Kris Jenner on New Talk Show: 'Maybe I Can Be an Inspiration'
Born in San Diego in 1955, Kris Houghton never imagined she would run an empire; she just wanted to be an "air stewardess."
When she was 7, her parents split, leaving Kris in the care of her mother and an influential grandmother. (Her father was an engineer at Corsair; her mom owned a candle shop.) After high school, the self-described control freak did work for American Airlines, but her stint came to an end when she married a successful attorney, Robert Kardashian, nearly 12 years her senior, whom she had met at age 17.
Tears spring to her eyes as she describes his influence over the course of a 12-year marriage during which she gave birth to four children. It was Kardashian who led her to become a born-again Christian.
"I used to [read the Bible] every day," she says, noting she went to Bible class for 15 years and helped found the California Community Church in Agoura Hills. "Now I have a daily devotional, so I have a scripture that I read at the end of each day. I used to do it at the beginning of each day, but I get up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. and run to the gym."
Kardashian also influenced Jenner to give to charity -- without flaunting it. "You're just taught that, or at least I learned that you give quietly," she says, though she mentions the Dream Foundation, which makes dreams come true for terminally ill adults, as a favorite cause. Occasionally she gives to political groups, too, including Democratic causes. "I do like Obama," she says, though, "I'm not [one to] get on a soapbox and talk about politics, ever."
Her second husband, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, and she differ on that subject: "Bruce loves Fox News. We're politically opposites. He's very Republican, but I am more liberal."
Despite her religious views, she favors gay marriage. "Absolutely," she says. "I think it's about love. That's what I believe."
Her own love was tested 10 years into her first marriage when she had an affair with soccer player Todd Waterman, which she still regrets -- even though she got together with him again last season. As to the affair, "You know what I felt like after a little bit? It was like I was married to this guy who was my best friend, and he was an amazing man, [but] I don't think I was mature enough to know that's how marriage evolves. I felt like I loved him madly but not passionately. I didn't know enough to think you can have a companion in life and grow old together and share all these things."
After the split with Kardashian in 1991, Kris truly came into her own, following her marriage to Jenner. There has been endless speculation about whether the couple is still together. "People probably make a lot of wrong assumptions about Bruce and Kris's relationship," says Seacrest. "All I will say is that I admire their love, honesty, tenacity and the way they cling to their family so fiercely through all of life's ups and downs."
Kris' brilliant business instincts shifted him from the B-list and made him a top motivational speaker, giving Kris a taste for "solving problems" -- including those of her children with Kardashian and later the daughters she would have with Jenner, Kylie and Kendall.
It was not until she approached age 50, however, that she began to think of producing a TV show that would star her family, thereby making Kardashian a household name -- ironically, only after Robert Kardashian's death in 2003.
Looking back on him, says Jenner, "The most delicious thing turned out to be that for the rest of his life we were best friends."
That friendship was tested when Kardashian's pal Simpson was put on trial for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown, and Ronald Goldman. Nicole had been exceptionally close to Kris, who was shattered when she learned about the murder. Unlike her former husband, who sided with Simpson and became one of his lawyers, she was convinced of his guilt.
Would she have Simpson as a guest on her new show?
"I don't know. I just don't know."
Does she still feel angry toward him?
"You know, it's very challenging because God asks us to forgive one another and to be kind to one another and to let Him do the judging. The Bible says don't judge anybody else. And I try to live by that. I try not to judge anybody. Am I devastated, am I confused, am I all the things that I felt since that morning when I found out that my girlfriend had been murdered? Yes. But it's taken me a long time to get to this place of where I need to let God judge him and not me."
Fox first approached Jenner nearly a year ago, when Twentieth's Brown, Tracy Leadbetter (the division's director of programming and development) and Greg Meidel (its president) met with her on July 8, 2012, in WME agent Lance Klein's office. Jenner long had dreamed of hosting a talk show, but their approach made it real.
"We presented a deck of what the Kris Jenner show would be like," recalls Brown, noting he already had seen her guest-host The Talk. (She also was a contributor on ABC's Mike & Maty in the '90s.) "It was about incorporating elements of her family and her life, and then what the different segments would be and how we would also try to tie in social media."
Despite the fact that five new daily talk shows had just launched (featuring Couric, Probst, Ricki Lake, Trisha Goddard and Harvey), something about Jenner's warmth and improbable normalcy made the executives willing to take a risk. "You always have to look ahead," says Brown. "You are gaming the system, saying, 'I gotta have something in the back pocket.' "
The initial meeting soon led to a deal, and Jenner flew to New York for a second meeting, this time with Roger Ailes, president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group. "We really hit it off," she says. "I think he saw something in me that told him I would be a good candidate for a talk show."
Now she hopes the program can affect people's lives without the controversy of her reality show.
"So many women give up in life when they get a little bit older," she reflects. "I want to be a positive influence. I want to come from a really good place. Some people are just lost, and maybe I can be an inspiration."
Jenner's interests are the same as those of many potential viewers, her tastes ones they can relate to no matter how much money they have. She reads the same magazines (Elle, Vogue, Bon Appetit and Gourmet), watches the same TV shows (American Idol, The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars) and occasionally catches one of the same films (Doctor Zhivago, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins are among her favorites).
But, like so many other talk show hosts, her life is staggeringly different -- not least because she has an empire to run. She is halfway through filming season eight of Kardashians; she supervises her kids' and her own clothing collections, along with a line of makeup; and negotiated contracts that pay the Kardashians a reported $25,000 a tweet. She also is writing a cookbook for Simon & Schuster.
Jenner admits on occasion the sheer scope of what she is doing daunts her. "I may put on a brave face from time to time," she says. "But inside, sometimes I'm very scared."
Alex Ben Block contributed to this story.