Aug 302017

Walter Cronkite

I was the executive producer of The Selling of the Pentagon. Broadcast scholars now say that program was the most important documentary in the history of electronic journalism. I spent tense hours in the editing rooms working with the producer, Peter Davis. The scope of the First Amendment was tested by the war in Vietnam and by The Selling of the Pentagon.

America lost the war in Vietnam. Sensible people knew it was over years before the ruling class in Washington would own up to defeat. The United States government had long maintained a branch of Hollywood on the Potomac paid by taxpayers. The Selling of the Pentagon was an investigation into the public relations films and shows done by the military and underwritten by tax dollars.

The Selling of the Pentagon

Based primarily on an almost unnoticed book by Senator Fulbright and directed by Peter Davis, this CBS News documentary was investigated by the government. Many books, doctoral theses and essays were published in the years following. The broadcast had flaws, but in the main it nailed the Pentagon and forced it to change its propaganda.

Davis’s work was brilliant.

  • He caught the Army staging elaborate demonstrations with live ammunition of military weapons for invited VIP civilians.
  • He found the Pentagon had sent five of its own film crews to Vietnam to stage a battle in which our forces were triumphant.
  • He found further demonstrations in which children were encouraged to fight with each other and play with military weapons.
  • Compared to the amount spent by the Pentagon before the war, the public relations budget increased by fifty times.

Television had done so many Vietnam documentaries that the original ratings of The Selling of the Pentagon were low. After the military and its hangers-on in the press attacked the show, it was rebroadcast a month later to larger numbers. The House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (today the Committee on Commerce and Energy), whose chairman represented a district flushed with military funds, led the attack. He was the same Harley Staggers who had investigated Project Nassau. His ally was another congressman from Louisiana who came from a district similarly endowed. Once more the legal argument was that the outtakes and notes could be turned over to the government. It was a replay of the Haitian story.

There was a storm within CBS. William Paley, chairman of the board, went behind the back of Frank Stanton, president of CBS. Paley tried to make a deal with the Speaker of the House. The Speaker said he did not have the power to overrule Staggers’ Committee.

Dick Salant, the president of CBS News, and I discussed the outtakes. I told him I had taken a reel of small trims home so that not all of the outs could be sent to the government. (I had done the same with trims from Project Nassau.) Salant thought that was a good idea. He took seven reels and hid them in the trunk of his car. We agreed we would give up the scraps only if Stanton asked that we do.

I was given warning by Peter’s wife, Josie Mankiewicz Davis, herself a brilliant writer. “You aren’t letting Peter do all those crazy things are you? Peter thinks that anyone who wears khaki becomes a fascist by osmosis!”

I trusted Peter Davis, but when the storm broke I was told to review everything once again. I called for the original transcripts of the interviews. I matched the original typescripts against what had appeared on the air. It was a tedious job, and I asked two researchers to help me. There were some forty hours of synced sound and a few errors became apparent.

  • An official had said “no” as an answer to a question, but the editor had entered a “yes” instead.
  • The same question had been asked several times, and the editor had made a composite answer from different takes.

To its credit, this time the network refused to turn over the material. Frank Stanton ignored his boss, Bill Paley. He refused to answer the subpoena. He was charged with contempt with the threat he could be imprisoned.

The contempt recommendation was sent to the full House of Representatives. The House had never before rejected a similar request. For the first time in its history the full House rejected its committee’s demand. The practical result was that from that day on broadcast journalism had the same protection as print journalism. Nothing was written, but the electronic news people were told to act as if they worked for a print medium. Stanton had accomplished his goal. The Supreme Court would never have the opportunity to rule on the subject.

For me, the most serious problem was within our own house. A few years earlier Walter Cronkite, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, had blindly read the narration for a crude Pentagon propaganda film. The film showed a red tide flowing out of Russia and spreading down over the Western world. The film was entitled The Eagle’s Talon.

Cronkite read:

Starting in WWII the aggressive Communist tide had spread in Europe and Asia to engulf its neighbors. Communist China even now has plans to dominate Asia by mass murder…Our army is face-to face with communist threats around the world. To meet immediate threats on any threat we must build-up our land forces at home and overseas.

The Red Tide oozed from the North Pole through Canada and down to Texas. Crude, even for the times, but embarrassing. So much so that I suggested the Cronkite section be cut from The Selling of the Pentagon. The cut would protect Walter and CBS News. It could not be done because we would have faced the criticism of self-aggrandizing. None of the viewing committee could ask Davis to make the cut.

The Eagle’s Talon had been sent to community and church groups for screening. Before we knew what the result would be, I went through all the transcripts to check if the edits had been made fairly. Immediately I found a number that were questionable, but I needed the help of two researchers assigned to the documentary. But they had been sent into the field to see how many times The Eagle’s Talon narrated by Mr. Cronkite had been screened.

Cronkite was furious with me.

From then on the most trusted man in journalism mistrusted me.

The correspondent who headed the CBS Evening News was more than a voice. Cronkite sat on the planning meetings, indicated what stories he preferred to have covered or not covered. There was a code in the newsroom, WW, meaning Walter Wants.  WW was top priority—scurry without questions. One WW just before airtime was, for example, “How long is Greenland?” There was nothing Arctic in the whole newscast. He made journalistic decisions, including the final wording of the scripts. Although he was surrounded by vice-presidents, executive producers and producers; the anchorman was more powerful than the officer class. He never fired anybody directly, but he could have people sent to the brigs and stockades.

I don’t know why Cronkite fixated on me instead of complaining to the administrators above us, but I surmised it had to do with our troubles on Airpower fifteen years earlier. I had forgotten, but obviously he hadn’t.

The following year was an election year. On election night, the CBS set looked like a Roman amphitheater with rows of monitors and correspondents. I was in the pit. During a rehearsal checkout a vice-president approached me.

“You have to move, Wolff.”


“You are in Cronkite’s line of sight.”

Ten years later I stepped into an elevator. Cronkite was alone. He saw me, glared, exploded a growl and said something I didn’t catch. He stepped out to take another car.



Walter Cronkite,

The Selling of the Pentagon,

Aug 282017

William S. Paley

I was asked to write a speech for William Paley, then Chairman of the Board of CBS. The Emmy managers wanted to recognize him for his service to broadcasting. Paley had not been satisfied with the drafts his speechwriters had given him, so the job was passed to me.

I don’t remember what I wrote, but in the middle of his remarks a buried joke made the dinner audience laugh and applaud. The chairman did not expect the response and was highly pleased. So pleased that I was called in to help him write his autobiography; a task that had been in the works for several years and had passed through the pens of several other ghostwriters.

I arrived at his elegant apartment on Fifth Avenue. The elevator door opened and the first sight was a large Picasso painting of a man and his horse. The apartment itself had been done with high style by Billy Baldwin, a leading interior designer.

19th Century Empire Recamier Couch

There was one eccentricity. An Empire Recamier couch had a curved hand rest, and Mr. Baldwin had slit the silk so that the white stuffing was prominently visible. I never asked about it. Behind the couch was a lovely Gauguin from his Brittany period. It featured hooded women doing their washing by hand. Perhaps there was a workers’ connection between the ripped stuffing and laundry.

I had a connection to William Paley from outside broadcasting. Years earlier when CBS Chicago fired me, my Aunt Minnie suggested that Uncle Bert Billow get in touch with Sam Paley, William Paley’s father to see what could be done. Uncle Bert Billow was later found in a ditch, shot dead. He had been a union organizer. One of the locals he monitored was the Chicago Cigar Makers’ Union, presided over by Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. Sam Paley was in the cigar business: La Palina Cigars.

Rolling cigars was a repetitious business. Many of the workers were Russian-Jewish immigrants, refugees from the same villages as the Paleys and the Billows. One of the conditions the union imposed on the elder Paley is that he employ a fulltime reader—a man who sat in a stool above the workers and read aloud while the workers hand glued the cigars. I never discovered the texts, except that Gompers required Marx be read.

Aunt Minnie decided against appealing to Sam Paley. By that time Bert Billow had left the labor movement to become a bailiff in the corrupt Cook County judiciary, and Sam Paley had taken his company to Philadelphia, where his son William hired a group of unorganized women to oversee the new machines that could roll cigars.

William Paley’s autobiography, As It Happened, gives no credit to the ghostwriters who shaped the book. At the time I entered, the primary ghostwriter had taken to alcohol. Paley asked me to be the ghost of the ghost. I was to tell no one of my work.

We sat at a Louis XV ormolu desk. The kneehole was just large enough for the boss, and I sat next to a leg whose metal embossing scratched my pair of expensive French leather shoes. In the middle of the table was a very large silver bowl blooming with two dozen expensive black pencils. Behind us stood John Dean, Paley’s valet, who carried his arms in perpetual parentheses.

I wrote at home, brought the revisions to Paley and he slowly copied them in pencil into his manuscript. They were now his changes. The ghost of the ghost was hidden. He was graceful with me. I was from Chicago and I knew something about his father and the cigar business. He liked a few of the early changes. We had three-course lunches together. When the work was finished he offered me a lift to my office. He had two cars: the first driven by a chauffeur who had studied at Agnelli Driver Training and had learned the basic tactic of avoiding kidnappers by driving in reverse at high speed. The second car had some sort of armed guard in it.

Paley would get out of the car at Black Rock, the corporation headquarters, and the second car would peel off. The moment the Paley was out of the car, the lead driver took off the cap of his uniform and reluctantly drove me to my office. He said nothing, and left me on the wrong side of a busy street. The servant knew more about class distinctions than the master.

It may have been because of our distant family connection, or just luncheon talk in his elegant dining room, but Paley was friendly and respectful. When he asked about my war experiences, I told him about my meeting with Henry Kissinger during the Bulge.

“I see Henry often,” he said “He wants a little too much from me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he wants to be on the board of CBS. He’s a good social friend but we don’t need him,” Paley continued. “Henry called one day and said that NBC and Sarnoff wanted him for their board, but he preferred CBS. Then he told me, ‘NBC is offering a large sum, stock options, and a car and driver.’”

Paley continued. “I told Henry ‘what a generous offer! Take it, take it. We can’t come close.’ He tried to be too sharp with me but we’re still friends.”

“Do we put this in the book?”

“No, it would embarrass Kissinger.”

The end of the affair began when I told Paley that the manuscript had an error of omission.

“You left out somebody.”


“Frank Stanton is barely in the book. You and he made many decisions together.”

He reddened. “What do you know about him?”

“I have never met him. But he was so courageous with his stand on The Selling of the Pentagon.”

“Skee, you go home and write down everything you know about him. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

I wrote that night and returned the next morning. What I knew about Frank Stanton was second hand. It turned out to be accurate. President Truman asked him to be Secretary of Commerce. Eisenhower placed him in his shadow cabinet if the Soviets wiped out Washington.  Johnson gave him the choice of Secretary of Commerce, or second Secretary of State.

What Paley didn’t say is that Stanton had a far more respectful press than he, the Chief Executive Officer of the Columbia Broadcasting System. And that’s why the President of network would not be included in As It Happened.

Paley read my notes, threw them aside and turned to me. “Stanton spent too much time in Washington and too much time with businessmen. You don’t know anything about the nasty side of Frank Stanton. He is not like us. You and I get red when we get mad. Stanton and Murrow turn white when they are angry.”

He turned red while he excoriated Stanton. Then he threw away my notes. The ghost of the ghost was being exorcised. I became past tense in his next sentence.

“I suppose you would like some compensation for the work you have done.”

“No thanks, Mr. Paley.”

“There has to be something.”

He had a small Giacometti oil on his desk. I looked at it.

“Are you crazy?” he said.

Paley and Stanton were generals, in business terms, top management. Several echelons separated me from them—about as far as I was separated from General Bolling of the 84th Division during the war. My contact with Paley was coincidental, and I met Stanton just once in my forty two years at CBS. Paley’s agents bought him Gauguins and Picassos: Stanton, by himself bought Jackson Pollacks. Paley’s billets were Louis XV and XVI; Stanton’s command post was furnished in Knoll chairs and Eames décor. Paley bought and sold television stars and shows, Stanton built the business side of the network. Together they created the Tiffany Network. Together they created CBS News, the finest broadcast news operation of their day. On the very day Stanton turned 65 Paley turned him out; forced him to resign.

In his diatribe against Stanton, Paley had told me, “Stanton spends too much time in Washington.”

There may have been many reasons to get rid of him, but certainly one was the accolade given to Stanton after he risked jail rather than give the government outtakes of the documentary, The Selling of the Pentagon, broadcast during the Vietnam War. His stand gave television journalism the same First Amendment protection as print receives.



William S. Paley,

19th Century Empire Recamier Couch, Bonnin Ashley Antiques, Inc.

Aug 212017

Jay McMullen, writer and producer of Project Nassau

I was coach or player on some two hundred documentaries. I faced polite competition within CBS News, particularly from the newsmen who reported on a daily or weekly basis. They called themselves “hard news” and because documentaries took more time, the phallic overtone was obvious.

In those early days, there was a common problem for all electronic journalists, hard or soft. The question was whether the First Amendment protected television news as it did print news. Unlike newspapers or magazines, where anyone rich enough to buy a printing press could publish anything he wanted, the right to broadcast in assigned frequencies had been given by the Federal Government. The government could take back its gift – or in some ways restrain what was said on the electronic highways.

The simplest answer would be to get a decision from the Supreme Court, but Frank Stanton refused to force the issue. He was afraid that the conservative court would rule against TV News. There had to be another way to go.

In the meantime, we were instructed to answer subpoenas and turn over notes and outtakes. I received such a subpoena. The language was hostile and nasty. One James Kelly, a Federal Marshall was commanded to summon me to a sub-committee hearing headed by a southern aristocrat, Harley Staggers. Staggers was highly critical of the press, including television. In turn, for liquidity reasons, some of my colleagues called Chairman Staggers, “Blind Staggers”.

I spent four days before his committee while it investigated a documentary which never aired, Project Nassau. What we did not know at the time was that the FBI, the CIA and the Coast Guard had infiltrated Project Nassau.

The writer-producer, Jay McMullen, followed a group of Haitians who planned to overthrow the government in Port au Prince. The rebels purchased guns from an arms dealer in Atlanta. They planned to bring the weapons to Florida, stow them in a boat, and take off for the Dominican Republic from which they would strike Haiti. Project Nassau would follow the insurgents.

Jay and I were watching some rushes when the face of arms salesman appeared. Coincidentally another producer, Igor Oganesoff, was in the room and saw the face. He said, “That’s Earl Warbell. He went through CIA school with me, and he is still with the agency.”

We were startled. We did not know that Warbell was anything but a gun salesman. Nor did we know the FBI had also penetrated our operation. At the time carrying, automatic weapons from Atlanta to Florida was a federal offense. When the Haitian insurgents crossed state lines, the lead cameraman called the FBI. We knew nothing about the phone calls.

The United States government was at odds with itself. The CIA wanted the rebels to overthrow the Haitian government. But if the invaders came from a Florida port, the Coast Guard would be disgraced. Part of the Coast Guard’s mission was to stop the illegal flow of arms from Florida. It was impossible for their small fleet to intercept the thousands of boats in Florida’s waters. In any case there were only twelve insurgents in an auxiliary powered sailboat.

Yet if rebels succeeded in overthrowing Papa Doc, news coverage would follow and the Coast Guard might get unfavorable press for letting the sailboat slip through. The FBI had tipped off the Coast Guard who seized the boat, arrested the conspirators, got favorable coverage and ruined the CIA’s mission.

In the middle of the mess McMullen found the cameraman had faked some footage, and the whole project was called off. CBS had invested more than $100,000 in salaries and logistics. The footage was stored.

Two years later, the House of Representatives sent a subpoena demanding our notes and the outtakes. I oversaw the packing of the film, the outtakes, and the negatives. They were put in large cardboard boxes tied securely with large copper wires. Notices were placed on the cartons: HANDLE WITH CARE & NEGATIVE FILM ENCLOSED.

I received a nastily-worded subpoena from a subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee. I was called as a hostile witness, as was McMullen. Since we were hostiles, an attorney could accompany us, but he could only be consulted if we felt our Constitutional rights were being violated.

The low point for me came from a question put by a congressman: “Mr. Wolff, you say Earl Warbell was a CIA agent?”

“Yes, we had positive identification from one of our correspondents that the two of them were in the same training classes at the CIA.”

Congressman Moss indignantly replied, “This man is not a member of the CIA, nor has he ever been. I know because I personally called the CIA and they denied he had ever been in the agency. I personally called them!”

I started to ask, “Do you think the CIA would identify one of its agents?” when the CBS lawyer nudged me violently.

Moss said, “Please don’t turn to your attorney unless you think your civil rights are being violated. “

The House Committee recommended CBS be sanctioned by the FCC, but the oversight agency refused the recommendation.

The boxes came back exactly wrapped as we had sent them. It would have taken hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to examine the outtakes. Some rolls were so tiny that they probably could not have been spliced together. Bits of films are a lot different than reporters’ written notes.

Later, the scope of the First Amendment was tested by the war in Vietnam and by The Selling of the Pentagon, another documentary I coached.



Jay McMullen, writer and producer of Project Nassau,, Vet investigative reporter Jay McMullen dies, March 10, 2012.

Aug 142017

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon; July 20, 1969

December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was on Langdon Street in Madison Wisconsin. April 12, 1944, the day Franklin Roosevelt died, I was on a hillside in Germany.

The day man first landed on the moon, twenty-five years later, was expected to be a similar nation-binding day. Two months before the event I was commissioned to do a documentary: A Day in the Life of the United States. It wasn’t supposed to follow the mechanics of the Apollo 11 mission. It was to be a portrait of the United States on a summer Sunday afternoon.

I sent out 43 camera teams. Anybody at CBS News who had an idea needed only to jot it down. I received over a hundred suggestions and commissioned thirty one. The only requirement was that they be photographing at the moment of touchdown.

What we would like to show you, our great great grandchildren, are some of the things that usually go unrecorded: the sound of our accents, the look of our faces, how we were with one another—on the day man first landed on the moon.

History, you’ll know on what day the Vietnam War ended. You’ll know whether the racial tension in this country tore us apart. We hope you’re there, history. We hope we didn’t blow the world apart…or pollute our genes… or disappear in the apocalypse.

In my twenties, one of my favorite writers was John dos Passos, author of the trilogy USA. He is not read much today. USA was an attempt to make a literary photograph of the whole country; a collective word portrait of America in the late 20’s, rather than a series of plots. Although there was no television, there were movie newsreels. In USA, dos Passos wrote a series of views called The Camera’s Eye, and Newsreels; imaginary pictures as if photographers were there.

In 1969, now that the cameras’ eyes were truly there, I could follow the writer’s vision.

Correspondent: On the day man landed on the moon, our forty three cameras recorded only one hundred hours of American life…and Americans gave up some five billion hours of their lives this day.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear some of the short stories that make up the great American novel of our times.

FILM CLIP: the lower East Side of Manhattan—

Merchant: Hey, we talk languages here. (TALKS SPANISH) Hey, I got it on sale here. Hey, help me keep my wife in the country.

FILM CLIP: Birney, Montana—

Man: Money doesn’t make a bit of difference as far as happiness is concerned.

Woman: Oh the heck it doesn’t! You’ve got to have enough to live on, to pay your bills and send you kids to school. And if you don’t have that amount of money, and you can’t do it —-

FILM CLIP: Brookline Massachusetts Old Age Home—

Interviewer: Do you fear dying?

Old Man: Well I’m not in any hurry about it. I’m thoroughly conscious of the fact it’s coming, so why fight it?

FILM CLIP: Chicago, Illinois, 43rd and Langley—

Black Man: We blacks have been here since Jamestown, but we haven’t cleared customs yet. Four hundred years of traveling, and it’s been economy class all the way.

FILM CLIP: Las Vegas, The Little Chapel around the Corner—

Preacher: So now that the two of you have found each other and are come together, perhaps we can be at the end of having just two halves.

FILM CLIP: Las Vegas, The Slots—

Woman: I don’t get along with him. He went over the baccarat tables and he’s playing with one hundred dollar bills, so he said “Here honey, here’s some nickels, go have fun at the slots.”

On the day we landed on the moon we picked up many people watching other news. One day earlier, Senator Teddy Kennedy had driven off a bridge in Massachusetts. A woman with him had been drowned. The senator went into a nearby town, but before he reported the incident, the political power of the Democrats surrounded him, and his press agent, one David Burke, refused to let anyone say anything. The news department at CBS had appropriated one of my camera teams and it was hanging around Edgartown waiting for Burke to let the senator talk.

“Burke’s a hard ass,” the newsroom supervisor said.

Later, I would find out how hard.

Celebrities were watching…


Pamela Churchill: I think the moon is romantic.

Herman Mankiewicz (writer of Citizen Kane; director): You’ve got to have some suspense going for you when you get there. You know you just can’t get there and then—-you know it’s a big nothing. They get there…they’ve got to get there just in time for something.

Pamela Churchill: And they spend two hours there—-what do they do for two hours?

Mankiewicz: Study their lines if they’re working for me. (LAUGHTER)

FILM CLIP: Travis Air Force Base, San Francisco—

Correspondent: Even before July 1969, Vietnam had become the longest war in American history. A quarter of a million men had been wounded in that combat. The wounded were brought in ambulances, and before they were hospitalized again, a full colonel who was a finance officer addressed them. The amputees listened to his speech.

Colonel: Now when you left the live fire area, most of you left all or at least a part of your personal gear behind. Submit a claim for all items of personal property which are lost. Please bear in mind the only way old Uncle Sam can repay you for your personal property which has been lost is for you to submit a claim to the government for reimbursement.

Now the tax exemption that you all enjoyed in the live fire area, gentlemen, will continue so long as you remain in the hospital. So when you start to make out these stateside income taxes, be mighty certain that you take full advantage of all the exemptions you’re entitled to. Exemptions are might hard to come by in the states, gentlemen, so use what you brought with you.

Any questions on this?

Hold on a long shot.  Silence.

Then, on that Sunday afternoon, July 20th, 1969—

Houston: 60 seconds.

Eagle: Lights on. Down 2 1/2. Forward. Forward. Good 40 feet. Down 2 1/2. Picking up some dust. 30 feet. 2 1/2. Faint shadow. Forward. Forward. Drifting to the right six down, a half. Forward Contact light. Okay Engine stop ACA out of detent.

Houston — Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

Houston: Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.

It took me twelve months to edit the material I received from the 32 teams.

This was the first film I made that went significantly over budget. I had held those crews for an extra day and the overage was significant. Then president of CBS News asked me what had happened. I told him. I wasn’t sure the astronauts could get off the moon in their flimsy return craft, the LEM. If July 20th wasn’t to be a day of triumph, July 21st would be a day of national mourning. Washington had made similar contingency plans. Salant agreed. Nothing more was said.

I was no Dos Passos, and I hadn’t captured the spirit of the continent. But, strangely, America’s interest in space, even the moon, began to fade. July 20, 1969 was not Pearl Harbor, nor the death of a great president. The Space Program took up less space and less airtime in the following year.

I edited a thousand hours to two hours, and was asked if I could cut fifteen minutes so a sports event could run late. A Day in the Life of the United States ran on Labor Day Weekend, to a small audience.

Twenty years after Apollo 11, I came back to the event. I did more research. It got me fired.

In all that data recorded above, I missed two cues: “Program alarm twelve-oh-one” and “Program alarm twelve-oh-two.” Twenty years later my research discovered the technical reasons Apollo 11 should not have landed on the moon. Computer malfunction. The corporation that built the computer complained to the corporation that paid my salary.

I should not have known about the complaint.



Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon; July 20, 1969:


Aug 092017

Laurence Olivier

Twenty years after World War II my combat memories no longer throbbed. Twenty years is more than half a generation. Writing about an event twenty years later is neither journalism nor history. I embarrassed myself because I could not rise again to those first emotions. “Every hero becomes a bore at last.”

Yet World War II had an afterglow unlike any war ever since. The evil that was destroyed was greater than the evil of war.
Victory over evil set the style of “1945,” a broadcast made in 1965.

The images came from the battles of World War II. The bearded, unshaven, frightened, resolute, dirty faces of youths in combat were counterpoint to William Walton’s music and Shakespeare’s words from another war.

Henry V addressed his troops before the battle of Agincourt, centuries earlier. Laurence Olivier spoke these words over the faces of men in battle:

He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a tiptoe when this day is named.
Old men forget; but none shall be forgot
But he’ll remember with advantage
What feats he did that day: then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
This story shall the good man teach his son
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother…

It took weeks to edit the faces of combat troops into that passage. William Walton’s music underscored Shakespeare’s word and dictated the pace of the editing. When it was finished, it became one of the finest montages in my memory.
It was in black and white, of course. The paradox is that color is the way we see: color images are documentary. Black and white is another time, another place; an imagined reality.

The balance of the text recalled the events of that momentous year: the end of the war; the beginning of the cold war, the atomic bomb. A last sequence was a very long passage without narration after these words: “The human desire to take up peace swept over everything else.”

No words for five minutes. Images of the troop ships coming home. Images of men hugging and kissing their families. The veterans who obviously boomed in bed led to very good long shot of a dozen newborn babies squalling in their hospital cribs.

The sequence was cut to music not often heard in the years that followed. Morton Gould had orchestrated “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” into a brisk and overwhelming hymn of triumph. Trumpets, violins, clarinets marched at a 120 beat.

We have had no reason to sound a note of triumph for the wars after 1945.

The next to the last words of my script:

Somewhere in our atmosphere hang electrons released at Hiroshima; but somewhere in our collective spirit lies the knowledge that we fought for something that is eternally right—and we won.


Laurence Olivier: NY Daily News

Aug 022017

March 7, 1969: CBS News Reports Televises “The Homosexuals” hosted by Mike Wallace.

In more modest days CBS News had rules about screen credits. The front credits could not contain anyone’s name, and the back credits could not be longer than thirty seconds. All credits were to be approved by a vice president; and no administrator, including vice presidents, could take any screen credit, ever.

It was different in the commercial television and film worlds. The opening credits are often mystifying. The directors and writers are union members and their credits were unalterably placed by hard labor-management negotiations. The Writers Guild of America takes the next to the last credit; the Directors Guild of America is last. The producers are not unionized. That’s why there are many, many producers’ credits.

In America today a dollar buys what a nickel bought at the beginning of the 20th Century. The same pressures apply in front screen credits. Inflation.

In mid-20th Century, a producer was the man who put the whole thing together. Producer inflated to Executive Producer, and for some time he was the man who put the whole thing together. But because there were no unions to protect the title, inflation continued. Today Executive Producer denotes any executive who touched the project—the fundraiser, the lawyer, the agent, and almost anyone who executed the deal. In short, anyone who has a telephone can call himself a producer.

What you rarely see today is the only title deflated over time. Associate producer meant the producer’s mistress and it is almost never used.

When I was promoted to executive producer, both the title and the job made me uneasy. Superficially, I was to oversee the producers’ expense accounts and budgets. (I fired only one producer for cheating. He found a restaurant in New York with the same name as a distinguished men’s store. He charged fictionalized dinners and came away with a new suit. His television work was less imaginative.)

What was more difficult was judging the process of an investigative or cultural report. I would drop into the cutting rooms and look at rushes coming in from the field. Or, as the broadcast neared completion, I could be an editor-coach. It required aggressiveness.

The subject of the first broadcast on which I was to take executive producer credit was homosexuality.

In the mid-1960s, public discussions of homosexuality were rare. The Stonewall riots were a few years away. No serious documentary had ever been done on the subject, but for two years, CBS had been filming interviews. The subject was to be covered scientifically and a leading psychiatrist was to guide Mike Wallace through the discussion.

I don’t know if Eugene Spratti caused my distaste for the topic. Before I had reached puberty, and just after he had, Eugene cornered me in a basement coal bin on Cornelia Street in Chicago and tried to put his erect penis in my face. I screamed, and he ran.

During my tenure at the American Museum of Natural History, I had heard behavioral scientists discuss the matter. Same-sex intercourse existed in some primate species. I think the question was whether monkeys who practiced it were the social rejects of the group. But those were distant words, long ago.

The homosexuals interviewed by Mike Wallace were lit with shades around the lights. Their faces were interrupted by shadows shaped like palm fronds. The key interview was between Mike Wallace and Gore Vidal. Wallace reflected the homophobia of the time, but Vidal was hardly defensive. The psychiatrist-expert was earnestly dogmatic. To the greatest degree, homosexuality was the mother’s fault. Mothers-child problems caused homosexuality, and on this broadcast only males were shown and discussed.

It was too much for me. I had not participated in the planning, shooting nor preliminary editing. For every minute on the screen, there were at least thirty minutes of out-takes I had not seen. I would not put my name on the credits.

I tried to explain my decision to Fred Friendly, who said, “There has never been a CBS Reports without an executive producer credit. But take your credit off. We’ll run the show in a time when no one will see it.” Then he added, “I tried to fix it for a year or so. I thought maybe you could do it. We’ll bury it in the schedule.”

I tried to explain my decision to Mike Wallace, who said, “Listen to my closing. Maybe it will change your mind.”

I listened to that brilliant voice at its most persuasive. I was not persuaded. Years later, Wallace asked me why he had been such a damn fool to do the show. Unfortunately, the CBS News Library was well run and had filed the script properly. A gay employee found it and distributed it. Mike has had to live with it ever since.

My experience with “The Homosexuals” reminded me of a promise I had made to myself after writing soapy dramas in Chicago. I wrote the scripts and then someone came in to change the lines and the readings I had heard in my head. He was called the director. Obviously, to insure my writing, I had to become a director. I then found that as the writer-director, there was some fellow on the phone telling me I was either over-budget or over the time limit. He was the producer. I had to become a writer-director- producer to further insure my writing.

The next logical step beyond writer-director-producer was to go into the insurance business—become an executive producer or vice president. In either case the writer, would be lost.

What I wanted to do were broadcasts that I wrote, directed and produced by myself. Non-fictional essays. At first I had to plead for two a year; later I was urged to do more. Still later, when another executive producer was promoted to a vice presidency, a senior vice president, Bill Leonard asked me if I would like to be a junior vice president. It was only fair, he thought.

I refused. All vice presidents are disguised insurance agents.

Bill was much relieved. “I would have had to lower your pay by ten thousand a year. Anyway, I’d lose two great documentaries a year.”

I remained a writer, and what I did lose were the stock options I would have received as an executive. In television and movies writers are enlisted men, at best non-commissioned officers.


March 7, 1969: CBS News Reports Televises “The Homosexuals” hosted by Mike Wallace: