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Mouth by mouth-western: O'Reilly vs. Matthews at SMU

Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly kept talking at SMU: But of course.

Note to readers: This story first appeared on Feb. 22, 2003, less than a month before the war in Iraq became a very sobering reality. It was the first and still the only one-on-one sparring match between two of cable TV's most talkative and self-righteous personalities.

DALLAS, TX -- Sound investments. Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews and their well-muscled mouths drew a jam-packed house of listeners this week to the Southern Methodist University campus.

Together for the first time onstage, the verbose cable news personalities clearly deserved each other. That's intended as a compliment. Two bright guys who love to hear themselves talk met their matches in SMU's McFarlin Auditorium.

The hosts of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews otherwise are more accustomed to pummeling a hapless university professor or dominating a think-tank politico on their respective shows. This time, when O'Reilly derisively referred to Chris's pals" (namely, Democrats), Matthews shot back, "At least I got pals."

Braving snowstorms that nearly left them stranded back East, the combatants exercised decorum as well. This was, after all, the latest installment in the Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series, which later this year is scheduled to welcome Vice President Dick Cheney, novelist John Irving and former CIA director Bob Gates, who now is president of Texas A&M University.

The O'Reilly/Matthews appearance, billed as "War of the Words," may have been the comparative equivalent of the circus coming to town. But both men wore suits and ties, and generally stifled themselves while the other talked.

Late in the game, though, Matthews couldn't help himself. This was after O'Reilly said that a high-level intelligence official told him that most of Saddam Hussein's generals already had cut secret "deals" with the Bush administration. If the United States invades Iraq, they've agreed to surrender rather than be hunted down as "war criminals," O'Reilly told an audience that included former Texas Gov. Bill Clements in a front-row seat.

If O'Reilly is a political "independent," as he claims, then why do so many Bush administration officials confide in him, Matthews jabbed.

"You know why they talk to me? Because we've got a lot higher ratings than him," O'Reilly told an approving crowd.

His Factor indeed is the most-watched program on any cable news network. And O'Reilly also has authored two No. 1 bestsellers, The O'Reilly Factor and The No-Spin Zone. The former Dallas-based WFAA-TV reporter acted the part by triumphantly waving to the audience before taking his seat next to a less demonstrative Matthews.

The Hardball host immediately sought to put himself in a lion's den by asking how many Republicans and Democrats were in the crowd. "Three to one" in favor of the Republicans, he deduced before the two adversaries took poles-apart positions on the advisability of war in Iraq.

"I look forward to, in four weeks, celebrating the demise of Saddam Hussein," O'Reilly said.

Matthews said the Bush administration should find Osama bin Laden first.

"The world was behind us on that plan. And we blew that posse . . . We're going to be stuck in Iraq when we should have killed bin Laden," Matthews argued.

President Bush, whom he referred to as "the young kid," instead has fallen under the influence of the "damned ideologues" who also advised his father, Matthews said. "We will be seen as the bloodthirsty people --- white guys from the West."

Ideologues in the Middle East will "hate us whether we move him (Saddam Hussein) out or not," O'Reilly countered.

But many in that region view the Iraqi dictator as "simply bad for business," O'Reilly said, estimating that the United States could prevail in two weeks' time while the Iraqis rally around their liberators.

No one should trust "little Hans Blix," the chief U.N. weapons inspector, to carry the day in Iraq, O'Reilly said.

Both men admitted that the other could be right.

"My guess against his guess," said Matthews.

"Of course, you never know what's going to happen," said O'Reilly, who also had the night's last words before waving goodbye.

"These are people who are evil," he said. "We're not. We must defeat them."

Dare it be said that their "War of the Words" resulted in a split decision, with O'Reilly talking longer and Matthews talking faster?

Whatever your verdict, let's have a rematch.

Boy, that Bart's really a mother

Nancy Cartwright knows Bart Simpson better than any man alive.

Note to readers: this story first appeared on July 12, 1990. The Simpsons was still in its infancy and few knew the secrets behind Bart's mouthpiece.

LOS ANGELES -- The voice of TV superboy Bart Simpson:

A. Is a short, giggly, 32-year-old woman.

B. Is the mother of a 7-month-old daughter named Lucy Mae.

C. Has been under wraps until now.

Check all three and you have Nancy Cartwright, who finally let it all out at a party Tuesday for the stars of Fox Broadcasting's new and notable series.

"I'm telling you, I am in heaven," she says. "This is like the most ideal job. I'm in the most enviable position of any actor in this town. I've got a great husband, I've got a wonderful little 7-month-old baby, and I'm Bart Simpson! I mean, who ask for anything more?"

The Simpsons, an instant hit as a midseason replacement series, will be moved from Sundays to Thursdays opposite NBC's The Cosby Show this season. It's the most talked about ratings-faceoff since Dallas slew Miami Vice in the 1986-87 season. Lucy Mae, slumbering in a stroller, is seemingly oblivious to all of this. But she's clutching a small, stuffed Bart doll sent from Indiana by her grandmother.

"It replaced the Raggedy Ann doll," Cartwright says.

The baby was born Dec. 18, the day after Fox aired the first half-hour Simpsons episode, "Simpsons Roasting on An Open Fire." The voices behind the characters had partied on premiere night at Barney's Bowl-a-Rama in Hollywood.

"I'm dressed up in this white satin outfit with a big red sash, like a bowling pin, doing the shimmy out on the bowling lane," Cartwright recalls. "She was born the next night."

Cartwright had been muzzled by Fox executives, who still aren't keen on spreading the word that brat Bart is voice by a woman whose first cartoon character was Gloria the girlfriend on Richie Rich. Her arrival at the Fox party, with husband Warren pushing the stroller, went unannounced and unnoticed by most.

Wearing a bright red, decidedly unglamorous pantsuit, Cartwright looked more like a dream vacation winner from Carbondale, Ill. Initially wary of being interviewed, she proved to be talkative, engaging and as down-to-earth as a typical Jimmy Stewart film.

"I get a particular goose out of it, because it brings people joy," she says of doing Bart.

Cartwright, originally from Dayton, Ohio, began experimenting with voices during high school speech team competitions. Before Bart, she played cartoon characters on Pound Puppies, Snorks, Galaxy High and My Little Pony. She also has acted on-camera in a Cheers episode and Twilight Zone: The Movie. Bart is her first cartoon boy.

"People ask me if it hurts my throat -- and it doesn't," she says. "It was just a minor adjustment. I kind of said, 'Well, let' see, who's Bart and what does he sound like'?"

Cartwright originally was asked to audition for the role of Bart's sister, Lisa. "I can do that," she remembers telling the casting director. "But ya know what? I like the kid. I wanna do the boy. That's how I got it."

She also voices 10-year-old Bart's bully-boy nemesis, Nelson Muntz.

The Simpsons originated in April 1987 as snippets bridging the skits on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show. Bart was brattier then, Cartwright says. "He started out more violent and harsh. He's gotten more vulnerable. He's not as angry as he was before."

She considers Bart a part of her now. Lose her voice and you lose his essence.

"Nobody can give any of the characters the life that we have given them," she says. "There's only one Nancy Cartwright that can do that. They might find someone that can do a different kind of Bart. But it will never be what I give Bart. It's the same in any walk of life, because we're all individuals."

The crew has voiced 12 of next season's 26 Simpsons episodes. Animation is then done in Tokyo. Because of the time required, the first new Simpsons episode probably won't air until at least mid-October.

Meanwhile, Cartwright says she tries to keep Bart's voice out of her daily life. But man, that sure sounded a lot like Bart talking to Lucy Mae.

"He's like inside me," Cartwright says. "So it's bound to come out in one way or another. Sometimes it's like I don't have any control over it."