I had sent all my awards home, along with some two hundred tapes of shows I had written, coached, or produced. I waited until early evening so I would not meet sentimentality in the corridors or elevators.
Three months earlier when I had lost favor, my colleagues fell away, as if I were infectious. Collegiality is not friendship. I had no sympathetic friends. Two mail boys had passed my office a month or two before and had not seen me.
One read the nameplate on the door and said, “Perry Wolff. I thought he was dead.”
My office windows opened to a splendid view of the Hudson River. Fading sunlight flashed orange flecks on miles of steel grey water. I could see far beyond two bridges to a valley. A quarter moon sent a hesitant light. The same moon that had ended my career.
I had written a program about the moon, entitled The Moon Above, The Earth Below, that aired in 1989:
Our days and our years are measured by the sun and its warmth. For most of us, the moon’s a wanderer…slipping in and out of our nights, as elusive as memory. We live with it– but not by it. That’s why we put these old scenes together, to drift back to a great day when the moon was at the center of our thoughts, and to remember three fine men who once went there and came back.
Just a few city blocks away, a ruined pier where years ago ocean liners left Manhattan. Now rusted girders were twisted in a design no artist would dare to fashion. A wreck, torn apart by disaster, age, and a powerful river.
I permitted myself a sentimental parallel. That rusted, ruined pier, and dated a generation ago was me. The Hudson was a river of ratings — or money–whose power could not be denied—or archived. I gave myself that moment of self-pity. Then I walked to the elevators that served both CBS Reports and 60 Minutes. My carpet was drab, and theirs was green, the bright color of new money.
In the production of my last broadcast a small editing error had been made. What should have been a black and white image was replaced by an image in color. As producer, I was responsible. The new president of CBS News David Burke, fined me $10,000 and refused to renew my contract. He said I had brought disgrace on a noted and loved correspondent.
The broadcast included a scene of Senator Ted Kennedy’s actions on the night he drunkenly drove his car off a bridge in Massachusetts drowning a girl companion. The press had been shut out for nine hours afterwards until the Kennedy camp got their story straight. The press representative who had who had blacked out the press was the same David Burke who questioned my integrity.
I thought it was one of the best films I ever made, and was so acknowledged by two Emmy’s, a Writer’s Guild of America award, good ratings and reviews. But the corporate word had been said, and I was no longer a hero. My crime was that my salary didn’t justify my ratings.
On my last day at CBS—I had spent over forty two years of days—I was pleased to get out. I was delighted to meet no one on the elevator. I found a taxi and left.
CBS News was just another office building in Manhattan.