Murrow’s Boys And The CBS That Was - A Memoir
by Susan Scharfman
"The most distinguished hallmark of the American society is and always has been change." – Eric Sevareid
When I read of the recent death at 97 of former CBS correspondent, Richard C. Hottelet (far left), I thought how much richer my life is to have known him and some of the other "Murrow Boys" – Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood (second from left), Larry LeSueur (second from right), Howard K. Smith, Winston Burdett, Daniel Schorr. Gifted, fearless, in-your-face newsmen whom no one could bully, Edward R. Murrow (far right with wife Janet at desk) hired them to report World War II for CBS direct from the front lines. It had never been done before. They invented broadcast journalism through the medium of radio.
This Is London
While some of these correspondents were wading ashore at Normandy, I was wading through homework at a small maple desk in my matching maple wood bedroom. With the Philco radio crackling over the familiar voice of Edward R. Murrow, I heard the screaming sound of bombs falling on London. Surviving on coffee and cigarettes, Murrow always began his broadcasts with: "This (long pause) is London." When the crystal tubes in the back of the radio sputtered, I'd give the wooden frame an angry whack. The static stopped long enough for me to hear how many American merchant ships were sunk in the North Atlantic, the number of planes down over Germany and the Romanian oilfields. In those early days mathematicians at Bletchley Park in England had not yet broken the German Enigma code. ("The Imitation Game") Our losses were horrendous.
And Paris And Berlin And…
Murrow sent Eric Sevareid to Paris to cover the 1940 fall of France to the Nazis. After catching 'the last train out,' Sevareid rejoined Murrow in London. Reporting from Germany for many years, CBS's William L. Shirer, who gave us "Berlin Diary" and "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," remained in Berlin through 1940. A constricted environment for an American journalist, Shirer was a man of some reflection. "Most true happiness comes from one's inner life," he wrote. "It takes contemplation and self-discipline." Shirer witnessed Nazi atrocities and the vomitus propaganda baloney of the Reich Foreign Ministry until it was no longer possible to remain there.
So how could this kid from Queens, New York have guessed that in the following decade I'd walk through the art deco doors of the Columbia Broadcasting System at 485 Madison Avenue (original headquarters), and into the "old boy network" of legends in their own time? When you're living your life you don't spend a lot of time examining how to do it. A cosmic force seems to carry you along. My early destiny was CBS.
The Original Rat Pack
With Eric Sevareid as my boss and mentor, I experienced five of the most formative years of my life. In fact, I thought I'd found my niche until the foreign service took me in another direction. Loquacious Dick Hottelet was affectionately called "hot lips Hottelet." From Europe to North Africa, the well-known womanizing of handsome Charles Collingwood earned him the title "lover boy." Don Hewitt was the cheeky rascal in the newsroom. Before the invention of video tape we used kinescope film. Hewitt taught me how to edit on a Moviola machine, which I did for Sevareid's show "The American Week." A virtual genius, Don Hewitt went on to create and produce the venerable "60 Minutes." Leaving a trail of heartbroken women throughout the halls of CBS, Eric Sevareid was "the grey eminence."
His Eminence - Not So Wild A Dream
Tall, attractive and soft-spoken, Eric Sevareid came to CBS by way of a Norwegian-American family, and the great outdoors of North Dakota and Minnesota. Uncomfortable with television, nervous with radio, the erudite scholar preferred the written word and he knew how to use it. In reading his book, "Not So Wild A Dream," you don't just "feel America." You feel. Few write like that today. In the 1950s, with radio upstaged by the proliferation of television, Eric struggled with camera-shyness. Horrific war experiences and the illness of his first wife added to the brooding melancholy that was the public face of Eric Sevareid.
While relaxing after his show on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Eric stretched his long legs up on my desk, signature Dunhill cigarette holder clenched between his teeth, and reflected on the war. Admitting that, unlike Murrow, the London bombings scared him to death, he told me, "while Ed reported from roof tops, I ran for the underground shelters." When covering the China-Burma-India Theater of the war, Eric had to parachute with several others into a Burmese jungle crawling with head hunters and Japanese soldiers. He said the Burma experience "revealed an inner strength I didn't know I had. If I could survive that, anything is possible."
Flawed and Impossibly Brave
When I left CBS for the U.S. foreign service, Sevareid and company gave me a farewell celebration at the producer's home in Westchester, and beautiful luggage from Bloomingdales. More significantly, in helping shape the person I am today, they gave me self-confidence. Eric wrote personal notes to his overseas pals so I would have friends in alien places. On arrival at my first overseas assignment in Holland, Daniel Schorr was there to greet me. Renown for his audacity, Daniel was my "Dutch uncle."
In 1968, during the Tet Offensive in Saigon, the Viet Cong were shooting people on the roof of my hotel and tossing grenades in the street below. While hunkered down in a closet, Eric's wisdom resonated: "Nothing that ever happens to you can be wrong or impossible. Like walking through an impenetrable jungle, emerging unscathed. You simply know you can." Flawed and impossibly brave, Ed Murrow's disciples focused a spotlight on some of the twentieth century's darkest shadows. Richard Hottelet was the last of them. He traveled with the troops, flew with the bombers; even sat in a Nazi prison. Like the others, he was first a writer.