well as continuing to produce Café Olé, her own interview program on Sí TV.

  Fernandez inherited her talent from her parents, José, a flamenco dancer, deceased, and Madeleine, an American who sings rancheras (Mexican country music). In the mid 60s the couple left Mexico for Los Angeles with Fernandez and her older brother, Pepe. The family had to struggle to get ahead. "My mother used to sing at night in restaurants and my father danced in almost all the night clubs in town," says Fernandez, who after school worked as a waitress in a Japanese restaurant. Even after graduating from California State University in Sacramento, she still had financial trouble. She borrowed the tailored suit she wore in the audition tape for her first job from a department store.

  It was worth it. Since she started as a reporter with KRDO in Pueblo, Colorado, her rise has been meteoric ... but not without bumps. As a 1988 television reporter for WBBM in Chicago, she was criticized for interviewing a well-known drug dealer while taking a boat ride that many speculate was romantic, even though Fernandez had arranged for his surrender to law enforcement authorities following the interview. She still insists she did nothing unethical. "I should have been given an award for that," she says. Jim Avila, an NBC reporter who used to sit near Fernandez in the Chicago press room said, "Some people love her, some don't."

  Perhaps the most devoted of those who loved her was WBBM news director, Ron Kershaw, to whom Fernandez was engaged. (Kershaw inspired the movie "Up Close and Personal", starring Robert Redford.) Having become romantically involved with her boss didn't win Fernandez any popularity, she was accused of trading flirtations for promotions. ("It doesn't matter how much one works, people always talk about you.") Regardless, the relationship flourished for about a year until Kershaw died of pancreatic cancer in 1988 with Fernandez at his side. "It was very traumatic," she says. "He was the love of my life." A year later, she left Chicago to work as a reporter for WCIX in Miami. In two years, offers from the major networks came pouring in.

  Now, her life is less controversial and much more relaxed. Fernandez spends her weekends with her companion, 38 year old Don Dahler, a CNBC Network correspondent, and her three Border collies, Skye Dog, Prestor John and Nellie Blye. She finally occupies a place in the constellation of stars she could only come close to as a reporter. But she's still getting used to fame. "When people think of me as a celebrity, I laugh," she confesses. "I'm simply a girl who comes from an ordinary family and has had a lot a luck."


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Translation by Alma Merriman & wa3key