Apr 242017


The night after we arrived in Paris we tested our French. We went to the movies and saw a comedy played broadly by Fernandel (Fernand Joseph Désiré Contandin). He spoke with an enormous cigar in his mouth and mumbled his lines. We couldn’t understand a word, let alone his regional accent.

The audience roared with laughter.

My wife cried. Two years of expensive Italian lessons!

Our first apartment was on the Boulevard Richard Wallace. It had an exquisite salon with wood painted panels. We lived across the street from the Bois du Boulogne. Facing us was the chateau of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. We never saw them, but the maid we hired knew the maid they hired. Their servant reported the Duchess wore the Royal Seal of England embroidered on her silk underpants.

The dollar was mighty, and the Air Force had given me PX (Post Exchange) privileges. That meant American baby food for our son, Johnny Walker Black label, the best cashmere sweaters for Tuulikki, and Hermes ties at $5 for me.

We were lucky. The maid we hired, Marie Thêrese Jean was an extraordinary cook and a fine shopper. She bargained at the stalls for the freshest produce. She bought small fruits instead of large ones—les petits sont toujours plus doux. The smaller, the sweeter…les framboises du bois, raspberries from the woods.

Most of all she taught us the glories of French cooking. Her sauces were delicate, her vegetables were fresh and only slightly cooked, and her main courses were small and wrapped in the ancient secrets of haute cuisine. Her culinary fastidiousness became audible. We heard her draw her breath sharply as the preparation reached the climax. There was an exact temperature at which the heat of the sauce must met the warmth of the meat. That meant we had to sit down at the proper time. She also taught us the applicable wines for the meal.

Delicate and refined, she dared not address an obvious culinary and cultural problem.

The French large meal is served at midday, while Americans eat heavily at night. I’d have lunch and a glass of wine and go to sleep, only to awaken to another large meal and another glass of wine. I noticed that Marie Thêrese had a hard-boiled egg and tea for dinner. Our large meal then was changed to lunchtime.

Six months later, when I was sure he had forgotten my rejection of Meet Me at Maxim’s, we invited David Schoenbrun to lunch. We asked Marie Thêrese to buy the best red wine at the best liquor store in Neuilly.

She did. It was Le Chambertin. Legend says when Napoleon’s Army was marching south the command, “Eyes left!” was obligatory when passing by the village of Chambertin. Victor Hugo had said, “This wine should be drunk bareheaded while kneeling.”

David had one sip and pushed the glass away as if it contained poison.

David had not forgotten.



Fernandel, undated photo: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/356277020495127116/


Apr 192017

E. Michael Burke

We were still in Italy when Mike Burke, the head of CBS Europe, asked me to evaluate a pilot film made by David Schoenbrun, the Paris bureau chief. David very much liked himself and his job. When David summoned government officials he had himself announced as le télévision americain: he was all three networks in one.

The Prime Minister of France had changed 22 times since the liberation. To talk to America was important for any leader of France. David presented himself as the doorknob to America. I saw David close a Head of State in a CBS News clothes closet. Schoenbrun did an introduction; nodded to an aide who opened the door. On the second nod the released Premier came to the interview table.

In that turbulent period Schoenbrun’s knowledge of France was extensive, His book Ainsi Va La France (As France Goes), became a best seller in that country, and a basic text in American college political science courses.

He knew his beat. He just didn’t know when to stop.

Schoenbrun had secured CBS funds to make a pilot he would host: Meet Me at Maxim’s.  His documentary opened with a parade of beautiful models, and a tease stating, “This very Vietnamese doctor is on the verge of curing cancer.” As backdrop, at Maxim’s plush tables, were Jeanne Moreau, Michele Morgan and Sacha Guitry.

It was too bad that the middle camera of the three camera was slightly out of focus—but this was a pilot made only to sell to the New York executives.

At the Studios of Boulogne Marlon Brando was playing a Nazi officer in the film version of The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw. Shaw had visited the set.  David persuaded both men to meet him at Maxim’s for a dual celebrity interview. But Irwin Shaw was not a pleasant celebrity.  He was angry with Brando.

“You are playing that Nazi sympathetically!” said the writer.

Brando said, “I’m finding the human qualities in a villain.”

“I wrote the character, and he doesn’t have any fucking human qualities!”

“I can’t play a cartoon!”

Even though the middle camera covering both men was blurred, it was evident that a news-making fight between celebrities was about to happen on screen. It would have guaranteed success with the programmers in New York.

Alas, there’d be no news, because at that moment the correspondent stepped in. He analyzed the news before it happened.

“It seems to this reporter that this is an age-old argument between the written and spoken word,” said David.

The two principals stopped talking and glared at each other.

David continued his overview. The viewer ached to see Brando and Shaw go at each other. But to David the meaning was more important than the experience.

Because the pilot was too long, David’s producer cut the interview with the Vietnamese doctor who might have had a cure for cancer. When the screening was over Mike Burke turned to me.

“What do you think?”

“Burn the print and burn the negative.”

“What will I tell Schoenbrun?”

“Tell him he’ll lose his job at CBS News if it’s shown in New York.”

That’s what Burke did. David was sent to a hospital and given the French cure for hysteria—a week of coma induced by large doses of seconal. The correspondent was furious with me.

Burke said that if we moved to Paris he could give me some freelance jobs. He’d pay for the move. I found out why later.

Wife, child, cat and baggage left Naples for France.



E. Michael Burke, undated photo: http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=1064

Apr 182017

Present day view of 281 Via Posillipo, Naples, Italy

Alfredo Antonini had arranged a three-month stay for my family in a villa on the Bay of Naples, complete with a view of Capri, Vesuvius and the harbor. In the course of my work we had visited Europe several times. After a week as tourists on the Amalfi Coast we decided to move to Italy. I had about ten thousand dollars for an extended stay, plus the money from the reruns of Airpower.

We brought John, the cat, and a baby nurse to 281 via Posillipo—reachable only by lighted tunnel through solid rock.  Jutting into the water and built above unassailable stones, the villa had been designed as protection from 15th Century bandits whether by land or sea.

Our host was the father of a talented pianist. Signore Bernasconi had a contract for every light bulb sold south of Naples, including Sicily. He was a gracious Neapolitan who showed us our magnificent rooms.  He introduced us to his staff of six, including his female butler. Under his breath he said, “If you want to sleep with her the charge will be 30,000 lire. I assume you have no venereal disease.”

His wife found a cook and asked me not to pay her more than a hundred dollars a month. If we paid her more, it would upset the family’s arrangements with their help.

The superintendent at 281 was friendly and addressed me as “Dottore.” My American sense of equality resisted the title. “Non sono dottore, sono signore.”  (No doctor, call me mister.)

I could see he was hurt.  It took me some time to understand. If I didn’t have a doctorate, if I was just Mr. Wolff, and his position as portiere to a noble address was diminished. I accepted the honorary doctorate.

Many years later on I did a series of hour-long broadcasts into what I called “a reconnaissance into the national culture” of various peoples. Our Friends the French, The Israelis, The Japanese, and The Italians.  (More later)

Luigi Barzini, the author of The Italians led me to some conclusions:

“On the outside the Italians, particularly the southern Italians, are generous and emotional. On the inside they are cold steel, remote from emotions.

“Just the contrary with the seafaring nations. The British and Japanese are cold steel on the outside.  Inside they are turbulent emotional people. “

Like all good generalizations they appeal to one’s emotions, not to one’s reason.  But I was more fearful of Naples than any other city in which I have lived.

Our baby nurse was a French Protestant who insisted that I drive her to the only Protestant church in the city. When she went to services, I sat in my parked car with German license plates. I was immediately surrounded by hostility. A Protestant German was a rarity and a threat. I pretended not to understand when a glowering man told me he “would guard my car for three thousand lire.”

And yet there was a friendly, warm and helpful side to the Neapolitans.

My Finnish American wife was adept with languages, and had been tutored for years in Italian. It made a difference. Unlike the French who wince at errors in their language, the Italians feel complimented by the effort.

Tuulikki, the fair blond Nordic, went into the only butcher in Naples selling beef.

Guardi! Le Bella blonde signora chi parla Itliano senza accenta!”  (Look! The Beautiful blonde lady who speaks Italian without accents!) The dark Neapolitan ladies were swept aside and the Nordic, shy, blond woman who spoke excellent Italian was taken into the locker room. We had not known the Italian word for filet mignon, and so they cut up a whole carcass for three pounds of meat. The butchers then wrapped the cut into a fancy package, which they carried to our little convertible. They opened the door as if were Rolls and wished us a good day.

On the other hand, my insufficient Italian led to a misunderstanding.  Naples is famous for its antiquities and I wanted to visit the National Museum.  I asked directions from two tall white-helmeted policemen.  “Per favore, dove se trova il Museo Nationale? (Please, where may one find the National Museum?)

There was no smile, just a gesture that I follow.  We walked a block or two and they pointed to a large door with frosted glass and left me.  In Naples Museo Nationale was the largest bordello in town.

La Dolce Vita is sweet, pleasant and shallow. We had to leave Naples. The three month lease was up.  I couldn’t retire at 36.  It was either Rome or Paris. We threw away our tutored Italian and chose Paris.


Apr 142017

Henry Varnum Poor

In 1956 the Air Force public relations machine was pleased to re-tell its history in World War II, but the war on Washington’s mind was the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

There was a notion that American Stalinists worked in the media. By clever distortions of story lines, narration, and dialog, it was thought that the Communist cause could seep into and corrupt the minds of the audience.

Peter, one of my editors, was the son of two old and famous artists. His mother had joined the Communist Party of the United States in the 1930s and her husband loved her. In the eyes of the FBI Peter had continued his beliefs far too long. The FBI came to see me about him. Until the early fifties non-fictional editors were usually blue collar workers. Many of them pronounced, “film” in two syllables: fill-um.  Peter was a Harvard graduate with a retiring mien but a sharp intellect.

When the two FBI agents came to see me I was prepared. I had gone to a friend in the CBS Legal Department. Robert Evans, Esq. was a conservative in fact, politics and deed. He gave me advice I used.

When the agents came to my office I asked to see their identity cards. They flashed them and started to put their wallets away.

“May I hold your identity cards? I want to verify your credentials. What is the phone number of your superiors?” They gave me the local number of the FBI. I talked to their supervisor. Holding their ID photos in hand I asked their manager to give me a physical description of the two men.

It was given with some reluctance. I returned the wallets to the two agents.

“What do you want to know about Peter?” I asked.

The conversation was curt and brief. He was admittedly the son of Henry Varnum Poor, a famous American architect, painter, sculptor, muralist, and potter; and Sophie Poor, who had been a member of CPUSA. I had nothing to tell them except that Peter was a fine editor.

I told the verified FBI agents there was no way Peter could twist the film he was making into a Marxist mode. The subject was the battle for the South Pacific island of Tarawa in 1943.

I had applied the procedure recommended by Legal. There were no handshakes when they left.

Colonel Pitchford later told me the FBI tried to lift my Q clearance.

The music of Richard Rogers, scored and conducted by Robert Russell Bennett, was overwhelming. It was the best of Broadway and the best of victorious emotions, remembered. I settled on a classical composer of operas, Norman dello Joio. The moods of Air Power were darker. Of immeasurable help was the CBS conductor, Alfredo Antonini. Dell Joio over-orchestrated and I would be at his side when Antonini opened the score.“Il stessa minestrone the same soup,” he would say, and he would thin out the orchestrations. Alfredo was a great conductor, and was equally literate in jazz. On CBS radio he was “Eddie Collins and the Gang” and he spoke no Italian when he and the band were swinging.

Unfortunately Alfredo was overweight and sweaty. For some reason classical audiences prefer their conductors gaunt, with sunken cheeks. Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa come to mind. Alfredo had a small career in the United States but a large one in Europe, particularly in Italy. He brought European audiences to American composers including Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. His Italian connections would change my life.

For CBS, Air Power was a mild success. Fair ratings, no awards. In the next few years it re-ran three times in prime time. The network made a large profit. But Air Power never bested Victory at Sea.

I knew it was over for me when the colleague who had succeeded me was at a loss for my next assignment. He thought of a series to be called Ground Power. The sponsor of Air Power was willing to sign on, but he insisted on Walter Cronkite.

I resigned and had my contract torn up. I didn’t want to study war any more.

It wasn’t disaffection with CBS News.  Since returning from the war, I had had no trouble finding employment and it never occurred to me that I would be jobless, nor that I had “walked off the top of the mountain”, as a colleague said. Broadcasting had become il stessa minestrone. I wanted to change my life. After ten years of marriage, our son had arrived. We sailed from New York to Naples; husband, wife, son and cat.


Henry Varnum Poor: http://www.graham1857.com/publications/henry-varnum-poor/

Apr 132017

General Curtis LeMay

Because I needed access to classified footage on the atomic and hydrogen bombs, I was given a Q clearance the United States Department of Energy (DOE) security clearance that is roughly comparable to a United States Department of Defense Top Secret clearance with Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Access (TS-SCI).

I requested the Order of Battle plans for the proposed invasion of Japan, Operations Olympic and Coronet.  I discovered that had the atomic bombs not been dropped, my old outfit, Third Battalion, 334th Infantry, 84th Division was chosen to be part of an early wave in the invasion of Japan. Almost certainly Perry Wolff would have been killed or wounded.

It was Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on a city. It is why Truman is my most revered president.

Those who are indignant about America’s use of atomic weapons are often silent about the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945. We killed almost one hundred thousand people with magnesium bombs, more people than died than at Hiroshima. In all, firebombing killed or wounded three quarters of a million Japanese in WWII. The general who firebombed the Japanese was Curtis LeMay. He had converted his aircraft from high altitude pressurized planes into low altitude trucks for the carpet bombing of Japanese cities. Incidentally, LeMay later became the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election.

The justification was that air power could force a nation to surrender. It never has. Tokyo was ours only when the foot soldiers entered the city.

Nine years later, in the time of Air Power, jet bombers carried atomic bombs. The missile age had not yet arrived. LeMay was the head of SAC, the Strategic Air Command, based at Offutt AFB in Omaha. It was obligatory that I visit him. I was brought into his office. The general was a small man. His office was at least forty feet long and the floor sloped upwards. My chair was about two feet below him. He looked down on everybody who sat in the chair across his desk.

Behind the Commander was a picture of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Above the illustration was an arched caption. “HE WENT BY LAND.”

LeMay dismissed me. He thought the largest part of 26 part series should be about the future— mostly SAC. I was polite and left quickly. I did not ask about the firebombing of Japan.

At the time we were in the Cold War. The Japanese were grateful for our military protection. So grateful that in 1964 — on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor — the Japanese government conferred the First Order of Merit with the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun upon General Curtis LeMay. Under his command air power had burned millions of Japanese out of their homes.


General Curtis LeMay, undated photo: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/161777811591529709/


Apr 122017

The Schweinfurt Monuement in Germany located near the Spitalseebunker.

Target Ploesti gave me trouble with the Air Force and Cronkite. A program on a raid on Schweinfurt  gave me trouble with Ed Murrow, Truman Capote and Bill Paley.

Schweinfurt manufactured ball bearings for the German military. The military logic for bombing the plant seemed impeccable: without ball bearings, German rolling stock would be stopped.

The target was probably not worth it. At the time American intelligence thought Schweinfurt was the sole source of German ball bearings. What we learned later was that the Nazis had made a deal with the neutral Swedes for replacement ball bearings. Nonetheless, bomber crews attacked Schweinfurt on “Black Thursday,” October 14, 1943.

The bombing of Schweinfurt is the only air battle I knew of that had a monument dedicated to it—at Amherst there is a plinth with the single word, Schweinfurt, set in it. Later in 1998 a coalition of U.S. bomber crew veterans and German flak crew veterans installed a joint monument adjacent to the Spitalseebunker, one of 11 concrete bunkers which provided protection for the inhabitants against bombing attacks.

We did extensive research on the mission. For every ten planes that went out, three did not come back. For every ten men who flew the mission, three were shot down. I thought the program was one of the best I had ever done. Edward Murrow, the most famous correspondent of World War II did not. He turned white with anger. He said he had flown the mission, and I had the facts wrong. I pointed out there had been two missions. I was aware of the one he had flown, but I had documented the one Murrow had not flown. He was not appeased.

I wrote one line that reminded me of LT Mercer Yeager and my bloody combat jacket: “…Anxiety and guilt. Why was I safe on the ground while they were being killed in the sky?”

I was lucky to be alive. Luck fades. Remorse does not. I have never lost that sense of guilt.

Bill Paley took a print home to his estate in Long Island, and showed it to Truman Capote. Capote called it crude. Bill Paley called Sig Mickelson who called me to tell me that the playwright thought the film was crude.

Sig said hesitatingly, “I was told to make this call.”



Schweinfurt monument: https://www.quora.com/Are-the-German-War-memorials-offensive-to-Jews

Apr 112017

Michael Redgrave

World War II had ended eleven years earlier, and Vietnam was yet to come.

The emotions of our victory had lessened and faded.

The fateful style of the commentators of World War II gave to simpler voices in the ‘50’s. Yet there were moments of heightened prose that could not be forgotten. Winston Churchill’s most famous lines are in the iambic mode: (short long, short long, short long): Shakespeare’s meter, Christopher Marlowe’s mighty line.

Read aloud and parse these excerpted passages from Winston Churchill’s speech, “This was their finest hour,” on June 18, 1940.

“…the Battle of France is over.

The Battle of Britain is about to begin.””

“The whole fury and might of the enemy

Must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island

Or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free

and the life of the world

may move forward into broad sunlit uplands.

But if we fail,

Then the whole world,”…”including all that we have known and cared for,

will sink into the abyss of a new dark age.””

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties

And so bear ourselves that

If the British Empire and its Commonwealth

Last for a thousand years, men will still say,

This was their finest hour.””

It was only later that I learned an actor had imitated Winston Churchill’s voice, and the Prime Minister’s speech was edited and shortened by the BBC. I tried to match the iambic prose as unobtrusively as possible. I didn’t want Cronkite’s accent, but in homage I wrote five beats to the line.

I asked Sir Michael Redgrave to read the forty lines of narration that had taken me a month to write. At the recording session, Sir Michael was very much affected by Churchill’s speech, and by his memories of the siege of Britain. Too much emotion—he cried.

I have never been good at directing actors.

I pleaded. “You know, Sir Michael, I think it would be better if you were … say … to hold it a little closer to yourself, say I mean, thin-lipped a little more, if you please? Please!”

That fine actor looked at me benignly and then wrote a single word on his script. His performance improved considerably but it had nothing to do with my direction.

Later I found the one word he had written:




Michael Redgrave, undated photo, http://vivandlarry.com/classic-film/spotlight-michael-redgrave/