Yoko Ono: Lennon pioneer for hands-on fathers

What's happening on the West Coast, where TV critics have once again invaded an unsuspecting hotel -- this time it's the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, and are grilling actors, producers and the occasional network honcho:

Yoko Ono's here to talk about "Lennon NYC," a Nov. 22 presentation of PBS' "American Masters" that will -- along with "Masterpiece Theatre Contemporary's" Nov. 21 " presentation of  "Lennon Naked," with Christopher Eccleston as the ex-Beatle -- help public television mark a couple of anniversaries that may be tough for a lot of PBS' core audience to accept.

Lennon would've been 70 on Oct. 9, and on Dec. 8, he'll have been dead 30 years, notes "Masters" creator and executive producer Susan Lacy, who promises the film will include an "in-studio recording that even the most avid Lennon fans have never heard."

Ono, 77, dressed  in black --  dark glasses low on her nose,  fedora set at a rakish angle and shirt unbuttoned lower than most women her age might get away with -- seems pretty enthusiastic about the film and about the focus on their lives in New York.

Lennon "loved New York so much. He said, 'I wish I was born here.' I don't know why," Ono said.

One theory: It reminded him a bit of his native Liverpool, apparently because the taxi drivers didn't speak much English.

"It is about New York, the city that he was in love with and strangely...the city that killed him," she said.

For the couple, the city also brought a measure of relief from the hounding they'd experienced there in the wake of their getting togethe.

"In London, we had a very bad time, obviously, because I was there," Ono said, recalling that after their arrest on drug charges -- they had none, she insisted -- when she was leaving the police station,  "I had long hair and some girl was pulling it. It was very painful."

"American Masters," Ono said, is known for its research, but she'd been surprised what had been uncovered. "They showed me the rushes ... and  they got so much footage that I didn't even know" existed, she said.

One Lennon legacy, apparently covered in the film, doesn't have anything to do with music.

Her husband, Ono insisted, was the first real hands-on dad, turning their business affairs over to her so he could concentrate all his attention on raising their son, Sean.

When she goes into Central Park on the weekend and sees men pushing strollers, "They don't know that before John, no men did it....They don't have to remember that it was John who started it. All big things start that way," she said.

"I always knew that John had a very gentle side. Otherwise, I couldn't live with him," she said. "He was always very nice to me. But when Sean was born, he was a totally different person. Not just nice -- he was so much into bringing Sean up.

"I think he maybe thought he could do a better job than me...His feminism and all that, too, was the basis of it, I'm sure. He was really baking bread and all that. Maybe he was enjoying it, I don't know. But he was doing a very thorough job."

Asked about Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, who's once again up for parole, her first response was, "Oh, God."

She remains opposed to Chapman's release.

"I think I'm being practical...to ask that he not be released, maybe, because you know he can be a danger to other people, too, [but] especially to us, me, Julian [Lennon's other son], Sean," she said. "I don't want to be responsible for all that."

And though there have been always people who wondered how Ono could remain in Manhattan, and at the Dakota, after Lennon died there, the way she sees it, the question is "slightly racist ...and maybe sexist, too," noting that many people remain in the homes where their spouses died.

"Nobody's going to comment if you were going to go to a whorehouse or something if your wife died," she told the clearly startled male reporter who'd asked the question, in what apparently was an attempt at a joke on her part.

Would John Lennon have embraced the Internet? Twitter?

"I just know that John was always jumping on something new" and that he thought we were becoming "a global village," she said. "I'm sure he would've used the computer to send his message to the world."

Ono herself tweets -- there are more than 960,000 followers for @yokoono and she has a separate account for Japan -- and updates her MySpace and Facebook pages on weekends, choosing a limited number of fan questions to answer.

"I think it's much better than if I ask someone else to do it for me," she said, and "it's maybe like winning the lottery" for people whose questions she actually finds the time to answer.

Asked about the night that Lorne Michaels, executive producer of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," first offered $3,000 for an on-air Beatles reunion, Ono confirmed that Paul and Linda McCartney were visiting at the time and that the four of them had been watching and that Lennon and McCartney discussed getting into a cab and heading over to the show, but ultimately decided not to.

"It was not because they were not interested in $3,000," she added.