Edward R. Murrow: The World on His Back
|Edward R. Murrow in the studio in the early 1950s (source)|
The World on His Back
By Charles Wertenbaker
To the top men of the Columbia Broadcasting System, it is a matter of concern that their news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, whose baritone voice over the C.B.S. radio and austere presence on C.B.S.-TV have made him both a semi-public figure and a valued private property, has appeared, over the years, to be less attracted to eminence than to trouble. To be sure, Murrow, a lean, dark, handsome, and deceptively easy-mannered man of forty-five, who bears his own eminence without visible effort, is on cordial-to-intimate terms with most of the important people in the United States and Great Britain and gives no evidence of being indifferent to their esteem. But it has been noticed that his satisfaction in his work as an informer of public opinion increases with his proximity to gunfire, to some real or fancied calamity, or to the brink of complete physical exhaustion.
During the Second World War, his habit of excusing himself from his post in London to go off on bombing missions brought frequent ineffectual protests from William S. Paley, chairman of the board of the Columbia Broadcasting System and the only man there who has ever tried to boss Murrow; declining to be bossed, Murrow made a couple of dozen combat flights, of which Paley said later, "They didn't do us much good from my point of view, but there was no way to make him stop, short of firing him."
Since that war, Murrow has had fewer opportunities to expose himself to hostile marksmen. He did manage to get in two trips to Korea while the shooting was going on there, but for the most part he had to content himself with the pursuit of floods, droughts, and tornadoes and with such personal discomforts as going too long without sleep and flying too much in airplanes, the first of which causes him to sweat profusely and the second to have trouble with his ears.
Murrow's predilection for fatigue is puzzling to his associates. "Ed is just as rational when he's all worn out as when he's rested—no more, no less," Paley says. "I don't see why he runs himself so ragged. Unless it's that he thinks better when he's got sweat pouring from his forehead." Another colleague of Murrow's has said, "In some way that I don't pretend to understand, Ed's all wound up and can't slow down. I think that, like a lot of other people, he hit his high spot emotionally during the war—specifically, in his case, during the Battle of Britain, when he was living in the midst of disaster, and that sepulchral 'This is London' of his was the voice of England telling America about it. I wouldn't be surprised if he's been trying to recapture some of that—the danger, the exhaustion. In a way, I think it's like the air of the toughness he assumes—the sort of thing that makes him sprinkle his conversation with 'ain't's and double negatives."
When not scrutinizing the distressful or participating in it, Murrow seems to brood upon it. Large dinner parties have been riled up by his between-courses predictions of national or international misfortune at the hands of dictators, demagogues, or plain politicians. Conversely, after-dinner talk sometimes dies when it is seen that Murrow is no longer taking part, or even listening, but is leaning far forward in his chair and staring at the rug, his elbows on his knees and his fists slowly beating each other, an unattended cigarette in his mouth glowing and subsiding with his breathing, and the smoke from his nostrils enveloping his face in a dense infernal cloud. The cigarette may burn to his lips before he plucks it out, crushes it in an ashtray, and picks up the conversation where it was dropped several minutes earlier.
This portentous condition of mind persists to some extent when Murrow is at the microphone. On the air, his manner of speaking often conveys the impression that he knows the worst but will try not to mention it, and so powerful is this impression that it has become a cliché around C.B.S. and elsewhere to describe his voice as the voice of doom.
The voice and whatever compulsions lie behind it have combined to give Murrow certain advantages over rival criers of information over the airwaves. He has been careful to present himself as something between the breathless messenger and the sagacious pundit, and so has been able to satisfy the customers of both without agitating the critics of either.
As a self-driven leg man, he finds it necessary to cover as much current history as possible; a couple of years ago, he was given a month's vacation and spent it with the troops in Korea, although he admitted to friends that he could think of no very good reason for doing so. Lately, the demand of "Edward R. Murrow with the News," a fifteen-minute radio program he has been presenting five evenings a week for more than six years, have been combined with those of "See It Now" and "Person to Person," two half-hour, once-a-week television shows over which he presides, and the work that this triple-barreled job entails has partially interrupted his wanderings, with the result that he has to spend a good deal of his time on the air describing events in which he has not been able to take part.
Murrow talks for twelve minutes on his "This Is the News" program, as his radio broadcast is often called—those four words being the ones with which he greets his listeners each evening, Monday through Friday, at seven-forty-five. The three other minutes are given over to the extolling, by an announcer, of the sponsor's product, which, in this part of the country, is Amoco gasoline. Murrow devotes his first six minutes, give or take a few seconds, to a relatively routine presentation of the news that has come into the studio from the press wire services during the day. In the second six, he delivers what he calls his "endpiece," which may be a first-hand report of some event he has contrived to witness, a synopsis of an involved political situation, or a sermon dealing with anything he feels like getting off his chest. Even when he is talking about what he has just seen, he avoids the excited accents of the "Here am I" school of broadcasting; indeed, he sounds more as though he were gazing straight through his subject at its inevitably dire consequences.
And his firm control of his baritone is no less an asset when he explores the field of opinion when he is fresh from the field of action. In introducing the first "This Is the News" broadcast, in September, 1947, he said, "This program is not a place where personal opinion should be mixed up with ascertainable facts." Then he added a qualification: "It is not, I think, humanly possible for any reporter to be completely objective, for we are all to some degree prisoners of our education, travel, reading—the sum total of our experience."
Murrow is the prisoner of some strenuous opinions, but his admirers and detractors agree that it is difficult to catch him mixing them up with the facts. One of the former has said, "To hear his broadcasts in the last campaign, you wouldn't have known which side he was on," and one of the latter, "He pontificates, but in such a way as to hide the condescension that goes with pontificating. He's much too clever to let you see what he's up to." Analytical listeners find that Murrow makes his points by tonal understatement, just as he indicates quotation marks by pausing slightly, as if for breath. Among the public men who have commended Murrow for his fairness is Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The care Murrow has taken not to mix opinions with facts has been the subject of widely varying interpretations, even among people whose political outlook is pretty much like his own. "Ed never pushes his liberalism beyond a carefully calculated safety point," one of these people has said. But another says, "He always stands up to be counted when the issue's big enough. And he never misses a chance to stand up for the principle of dissent. But he's too much of a fanatic about being a reporter to throw in a lot of opinions when he thinks the facts will make the point be themselves.
|"Edward R. Murrow, Mary Marvin Breckinridge, William L. Shirer, putting on ice skates in Amsterdam," January 19, 1940 (source)|
Murrow is on the board of directors of C.B.S., a circumstance that has been particularly helpful to Murrow the co-producer, narrator, and occasional interviewer of "See It Now," which is the older of his two television programs, and to Fred W. Friendly, a hulking admirer of his, who is co-producer of the show.
"See It Now" grew out of the collaboration of Murrow and Friendly on a set of record albums called "I Can Hear It Now;" instead of documenting history with sounds from the past, as the records did, "See It Now" seeks to present, recorded on film, significant sights and sounds of the present. Among recent "See It Now" programs that have won considerable acclaim have been an interview a Murrow representative had with Nehru, a presentation of both sides of an argument between the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Legion in Indianapolis, and a series of interviews conducted by a British journalist named Aidan Crawley with various Americans. The most talked-about "See It Now" dealt with Lieutenant Milo Radulovich, whom the Air Force was about to dismiss because two relatives of his were suspected of having Communist associations; it changed its mind after Murrow reviewed his case on television.
To put together programs like these, "See It Now" employs five full-time camera crews, who travel all over the world. Murrow takes a good deal of pride in the fact that the show occasionally loses money. The Aluminum Company of America, its sponsor, pays twenty-three thousand dollars a week toward its expenses (and another thirty-four thousand dollars for the time), but a show sometimes costs more than twenty-three thousand to produce, and when it does Columbia makes up the difference.
"From a financial point of view, the show's a great mystery, and I'm the only one sitting on the board who knows where the bodies are," Murrow says. Friendly isn't sure that even Murrow knows. "Ed couldn't tell you how much the show is going to cost for any given week," he says. "Not knowing is a point in our favor. For instance, he tells the other directors he wants to send a camera crew to Korea, and maybe he knows it will take five or ten thousand to pay the crew, but none of them—Ed included—stops to realize that the airplane bill is going to add on twenty thousand. So we go ahead, and the bill comes later. By that time, the show has been a hit, and it's hard to squawk about a hit, even if it loses money. And even if they should squawk, Ed can remind them that they O.K.'d the idea in the first place."
Murrow recently summed up his feelings on the subject by saying, "The theory of this business is that somebody wants to spend so many thousand dollars on a show, and if it costs twice as much as that to put on a good show, he gets a second-rate show. When we started 'See It Now,' I said I wasn't having any of that. If I wanted more than one camera crew, I'd damn well get more than one camera crew. They come to me now, the vice-presidents, and say, 'Look, there's so much going out of this spout and only so much coming in.' And I say, 'If that's the way you want to do it, you better get yourselves another boy.'"
What with his radio and television work, his royalties from the sale of records, and his director's fees, Murrow last year earned $211,126.20, which is more than anyone else with C.B.S. got for being serious in that same period. The largest part of Murrow's income came from his radio program, for which he receives thirty-five hundred dollars a week; to compensate, in part, for the liberties he took with the "See It Now" budget, he received only a modest fee, by the standards of the trade, for his labors on television.
Murrow's father, a former locomotive engineer, is supposed to have once confessed to a friend that his son was "downright dishonest—making a living just talking." Murrow, who makes better than a living, appears to have something of the same guilty attitude toward the money he earns, and he gets rid of it as though he were obliged to show no enjoyment of it. In the city, he lives in a moderate-size Park Avenue apartment with his wife, Janet, and their eight-year-old son, Charles Casey. His country place, near Pawling, New York, is a log cabin, though, to be sure, the logs are costly cedar. He dresses expensively, but he usually wears an old trench coat or raincoat over most of the expense. He often goes to fancy restaurants and orders scrambled eggs. And he pays more income tax than his accountant thinks necessary.
His most conspicuous form of waste, however, is gambling. Although he is a good poker player, late in the evening he almost invariably overbets his hand and comes out a large loser. He has been known to lose as much as twenty-five hundred dollars on the matching of a coin. "There's a little bit of the Warren Harding in him," Friendly says. "He'll say yes to anybody, and sometimes he'll say it before they even ask. Look at the royalties from those record albums of ours. For every four dollars he gets, I get six. Another guy with a big reputation like his would have said, 'Friendly, this deal is going to make you, so you take forty per cent and I'll take sixty.' Did he say that? No. He knew I was just out of the Army and broke, so he took a small slice."
Besides being the best-paid merchant of fact on the air, Murrow is without much doubt the most lavishly rewarded in sheets of paper suitable for framing. Since 1938, he has won forty awards or citations, has been presented with five honorary degrees, three of them LL.D.s, and has been appointed an honorary officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He has also refused three offers of college presidencies and innumerable offers to write books, and he has given no encouragement to some influential friends who have urged him to go back to the State of Washington, where he grew up, and run for the Senate.
"When it comes to politics, I've never had an ambition that lasted more than ninety days," he says. "And it ain't no false modesty to say that I don't know enough to write a book. I can write the language of speech, but that's totally different. When I write a book review or a preface to somebody else's book, Janet has to go through it and scatter the commas. As for the academic life, I'm fascinated by ideas, but I'm not an educated guy and I just haven't got the qualifications for it."
Murrow is nevertheless subject to recurring yearnings for quiet and leisure, and once or twice a year he tells Friendly that he has decided to take an educational job or sabbatical. Friendly then thinks up some exhausting stunt, and no more is heard about the matter. Another friend of Murrow's doesn't believe Friendly need worry about losing his associate to the campus. "It's too late now for Ed to switch," he says. "Those wartime years gave him a feeling of importance. When he goes to England now, he doesn't have to call up a private secretary and wangle an interview with Churchill. Churchill wants to see him. Naturally, Ed gets a kick out of Eisenhower's calling him Ed. He's much too much of a showman not to have fun in the part he's playing. When he gets out of a plane, wearing a trench coat and a hat with the brim pulled down, he's Ed Murrow, the big correspondent. Maybe one reason he enjoys acting like a newspaperman so much is that he never was a newspaperman."
A recurrent desire to get away from it all is not entirely a handicap to a high-priced employee in maintaining himself in a milieu of power politics. Murrow has achieved a position at C.B.S. that is outside, and basically antithetical to, the corporate structure of authority. In radio and television, those who appear on factual programs are ordinary looked upon as poor cousins of the entertainers, because, as in most business enterprises, there is a tendency to value performance in terms of the amount of money it brings in, and in that the entertainers notoriously lead the field.
By appealing to all heights of brow—from the people who listen to comedians to the ones who tune in on symphonies—Murrow has risen far above the ranks of the poor cousins, and in doing so has achieved a singular amount of freedom from authority of any kind. Not only does he do pretty much as he pleases about running his own shows but he has had a fairly free hand in the creation and development of the whole C.B.S. news service.
During the nine years he served as European director of the service, he hired many of its correspondents, often against the better judgment of his superiors, and he has doggedly fought off interference with their reporting, both from above and from the outside. Moreover, he has relentlessly looked after the best interests of the men he has hired—a loyal group known in C.B.S. circles as "Murrow Boys."
"There's not one of us who doesn't go and cry on his shoulder the minute something goes wrong," a member of this group has said. "And Ed will pick up the phone and get the right person on the wire and say, 'Hey, wait a minute! We can't do that to this guy.'" Another takes a broader view. "Ed is what keeps the whole thing together," he says. "The total product of Murrow is much more than Murrow on the mike." As for Murrow himself, he says staunchly, "The help I get from the correspondents is greater than any they get from me." Wells Church, the radio-news director at C.B.S., once complained, "Ed Murrow has collected the Goddamnedest bunch of camp followers, and not one of them is worth a damn." But Church is a "Murrow boy" himself.
Firmly entrenched though Murrow would seem to be, however, his position is an uneasy one, as he tacitly admitted when he insisted on inserting a clause in his contract that will release him from it should Paley ever cease to be the ultimate authority on the board. This proviso is an indication of a relationship that goes a long way toward explaining how Murrow has been able to carve out his highly unusual niche in C.B.S. affairs.
"Bill Paley's got a conscience, and he cares about more than just making money," a man familiar with the workings of the company said not long ago, "But in radio you've got to make money before you can do anything else, and most of the brass at C.B.S. thinks in terms of profit, which on the air means entertainment. Bill needs Ed to remind him to think in terms of news. Well, it's a little bigger than that—let's call it responsibility. In that sense, you might say that Ed is Bill's conscience."
|Edward R. Murrow (center) with Fred Friendly (right) in the early 1950s (source)|
Murrow's occasional yearning for the campus may go back to the time, in his pre-radio days, when he was employed on the fringes of the academic world, or it may go back still further, to the time when, upon graduating from high school, he was forced to realize that, because of his lack of money, he could not go to the college of his choice. Lack of money was the dominant theme of his youth. "I can't remember when I didn't have to work," he says.
He was born on a small farm near Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1908, the youngest of three brothers. (The eldest, Lacey, is now a brigadier general in the Air Force, and the other, Dewey, is a contractor in Spokane.) The "R" in Edward R. Murrow stands for Roscoe, which is his father's name. The father, an easy-going two-hundred-and-fifty-pounder, taught his sons to fish and shoot, and liked to roughhouse with them. Their mother, a Southern Methodist, weighed about ninety; a stern disciplinarian, she allowed no fishing on Sunday and no card-playing in the house at any time, and, as Murrow recalls it, "made the old man beat the hell out of us when we were bad." The farm produced an income of six or seven hundred dollars a year, and all three boys had to help to make it produce even that, the two older ones driving a hay rake and the youngest carrying slops and doing other light chores.
When Murrow was six, his father sold the farm and moved to Blanchard, Washington, sixty miles north of Seattle, where he got a job as a farmhand, and for a while the family lived in a tent. Then the father found work in a sawmill and the family moved into a house, and from the sawmill he went to a logging railroad, first as a brakeman and then as a locomotive engineer. Murrow started earning money summers at the age of fifteen, as a whistle punk in a lumber camp, and at sixteen he was the fireman of a donkey engine; his last two years in high school he drove the school bus.
After graduating, he worked a year as chairman for a survey gang, saving money for college. He wanted to go to the University of Virginia but decided it would take too long to earn enough money, so he went to Washington State College, where his brothers had gone. He helped to pay his way by tending furnaces and washing dishes in a sorority house, and in the summers he continued to work in lumber camps. He got good grades, went in for some college dramatics, and became president of the student council, but he had no time, and little aptitude, for athletics. "I don't even swim very well, because I was always working at the time when most kids learn," he says.
In his last year at Washington State, Murrow was elected president of the West Coast Student Councils, and this led, after his graduation, in 1930—at which he smudged a distinguished record by tripping over his sabre in the R.O.T.C. parade—to a job as president of the National Student Federation. The pay was twenty-five dollars a week and expenses, the office was a basement in New York, and the work was mostly arranging students' tours to Europe, at an average cost of two hundred and fifty dollars for the round trip.
Murrow was an earnest and hard-working young man; in two years he not only arranged dozens of tours but made speeches describing them at over a hundred colleges and universities and took one jaunt around Europe himself. Then, in 1932, he found a better job, as assistant director of the Institute of International Education, an enterprise concerned with facilitating the exchange of graduate students and professors and financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. One of the attractions of this job was a free trip to Europe each summer.
The director of the Institute was Professor Stephen P. Duggan, of C.C.N.Y. After Hitler rose to power, Duggan and several other educators organized an Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, and under this awkward and anxious letterhead Murrow, as the committee's secretary, carried on its correspondence.
"It was the most satisfying experience I ever had," he said recently. "About ninety-eight per cent of the money came from Jewish sources, but we never raised any questions about the racial origin of a professor—only about his ability and whether the university would take him. I got more of an education from those professors than I'd ever had before. I was running a kind of revolving seminar. That's when I learned to talk slowly, too, because some of them couldn't speak English very well. Most of my time was spent with people twenty to forty years older than I was. They took me seriously, and I guess I took myself pretty seriously."
When Murrow was twenty-six, he was offered the presidency of Rockford, a small women's college in Illinois. Having just got married to Janet Brewster, a graduate of Mount Holyoke, whom he had met a couple of years earlier, he was on the verge of accepting the offer. "But the ladies hadn't pursued their investigations far enough to learn how young I was, or to find out that I didn't have some of the qualifications they thought I had," he says. "When they did find out, the whole thing fell through. That got me to thinking that there wasn't no future for me in the world of scholarship, because I didn't have the credentials. Then I heard that C.B.S. was looking for somebody to work on education, and that seemed to be the answer."
|"Monsieur Andre Girard ('Pertinax') speaks to America, March 3, 1939, with Edward R. Murrow (left), European Representative of the Columbia Broadcasting System" (source)|
Murrow joined C.B.S. in 1935, as director of its talks-and-special-events department, which involved supervising educational programs dealing with political and scientific subjects and addressing various groups on the potentialities of radio as a medium of education. He got more into the thick of things during the months that preceded the Presidential election of the following year when, as assistant producer, he helped with some of the campaign broadcasts.
In February, 1937, in New Orleans, where he had gone to deliver a speech before the National Education Association, he received a long-distance call from Edward Klauber, who was then the executive vice-president of Columbia, asking him if he would like to go to Europe and indicating that he wanted an immediate answer. Murrow immediately answered yes, and found himself with the title of European director of C.B.S., an office in London, and the duty of arranging programs of what he now speaks of as "culture stuff."
"There never was such a job," he says. "I'd take a week or ten days to go to Rome to arrange for a broadcast by the Vatican Choir—which, of course, I could have done on the telephone. There were summer conferences in Salzburg and other pleasant places. I had no desire at the time to become a broadcaster. Why would I, with a job like that?"
It was more or less by accident that Murrow became a broadcaster. Radio reporting had fumbled its way to the point where not only politicians but well-known newspapermen were being called to the microphone to comment on important news. The National Broadcasting Company even had a correspondent in Europe to report the news over the air.
Late in 1937, Murrow hired an assistant, to help him get up "culture stuff," a former newspaperman named William L. Shirer, and stationed him on the Continent. Shirer was in Vienna—he was trying to arrange a broadcast by a chorus of school children—in March, 1938, when Hitler took over Austria. Shirer telephoned Murrow, who was in Warsaw, also on a musical mission, and reported that he had a story but couldn't do anything about broadcasting it, because of censorship. Murrow advised him to fly to London and broadcast it himself. Murrow then flew to Vienna. By the time he arrived, N.B.C. had been allowed to broadcast some comments on the Anschluss, and Murrow was able to wangle the same privilege. New York had raised no objection to his having put Shirer on the air—it was the first news broadcast from abroad in C.B.S.'s history—so Murrow made several broadcasts of his own.
When he got back to London, he found that his status had changed. Klauber, who before going to C.B.S. had been a night city editor of the New York Times, had persuaded Paley that there was something to radio reporting, and Paley had started giving a freer hand to his news director, Paul White. Because most of the news of the day was being made in Europe and Murrow was on the scene, Paley instructed him to build up a staff.
Among the men whom Murrow hired—they now constitute the core of Columbia's news service—were Eric Sevareid, Larry LeSueur, Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hottelet, and Bill Downs. After one of the new Murrow recruits had made his first broadcast, Murrow would frequently get a telephone call from Paley or Klauber complaining that the fellow was terrible. Murrow had a stock reply: I'm hiring reporters, not announcers."
Murrow's behavior during the war was perplexing to his colleagues, to his employers, and, apparently, even to himself. During the Battle of Britain, he reported air raids from the streets and rooftops, drove an open car, and made a point of dining under a skylight, and he inexplicably found it necessary to have his office as close as he could get to the headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which Nazi bombers treated as a prize target; the London C.B.S. bureau was bombed out of three offices, and the windows of a fourth were smashed.
When the Allies took over the offensive in the air, Murrow showed at least an equal disregard for his own safety by his insistence on going out on bombing missions. Discussing Murrow's combat flights, a fellow correspondent has said, "A man in Ed's position does it once to show he's ready to do what he asks others to do. He may even make two or three flights, if there's something extra special about them. But no more. I think Ed's got a martyr complex."
Paley, whose efforts to keep Murrow on the ground failed so dismally, said not long ago, "He'd agree to stop it, and then the next thing I knew, he'd be off on another raid. I used to think he was afraid he was a coward, but it's more complicated than that."
Murrow himself is not sure about the number of these trips ("It couldn't have been more than twenty-five") or why he felt obliged to make them. "Partly it was being a Boy Scout, I guess," he says. "Partly, I like fliers. Partly, it was a dromomania I have—I even have it when I drive a car. Partly, it was vanity. Three or four times in London, when I'd be sitting in the office with some of the boys, we'd hear the B.B.C. playing back things I'd said, and nothing has ever made me feel as good as that. I can't be logical about it. Like in 1950, when I decided to spend my vacation in Korea. Everybody asked me 'Why are you going?' and I couldn't think of any reason that made sense. It was just something I had to do."
Murrow became an important man in London. He not only had the entrée into governing and social circles that all influential American correspondents enjoyed but was held in especially high favor because of the fervor of his broadcasts at the time when England stood alone in the blitz. In addition, Mrs. Murrow was the London director of Bundles for Britain.
Paley, who was also in London during a part of the war, as a colonel and deputy chief of SHAEF's Psychological Warfare Division, was impressed by his employee's prestige. "It seemed he was almost the most important American there," he said later. Apparently, Paley was also impressed by a quality of Murrow's that has been called—with varying degrees of sympathy—idealism, do-goodism, and the world-on-my-backism; at any rate, during this period he told friends that his own outlook was broadening.
At the end of the war, he persuaded Murrow to come back to New York as vice-president of C.B.S. in charge of news and public affairs; Klauber had retired, and the new vice-president was to take over some of his responsibilities. Murrow was reluctant to give up broadcasting, but Paley convinced him that his audience had gone with the war.
|"Edward and Janet Murrow and son, Casey, return to the U.S. after spending nine years in London during the war," 1947 (source)|
It is generally agreed that Murrow was miscast as a vice-president. One man who left C.B.S. while he held the position has said, "Ed never could manage a news service, so after a year and a half he gave up." Those who still work there, however, concede that it is in large part thanks to Murrow that C.B.S. hires correspondents who are inclined to approach the news with an open mind and by and large leaves them free to report it as they see it, without policy directives or "guidance." (Marya Mannes, a radio critic, feels much the same way. "The key of C.B.S. is reason and reliability," she wrote in a recent article about the networks for the Reporter. "It is doubtful whether any news organization anywhere—the press included—has a better staff of reporters.")
As a director, Murrow seems to have been a bit difficult in his dealings with staff members he had no hand in hiring. "It's got to be admitted that if you weren't a 'Murrow boy,' you were under a handicap," one of these has said. "Ed couldn't seem to get it into his head that some of the others were just as good." Howard K. Smith, who succeeded Murrow as European director, has always been an exception. He was already a C.B.S. employee when Murrow promoted him to the post in London. At one time, a dissident group at C.B.S. formed a Murrow Isn't God Club, but it was disbanded after Murrow asked if he could join.
Of his tour of duty as a vice-president, Murrow says, "I was going to revolutionize radio from the inside—make it adult and intelligent. But I didn't like the 'in' basket and the 'out' basket. I didn't like budgets. I'm not a very good administrator. And I had some ideas that didn't turn out very well. We started something called 'C.B.S. Views the Press.' I naïvely thought that since the press takes it upon itself to criticize everything else, somebody had a right to criticize the press. It seemed I was wrong. At least, the show never found a sponsor and was dropped. Most of all, I didn't like firing people. I wanted to be a reporter again, because I needed the dignity and satisfaction of being a reporter."
Murrow's friends believe that his decision to give up the vice-presidency was brought to a head by the departure from C.B.S. of Shirer, who had returned from Europe in 1940 to become a commentator in New York. Neither Murrow nor Shirer likes to talk about the affair, but the facts appear to be that Shirer's sponsor complained about his broadcasts, Shirer was shifted to an unsponsored program at a less desirable hour, and Shirer resigned.
Two or three newspaper columnists asserted that Shirer had been shifted because of his liberal opinions, and Murrow, as the official directly responsible for making the switch, came in for a good deal of criticism from the liberal benches. On the other hand, his supporters point out that if a sponsor objects to a commentator, the network can do little but substitute an acceptable one or lose the sponsor, and they contend that C.B.S. would have tried to find another sponsor for Shirer if he hadn't decided to quit. However that may be, Shirer's leaving must have been painful for Murrow, for after all Shirer was the original "Murrow boy."
Murrow gave up his vice-presidency in the summer of 1947, and returned to broadcasting that September. "I was pretty nervous there for a while," he says. "I had to get my audience back." The chances are that, Paley's earlier views notwithstanding, it had never strayed very far. Murrow's doomful baritone was as well suited to a cold war as it had been to a hot one, and by the autumn of 1947 a great many people were evidently waiting to be assured that no matter how bad things were, Murrow was there to interpret them. Radio statistics are not always reliable, but for what they are worth, they credit Murrow with almost a million listeners.
A single daily radio program was not enough to satisfy Murrow's restless nature. While he was still a vice-president, Friendly had come to him with the idea of the "I Can Hear It Now" albums, and together they had listened to recordings of broadcasts of historic events from 1932 to 1945. Now they went to work in earnest on the project, and in 1948 they brought out their first album; it was soon followed by two more.
In 1950, Murrow and Friendly tried the "Hear It Now" idea on radio, but dropped it a few months later in favor of their "See It Now" television show, which now is supposed to have an audience of around three million. During its first two seasons, "See It Now" appeared on Sunday afternoon, but last September it was moved to Tuesday night, at ten-thirty, so that Murrow might have a chance to rest weekends.
Perhaps a little frightened by this prospect, he started a new television program within a month, which he presents on Friday nights at ten-thirty. Called "Person to Person," the new show consists of a series of interview in which Murrow, at the studio, holds successive conversations with two celebrities in their homes here or, if they are from abroad, in their hotels. "Person to Person" has already won an award (the Sylvania) as "the most outstanding new television series of the year," and Murrow has derived a certain amount of fun from pairing such disparate individuals as Earl Blaik and Valentina, Tallulah Bankhead and Theodore H. White, Sir Roger Makins and Joe Louis, and V. K. Krishna Menon and Eva Gabor. At the conclusion of a "Person to Person" program, Murrow is able to embark on his weekend in a suitably exhausted condition.
In addition to these programs of his own, Murrow provides recorded introductions for "This I Believe," a five-day-a-week radio program, arranged by Raymond Swing, that presents the philosophies of various public and private citizens. The day after the broadcast, the credos are syndicated in sixty newspapers. Last year, some of them made yet a third appearance—in a book, named after the program, for which Murrow provided the introduction. It has sold three hundred thousand copies.
|Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer in the 1940s (source)|
Ordinarily, Murrow starts work on his radio broadcast at five o'clock in the afternoon, having read the news from time to time during the day and thought from time to time about its darker potentialities. Promptly on the hour, as indicated by a clock over the door of his office—a small corner one on the seventeenth floor of the C.B.S. Building, on Madison Avenue—he strolls into an adjoining office that is occupied by Jesse Zousmer, a cheerful former newspaperman, who writes most of Murrow's copy for the news report that constitutes the first half of the program. Zousmer has been joined earlier by John Aaron, a roundish man with a worried look, who produces ideas and does research for the program.
After Zousmer has poured the three of them a small drink of Scotch from a bottle he keeps in the cabinet, they begin to discuss the evening's broadcast. Aaron and Zousmer have been discussing it most of the day, and have usually found in the news a pattern that suggests a suitable subject for the endpiece, which Murrow writes—or, rather, dictates—himself, filling it out with background material supplied by C.B.S. correspondents in the field. Since both his assistants have trained themselves to think as much like Murrow as possible, Murrow is likely to agree to their proposals, adding remarks that, once they've had some editing, he may repeat over the air.
One afternoon a while ago, for instance, the day's news consisted largely of dissension among the forces opposed to Communism, and Murrow said, "And all that trouble started without a single goddam Russian being hit over the head with a billy club, doused with a fire hose, or prodded with a bayonet." Zousmer made a mental note to put the words into the news report, deleting the "goddam" as he did so.
Murrow has developed an accurate sense of time, which enables him to break up the conference within a minute or so of six without looking at the clock. He returns to his office and dictates his endpiece to Miss Kay Campbell, who has worked for him since 1937. Zousmer, meanwhile, begins to "rough" the copy of the news report on his typewriter and Aaron starts searching for some quotations appropriate to the subject of the endpiece. Murrow will choose one of these as his "word for today," a half-minute homily that he delivers after the closing commercial and by means of which he has persuaded his sponsors not to interrupt the main part of his broadcast. By seven-fifteen, Miss Campbell has typed the endpiece and Zousmer has brought in his copy. Murrow reads the entire script and then goes back over it and changes a few words here and there. He likes alliteration, and will change "mistrust" to "distrust" if there is another "dis" nearby.
By seven-thirty, Murrow has finished editing the script, has read it over several times, and has picked a quotation from Aaron's list. Up to that point, he has been pretty much at ease, but now, with nothing to do but wait for seven-forty-five, he begins to get nervous. He glances at whatever late news bulletins may bring him, although he seldom adds anything to his script unless it is very important.
He makes a couple of impatient trips to the water cooler. By seven-thirty-five, he is again seated at his desk, leaning back, his hands behind his head, and going over the script in his mind as he stares moodily out the window or at the wall before him, on which he hangs a large photograph of Carl Sandburg, inscribed "Edward R. Murrow—reporter, historian, inquirer, actor, ponderer, seeker—Yrs., Carl Sandburg." Zousmer and Aaron allow him a few minutes of this, and then one of them comes in with a question to distract him.
When the clock over the door says seven-forty-two, Murrow gets up and starts down a short corridor that leads to the studio. Zousmer and Aaron accompany him as far as the entrance. His coat is off and he is wearing red or green suspenders over a light-colored shirt; his collar is open and his tie loosened; his sleeves are rolled not quite to the elbows. His face is covered with sweat and his expression and movements are a good deal like those of a man going to his execution.
In the studio, Murrow sits down at a table before the microphone, which he tries not to look at. ("I've never got over a slight sense of fright at the sight of one of those things," he says.) He lays his copy in front of him, blows his nose, takes a drink of water, says something to test his voice, runs a hand over his face, and watches the clock. As the program goes on the air and the announcer, Bob Dixon, spells out "A-m-o-c-o," Murrow's face takes on a look of disgust and his right foot begins to tap softly. It keeps tapping until Dixon has intoned, "Now here is Edward R. Murrow," and then Murrow's voice comes in on the downbeat, in portentous cadence, giving each word the same stress: "This—is—the—news."
For all its portentousness, there is often a small tremor in his voice at the outset, and during the first minute or so he sounds like a man reading, but he soon loses his self-consciousness, and by the time he goes into his endpiece, his head is wagging as Franklin D. Roosevelt's used to, his eyebrows rise with every point he makes, and his voice has the response of an orator's.
Two minutes before his time is up, an assistant director sitting beside him slides a stopwatch onto the table in front of him. Since his program has different sponsors in different parts of the country (it is Hamm's beer in the Midwest, and Hudson cars and Safeco insurance in the Far West) and all will start chattering at exactly twenty seconds past 7:57, New York time, Murrow does not have the slight leeway enjoyed by broadcasters with just one sponsor but must finish on the second. "I'd rather go too fast and have to ad-lib at the end," he says, "than go too slow and lose the punch by having to speed up."
From the studio, Murrow goes directly to a lavatory, where he washes the sweat from his face, wets and combs his hair, buttons his collar, and adjusts his tie. He returns to his office to pick up his coat, and then, with Zousmer and Aaron, takes the elevator to the ground floor of the building, where there is a bar-and-grill called Colbee's. Three stools at the far end of the bar are reserved for Murrow and his lieutenants, and so is a bottle of House of Lords Scotch. Murrow takes his Scotch with water and without ice, and he needs two, and sometimes three, drinks to ease his tension; Aaron and Zousmer know that it has begun to ease when he stops staring into his glass and says something to one of them.
|John Aaron (left), Edward R. Murrow (center), and Jesse Zousmer (right) in the 1950s (source)|
Before Murrow became so deeply involved in television, he and his wife went out to dinner two or three times a week, or had friends in. (The guests would be invited for eight and Murrow would arrive at eight-thirty.) Nowadays, he is more likely to snatch a bite with Aaron, who conceived the idea of "Person to Person," and spend the evening working on it with him, or to meet Friendly for dinner and talk over ideas for "See It Now" programs. Murrow spends the better part of two evenings each week preparing for his television shows and the better part of two more evenings putting them on. Although he seldom gets to bed before two o'clock, and often stays up past four, he is usually in his office by ten, with the papers already read.
Unless Murrow is planning some special stunt in which he will personally participate, the actual production of "See It Now" is pretty much in Friendly's hands until the Monday morning before it goes on the air. However, Murrow and Friendly map out each show at least a week in advance—and as much as several months in advance in the case of an occasional double-length show—and every morning they discuss the progress of the subjects (there are generally from two to four of them) that it covers.
Friendly keeps in contact daily with the camera crews by telephone or cable. Of the five camera crews that work full time for "See It Now," four are stationed in this country and the fifth in Europe, but the boundaries of the territory they cover are elastic and at any moment one of them may be sent to some other part of the world on an assignment. Each of the domestic crews consists of a reporter, a cameraman, a sound man, along with some twenty-five pieces of equipment, which are worth a total of seventeen thousand dollars; the European crew has the same makeup except that the nearest C.B.S. correspondent fills in as a reporter.
In addition to its own crew, "See It Now" has an arrangement with "News of the Day," a newsreel company, that permits it to use the three newsreel crews the latter outfit maintains, in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. During a fairly typical week last summer, Friendly had one crew in South Carolina working on a hydrogen-bomb sequence, one doing a local story about an umpire, one in Washington, one in Luxembourg, and one getting ready to go to Korea.
Film comes in from the crews all week long, and Friendly decides how it should be presented and, with the help of three cutters, trims it down to enough for an hour-long show. He then runs this off for Murrow, who criticizes and makes suggestions for its finally cutting to half-hour length.
In theory, this is done early Monday, but in practice it often breaks into Murrow's weekends. From Monday morning until the show goes on the air, the two men work over the script of Murrow's commentary and rehearse the show two or three times, taking only a few hours off for Murrow to prepare and deliver his "This Is the News" broadcasts and for both men to catch a little sleep. The preparation of the commentary is rather like that of the news broadcast. Friendly usually writes the first draft, Murrow rewrites it, and then they both polish it up during rehearsals.
Murrow is even more nervous before a television appearance than before a broadcast, and submits to having his face made up with much the same lack of enthusiasm that he displays while listening to the commercial on his radio show. He refuses to let the makeup man daub over a mole on his right cheek, which he seems to consider a kind of trademark, like the cigarette he is always smoking when he turns to face the camera.
|Edward R. Murrow aboard a military plane during the Korean War in the early 1950s (source)|
In June, 1952, shortly after Murrow had made one of his periodic remarks to Friendly about leaving radio and television for a nice, quiet teaching job, Friendly came up with a proposal that made him forget all about campus life.
The United States Air Force, it seemed, was prepared to stage a sham atomic attack on New York City in order to demonstrate to the public why the nation could not be adequately defended from air attack without an organized ground-observer corps. Friendly suggested to Murrow not only that the attack would make a fine subject for "See It Now" but that Murrow should participate in it, and Murrow agreed.
As the show was worked out between the Air Force, Friendly, and Murrow, three B-29 heavy bombers would approach the coast of Maine from the north, flying too low to be detected by radar. They would continue down the coast and across Connecticut, where civilian watchers would be primed to spot them as they gained altitude for the run over New York. Three two-seater jet fighters from Otis Air Force Base, near Falmouth, on Cape Cod, would intercept them and (theoretically) shoot down one, leaving the two others free to (theoretically) destroy New York. Camera crews on the ground would photograph the workings of the spotter system, the flight of the bombers, and the takeoff of the jets. In one of the bombers, flying from England, would be a camera crew and Howard K. Smith, who would temporarily desert his European post for the occasion. In one of the jets would be a cameraman. In another, with a microphone, through which he was to describe what he saw for the show's sound track, would be Murrow.
At ten-thirty on a Tuesday night Murrow left LaGuardia Field for Otis Base in a bucket-seated C-47, which had been flown down from Stewart Air Force Base, at Newburgh, to pick him up. He had made his evening broadcast, stopped at Colbee's for two Scotches and a ham-and-cheese sandwich, picked up a suitcase at his apartment, and taken a taxi to the airport. It was a warm evening, and when he got into the plane he was wearing a well-used hat and had a trench coat over his arm. Once in the cabin, he removed his hat and jacket, loosened his collar, and, as the plane started to climb, took small sips of whiskey from the bottle. He was sweating heavily.
An hour later, the plane landed at Otis Base in Cape Cod mist and Murrow was met by his camera crew and two public-relations officers. After he had left his suitcase in a guest cabin, the two officers drove him and the camera crew and the two pilots of the C-47 to the Coonamessett Inn, a couple of miles from the base. There they met several jet pilots, including Captain Robert D. Rohlfs, with whom Murrow was to fly the next day. A woman at the bar carried her drink to the table where Murrow was sitting and asked, "Which one of you is this Edward R. Murrow I've been hearing so much about?" Murrow pointed to his cameraman.
The inn stopped serving drinks at one, and soon afterward the party drove back to the base and stopped off at the house of Major Ben Atwood, who began explaining to Murrow what he would hear during his flight. "You'll be sitting in the rear of an F-94, and you'll hear all the intercepts," Atwood said. "You'll also be able to talk to the pilot."
Murrow said, "The way we've set this up, there ain't going to be anything along the lines of what we usually call commentary. We don't want any 'Now we're going over Stamford. Now we're going over White Plains.' What we want is what normally goes on the intercom."
Rohlfs said, "That would be obscene, sir."
Murrow said, "All I want from the pilot is if all he hears from the bombers is 'Bombs away,' that's all I want from him. All I want is what's said from the ground to the air—to the guy I'm flying with—that's all I want. If we can make it as it is in actual operating, that's the way I want it. When we get together, we can patch it together. The whole idea is to say to the listener, 'This is what you would hear. This is what would happen if there's an air attack.'"
Atwood said, "If it runs as it should, there'll be very little chatter on the air."
Murrow said, "All right, but one thing we've got to avoid is either conversation or pictures that would not occur. This is not a show to show Murrow went up in a jet. That's the least important point. If the Russians turn up next Wednesday, Murrow may not be here."
The party broke up at three-thirty, and the two public-relations officers drove Murrow to the guest cabin, promising to call for him at seven-thirty. Murrow got to bed at four and woke up spontaneously at seven-fifteen. After breakfast at one of the officers' club with several of the pilots, he was escorted to the operations office, where he learned that the weather was moderately good, with a visibility of six miles and with thin, scattered clouds at twenty-five hundred feet over New York and thunderstorms in that area.
At nine-fifteen, everyone who was to take part in the operation was assembled for a briefing by Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Ploetz. The three bombers, Ploetz announced, were then over Bangor at twenty-five hundred feet, flying a V formation. After passing Bridgeport, they would climb to five thousand feet, and would later go to eight thousand for the run over New York. The three fighters would intercept them over Bridgeport, and halfway down Long Island Sound, one of the bombers would drop out of formation; each fighter was to make one pass at it as it went down. The fighters would then make passes at the remaining two bombers until they reached downtown New York.
Murrow was given a heavy khaki flying suit, a Mae West, and an oxygen mask with a microphone fitted into it. When everybody was dressed for the flight, he and his camera crew and the three pilots were driven to the field, where the fighters were lined up before a low frame building.
As a preliminary to photographing the action, Murrow and Rohlfs made a couple of practice climbs into their ship, during which Rohlfs had trouble with his parachute leg straps and Murrow with his breathing. "I'm getting too goddam old for this," Murrow grunted.
With about half an hour to wait before takeoff time, he asked his sound man to bring over a portable microphone and, gathering the fliers around him, described the scene for the tape. He then sat on the steps of the building with the pilots and chain-smoked until the takeoff bell sounded, at exactly ten-thirty.
|Murrow standing in front of an Air Force plane in the 1950s (source)|
Murrow's plane did not get back to the field until two-fifteen. By then, the other two jets had long since returned. Murrow said afterward that his recollection of the early part of the flight was confused. "The first time we pulled out of a dive, I nearly blacked out," he said. "It was like an elephant on my shoulders."
On the way back from New York, Rohlfs, finding that the plane's fuel supply was low, had headed for a field at Suffolk, Long Island, to replenish it, but as he was coming down there his hydraulic landing gear had stuck, and he had to land on his emergency gear. Upon getting out of the plane at Otis, Murrow gratefully accepted a drink of whiskey. Presently, he took off his flying suit, had another drink, and ate a sandwich for lunch.
A few minutes after three, Murrow left Otis in the bucket-seater. Throughout the trip back to LaGuardia, he sat leaning forward in his seat, elbows on knees, smoking with every breath (he smokes about sixty cigarettes a day), and appeared to be studying the sweat that dripped steadily from the end of his nose.
The plane landed at LaGuardia at four-thirty. Friendly met him at the airport with a car and drove him to the office. When Murrow got there, at five-fifteen, he found that Zousmer had already written the first part of his news broadcast, and proceeded to catch up with his schedule. After the broadcast, he had dinner near the office, and at one-fifteen, accompanied by Zousmer, caught a plane for Denver to hold a television interview with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was then a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination.
During the ten-hour flight, he drank quantities of tea, coffee, and warm Coca-Cola, sweated most of it out, and slept about forty-five minutes. In Denver, he set his watch back two hours and slept those two hours in a hotel. For the next two days, he worked on the interview, made his usual "This Is the News" broadcasts, with Zousmer's help, and got one night's normal sleep—six hours.
He left Denver by plane at ten-thirty Friday night and, after keeping Zousmer awake all night, talking politics, arrived in New York at nine-thirty Saturday morning. Going straight to his apartment, Murrow had breakfast, slept two hours, and at one o'clock got out of his Chevrolet convertible and drove to his house in Pawling, where Mrs. Murrow was entertaining Sir Gladwyn Jebb, then Britain's delegate to the United Nations, and Lady Jebb.
Immediately after dinner, he drove back to New York, making the seventy-five-mile trip in his customary hour and three-quarters. From eleven until three, he worked at his office with Friendly, editing film and writing copy, and then went to the apartment to get some sleep, so as to be fresh for the next day's television show.
Throughout that summer and fall Murrow kept up a grueling schedule, and in December he spent Christmas week in Korea, where he prepared a half-hour television show. Upon his return, he landed in Seattle with an earache and a high temperature, and retired to a hospital for two days. No serious trouble developed, so he flew on to New York, but a month later he went to Presbyterian Hospital for a checkup. Nothing was found to be wrong with him but fatigue, and he was ordered to take a three-month vacation. After an argument, the doctors agreed that he might do anything he pleased, as long as he didn't have a deadline. Accordingly, in the latter part of May he temporarily gave up his radio and television shows, and began his vacation by flying with his wife and son to the Coronation.
Leaving his family in England, he flew back to New York, editing film en route for a C.B.S. show on the Coronation, and shortly after he arrived here, he appeared on a two-hour television show commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Ford. Then he flew back to England, where he and his family spent a fortnight in Cornwall and a week in London, after which they returned to New York by ship.
After a week's rest in Pawling, Murrow flew to the West Coast, made a C.B.S. television show called "Television City" in Hollywood, a "See It Now" show on logging in Oregon, and a documentary movie about the Aluminum Company of America at the company's plant at Vancouver, Washington. While out there, he stopped in to see his parents, who now live in Bellingham, Washington, and his brother Dewey in Spokane.
By the end of August, he was back in New York, where he worked with Zousmer and Aaron on plans for his fall program. The second week in September, his vacation over, he flew to Berlin to make the first "See It Now" show of the new season to confer with the C.B.S. European correspondents in preparation for embarking on a new season of deadlines.
Those correspondents, most of whom not only would be uneasy in their jobs if anything should remove Murrow from his but, quite apart from that, regard him with an affection bordering on the filial, had worried a good deal about the state of his health, and worry had led to rumors.
While he was on his prescribed vacation, a friend of his in Europe who had heard the rumors wrote an anxious letter to him at his New York office. Murrow replied, "This fall I shall merely have five radio shows a week, plus two half-hour television shows, plus a few extracurricular activities. I hope the foregoing answers your question regarding health, although what it reveals about my sanity may be another question. As far as strenuous work is concerned, I can do no better than to quote you a comment by my mother, who said, 'It is better to wear out than to rust out.' As ever yours . . . "
Before the letter was typed, Murrow was aboard the plane for Berlin, and so it wasn't signed.
— CHARLES WERTENBAKER