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."
by BETTY CORTINA
LESLIE BERESTEIN in Santa Barbara
GRANT PICK in Chicago and
CARLOS HARRISON en Miami