February 23, 2016
Paul Kilian, my best high school buddy, died yesterday morning. I don’t have a single bad or disappointing memory about Paul. He was always the same—energetic, friendly and endearingly corny. In a telephone call a few years ago after he developed health problems, I asked, “How do you feel?” “With my hands,” was Paul’s quick response.
As kids we lived near each other and spent hours together walking to and from school. And talking. About girls, about our families, about what we wanted to do after high school, about the world. I was always comfortable with Paul and told him things I wouldn’t or couldn’t have told my brothers.
We played side-by-side (he was a guard, I was the center) on the mighty Frankfort Nighthawks, a football team with a tradition of winning maybe three games a year. More than 60 years later I remember the glee on Paul’s face when he intercepted a pass one game and started running with the ball.
In our senior year Paul and I were co-captains of the Nighthawks. Our coach was Jim Baldwin who wore three-inch thick lenses and drove the bus to our away games. Several of the geniuses on the bus, the future leaders of America, thought it would be brilliant fun to rock in our seats while the coach drove. I recall that Baldwin stopped the bus at least once and allowed as how what we were doing was stupid and dangerous. He cited no sources for this allegation.
A couple of years after high school Paul and I lost touch. We were going to different colleges and living far apart and these were the days before instant communications-- cellphones, the Internet, Facebook, what have you. We both finished school, got jobs, got lucky in the companions we chose and produced children.
Years later we saw each other at a reunion of the class of ’55. Paul was like an old shoe, easy and relaxed, never trying to show off or impress anyone. I hadn’t seen him in 15 years or more and after five minutes it was as though we were back in high school, hanging out at Aughe’s Drug Store on the square, eyeing the girls and sipping cherry Cokes.
In the last few years, I’m glad to say, we kept in touch more. On the phone or online Paul’s humor would cut through the nonsense, and he liked to rib me about my Democratic Party affiliation. We could joke about politics and the morons in both parties. It was always friendly, never nasty or an effort to score points. Imagine that. Civility and humor.
During a class reunion in 2010, Paul and I had lunch with another classmate, Jim Ulm, who after Frankfort went on to graduate from the Air Force Academy and become a general. Our wives sat there while the three of us recalled two of our favorite high school memories—stealing pumpkins from porches one Halloween and smashing them on the principal’s front porch and getting awfully sick from adult beverages the first Thanksgiving we were all back in Frankfort from college. For reasons probably only understood by a man, the three of us remained proud of these misdeeds, and they were just as hilarious and marvelous 55 years later as they were when they happened.
One of the interesting things about seeing Paul in my later years was he would always tell me what restaurants served breaded tenderloins, apparently feeling that living a long way from Indiana left me culturally and culinarily deprived. I usually seized the opportunity and ordered a breaded tenderloin, something I haven’t seen on the Panera menu.
Last August the class of ’55 got together once again. Paul didn’t make this one, and I wrote him later that “when you don’t show up…everything jumps the tracks.” The envelope with the class picture arrived with a notation that $1.34 in postage was due, at least three of our women classmates were misidentified in the captions, and the month the picture was taken was also wrong. I told Paul all the guys in the picture were correctly named, though one of our classmates now looks like a member of ZZ Top.
All these years later I remember one football game when I got hit hard and was woozy. Before Coach Baldwin sent me back into the game, he looked at Paul and said, “Take care of your buddy.” He did.
My nickname for my buddy Paul was “Shoulders.” He had very round shoulders. Appearances are very deceiving. The man had very big shoulders, and his wife Pat and kids and grandkids know that. He was a dear friend, and I’ll miss him.
Billy Joe Smith
Billy Joe Smith, a cousin of mine, died last week in California. Growing up, Billy Joe and I hung around together a lot. So did our families. His dad and my mom, the two youngest siblings from a family of seven kids, were the only ones still living in Frankfort, Indiana. Their five other brothers were either dead or had gone to Detroit to work.
Billy Joe and I were the same age, in the class of ’55 at Frankfort High and on the football team. One summer, when we were 15 or so, we thought it would be fun to get on our bikes and go get ice cream. So we did. We rode to Lebanon, 17 miles away, had some ice cream and then rode home. Yes, it was delicious ice cream, and yes, I was sore the next morning.
Two summers after high school, I ended up in Chicago, working at a super market because Billy Joe was in Chicago working at a super market. I remember being in his car one evening driving down Michigan Avenue with the radio on, listening to Howard Miller play one of the top songs of the summer. This was going to be terrific, living in Chicago where there was slightly more ways to get into trouble than in Frankfort.
After serving in the Marines, Billy Joe made a career of working in supermarkets, mostly in California I believe. I saw him two summers ago at a reunion of the class of ’55. He looked fine and in good spirits. I remember at an earlier reunion the “girls” in the class were raving about how well Billy Joe and his wife Doreen danced.
We got a Christmas card every year from Billy Joe and Doreen, and inside there was always a crocheted
snow flake to hang on our tree.
I think Billy Joe had a good life and Doreen was a major reason why.
A Christmas Gift With A Long Life
(A late December essay.)
I always think of my dad this time of year. He was born in 1908 two days before Christmas. Whenever December 23rd rolled around, I felt sorry for him because it was so close to Christmas he usually didn't get anything but a crummy tie or cuff links. There were rare exceptions. One year he was given a pair of expensive shoes – one shoe on his birthday, the other on Christmas.
Although he died nearly 30 years ago, Lavon McCoy is still alive on our front porch. There’s a “restaurant” there, open a few days a month, run by two of his great granddaughters – Daniella, 7, and Cristiana, 4.
The heart of the restaurant operation is a hutch, a small wooden cabinet, with four doors and two drawers. Dad made it as a Christmas present 63 years ago for his only daughter, Sherrilyn, when she was four. Several months ago Sherrilyn carefully packed the cabinet in a big box, along with a miniature china set she played with as a young girl, and shipped it to us . She also sent place mats, one of them with a patch that recounts the history of the hutch. The thing still looks pretty darn good. Dad made a living as a salesman but was truly a handy man, and I think he would be delighted to see how well his work has held up.
Nearly every time Daniella and Cristiana, our two youngest granddaughters, come to visit they head for the unheated front porch, even in the coldest of weather. Daniella, the older of the two, is clearly the restaurant manager. Her customers – Irene and I – are given menus with the dishes and drinks listed in block letters. Like menus at many restaurants, there is a misspelled word or two. Unlike many restaurants, this one apparently never has specials.
It does, however, have its own jargon. When your drink order is taken, you are asked, “Do you want it ‘frish’?” Where Daniella came up with that word we don’t know. We do know, having asked her several times, that “frish” means you get a saucer under the cup your drink comes in.
Service is friendly but frankly slow. It’s unclear what Daniella does between the time she takes your order and brings out some dishes. Why does it take ten minutes or more to deliver imaginary food you might ask? If you do, you don’t have grandchildren.
On those rare occasions when Cristiana is allowed to wait on customers, the food arrives sooner. That could be because Cristiana is a multi-tasker. While she is playing restaurant, she is also usually pushing a toy car back and forth over the floor or along the edges of grandma’s coffee table. I suspect she brings the food out quicker so she can get back to her first love, the cars.
Part of the charm of this little restaurant is that no one ever comes around with a bill, even if you said you wanted something “frish.” When it’s time to go home, both girls are good about cleaning up, putting the dishes and place mats neatly back into the hutch.
When building it in 1948, Dad was probably just hoping to have it finished by Christmas, not realizing how much enjoyment and how many memories it would bring to others in his family many years later. No batteries needed, a Christmas present with a very long life.
Thanks, Dad, and Happy Birthday!
(Posted December 19, 2011)
Some Thoughts On Joe Dembo
"My father was an absolutely dedicated journalist who discovered
the joy of radio when he was quite young. It was his life-long passion," said Robert Dembo, an executive director at NBC News. --
From an AP piece published March 16, 2010 in Newsday.
Joe Dembo was my boss for six years or so at CBS News, and I loved
working for him. He left you alone most of the time, assuming you knew
what you were doing unless you proved otherwise.
He thought newscasts were for news and not publicity, which may help
explain why he left commercial broadcasting in 1988. He was infuriated
if air time were wasted on stunts such as the one staged every February in
Joe was quiet around the office but put up with boisterous people, me
for one. He had a booming voice and a laugh to match. He wasn't very
tall and didn't like height "jokes." He once returned from a morning
meeting of the top executives and producers of CBS News upset that the
president of news had made disparaging remarks about a short person.
He had a sly sense of humor, and sometimes it took me a while to
catch on. During my days as a copy editor, I usually said "hi" when he
walked by my desk. He frequently replied, "Easy for you to say."
Joe was a very private man and talked little about himself or his family,
although he would occasionally mention "the farm" in Columbia County,
New York, where he spent many weekends. It was clear "the farm" was a
very special place. Working outdoors there left him tired but
rejuvenated. I'm pretty sure a picture of the farm house was on a
greeting card we got one December.
CBS News, Radio, with a proud tradition and a passion for standards,
was perceived by some as resistant to change. But Joe welcomed new
ideas. While Joe was vice president of news, network radio began doing
Updates on breaking stories, sometimes three or more an hour. They are still a part of network programming today.
Hearing that Joe wasn't doing well, I sent him a note last month to tell
him how proud I was to work for him and how patient he had been at
times when I was a genuine jerk.
I wrote: "The one scene I re-run many times in my head is from San
Antonio. You, Dick Reeves (a CBS News executive) and I are at dinner.
Something comes up about teaching journalism, and I spout off about
how it is impossible to teach journalism, why would anyone ever bother,
it's nonsense and on and on. Reeves is of absolutely no help. None. He
says nothing. There is one of those long Joe Dembo pauses and then,
calmly as always, the words come out, 'Well, I've taught at Fordham for
15 years and I love it.' To this day, I can't remember what happened next.
I know you didn't slug me. I'm sure I had no witty come back. What a twit
I could be."
Reeves has suggested in an e-mail that both Joe and I were right. "…it
is impossible to teach journalism and Joe loved trying to do so."
It's interesting what rubs off on you from other people. When Joe was
running CBS radio news, he would sometimes call on a manager at an
afternoon staff meeting by saying, something along the lines of, "Tony,
regale us with tales of what's been going on in Special Events today."
Until I met Joe, I know I had never used the word "regale." Now, about
once a week, I will tease Irene and say "regale us with stories of your
Joe Dembo was a wonderful human being. We all should be so lucky
to work for someone like him, at least once in our lives.
(Posted March 16, 2010)
The Chicago "Gang" Loses A Member
It began at the A&P on North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, on the other side of the street from the Biograph Theater where John Dillinger was gunned down. A student at Indiana University, I had gone to Chicago to work for the summer and was hired as a stock boy. In return for 35 hours a week, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was going to pay me $95, a fantastic sum for a kid in the late ‘50s.
Also working there was Joe Catanzaro, another college student (Northern Illinois) who had grown up a few blocks from the store. Joe and I hit it off and before long I knew all of his neighborhood buddies—John Stamos, Terse and Butch Norgaard (twins), Joe Straub, Lawry Price, Wayne Selvig.
Knowing I was living at the Lincoln-Belmont YMCA, Joe’s mother would occasionally invite me over for dinner. Never before had I sat at a table where every adult had two pork chops. Was I living high? Making $95 a week (and spending every cent of it well before the next payday) and a free meal from time to time with two pork chops! Joe’s dad managed an A&P store—not the one we worked at—and that probably explains why there was plenty of meat for dinner and usually an A&P pie.
When summer was over, Joe and I went back to school but kept in contact through the U.S. Post Office. We liked each other, both were jocks (or thought we were) and talked about writing and writers. I remember a short story of Joe’s published in a Northern Illinois University publication about race relations with a rainbow symbolizing the rich mixture of the people of the United States. This was long before Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.
John Stamos was the real athlete in the gang. He was a starting linebacker and back-up quarterback for Michigan. When Indiana University played host to Michigan, Joe and others came to visit me and to see John play. Indiana University usually wasn’t very good at football, but my, oh my it was this day and beat Michigan.
I worked at least two summers with Joe at the A&P and hung out with him and the gang. After graduating from college, I drifted into the news business in Chicago. Joe, John, Butch Norgaard and Wayne Selvig became teachers with Joe eventually becoming a principal. Terse Norgaard was a content editor/project manager of educational textbooks; Joe Straub, a commercial artist, and Lawry Price took over his dad’s tavern. Although we were all in Chicagoland, as the Chicago Tribune would put it, it was difficult to get together because I was working overnights or nights plus weekends.
After a few years at UPI in Chicago, I took a job in New York with ABC Radio, but the letters and Christmas cards between Joe and me never stopped. They continued when we—Irene, Julie, Jack and I—moved to Munich where RFE had hired me as an editor.
On a home leave, Joe invited us to his house. Terse and John (they were married at the time) were there and perhaps one or two others from the gang. Jack will never forget that day in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. He had taken swimming lessons but was basically just thrashing his arms and legs in the water until something Terse showed him or told him in Joe’s pool made everything click, and he could swim.
Nearly 20 years ago, back from Munich, we invited Joe and Butch and their wives, Carole and Carol, to make a detour during their visit to the East to have dinner at our place on Long Island. I remember it as a fun evening with lots of catching up on families and friends from our time in Chicago. I presume that I also told, for the 4,567thtime, my two pork chop story.
Three summers ago Irene and I went to Chicago as a 50th anniversary present to ourselves. We stayed in a hotel on the Chicago River and played tourist, taking bus and boat tours along with a wonderful visit to the innards of the Chicago Theater, the one whose huge sign is frequently used in films to quickly establish location for the audience.
And we had lunch at The Berghoff, an old German restaurant, with Joe, Carole, John, Butch, Carol and Terse. It was joyous and delightful. John told a story from one of the Inspector Clouseau movies, laughing so hard it took him quite a while to deliver the punch line. Irene and I thought it was one of the best stories we had ever heard, but when we retold it to two good friends the looks we got signaled their concern that we both had early onset Alzheimer’s.
After hugs, kisses, handshakes and urgings to keep in touch, lunch ended with Butch and Carol walking with us to the Chicago Library, which we hadn’t been inside for probably 40 years. It was to be the last time we would see Butch.
A year or so ago Butch was told he had prostate cancer. Being a prostate cancer survivor, I had several phone conversations with him—how treatable this form of cancer was, what to expect, how was he doing, what were the doctors saying. I’m not known for long phone calls. Butch was. He would have made a hell of a reporter. He reviewed every detail of his treatment, forgetting nothing, leaving nothing out. As predicted, he came out of it fine.
Butch—his real name, by the way, was Richard—had had a heart bypass operation several years ago. Last month he had a major heart attack and died. He was 75, several months younger than I am.
I can see him now sitting at Berghoff’s, talking and laughing and enjoying himself with part of the gang he had known most of his life. I’m so glad we all showed up for that lunch three years ago. It is, damn it, always later than you think.
(Posted July 2, 2013)
A Man Worth Saluting
Lester Wilensky, a neighbor of ours, was described at his funeral this week as “a bundle of joy.” Although he was a man in his 80s, Lester always had a story or a joke to tell. If he started a joke when his wife, Elaine, was with him, she would roll her eyes, a signal that she had heard this one 4,000 times. They were always clean jokes and a little corny but never dirty or mean. And always delivered with enthusiasm and a smile.
I saw Lester a couple of weeks ago near the mailbox in our neighborhood. He was in a bright red car with, as always, American flags mounted on each side. I asked, “Did you get a new car?”
“Yes,” Lester said. “I lease them. I’ve been doing it for years.”
“It looks good,” I said.
“My wife picks out the colors. This one’s yellow.”
I laughed, waved and got back into my car. It was the last time I talked to him, and it ended with a joke. He was “a bundle of joy.” Imagine being over 80 years old, and a rabbi at your funeral says that about you and people laugh and nod at each other because it was so true.
Lester Wilensky was a combat engineer in the United States Army and on June 6, 1944 was on a beach in Normandy. One of the speakers at his funeral said only Lester and one other member of his platoon survived the invasion. He earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster and the French Croix de Guerre.
Members of the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans were at the funeral and spoke. As they left, the former soldiers - men with white hair and moving stiffly - paused in front of Lester’s coffin and saluted. A few of them could be heard saying, “Farewell.”
Lester had been a long-time Boy Scout leader and twenty or so Boy Scout leaders were there, in uniform.
Everyone who spoke - the veterans, the Boy Scout leaders and two rabbis –mentioned how much Lester gave of himself to his community and to his country and of his love of stories and jokes. A white-haired rabbi said Lester
had a standing greeting whenever he saw the rabbi and his wife. Lester told the rabbi it was nice he brought his daughter with him.
The rabbi said that only recently had Lester begun to talk more about the Second World War and some of his stories were as long as the war. Youcould always tell when Lester was arriving, the rabbi said, by the American
flags flying on his car.
Lester Wilensky was a big enough deal that the Republican leader of the
New York State Senate, Dean Skelos, was at the funeral.
Whenever you saw Lester in the neighborhood, he would stop you and
talk. If you were with a grandkid, Lester always had something to say to the
grandkid too. When I was still working, I had to interrupt him a number of
times, politely I hope, and tell him I was rushing to catch a train.
Irene and I counted on Lester to help us out. If it was a holiday week and
we weren’t sure there would be garbage or newspaper pickup on a certain
day, we would look at Lester’s curb and see if he had put anything out. That
would tell us what we needed to know without searching for the pickup
schedule the town sends out every year.
A younger rabbi who spoke at the funeral told of being asked to make
some remarks at a park where a traveling monument for the Vietnam War
was being displayed. It was a miserable, rainy day, and when he got to the
park, Lester and his wife had been there for some time and were soaked.
Lester asked the rabbi if he had been in the service. No, the rabbi said, he
was underweight when he took the physical.
Was the rabbi ever a member of the Boy Scouts? No, the rabbi told Lester.
He had been a Cub Scout but did something silly and got kicked out.
Did the rabbi speak Yiddish? No unfortunately, he didn’t.
Lester then asked the rabbi, “Are you Jewish?”
Like the other rabbi said, he was a bundle of joy.
(Posted December 22, 2010)
A FINE TRIBUTE BY NEWSMAN BILL VITKA TO HIS FRIEND AND PROFESSIONAL BUDDY, CHRIS STANLEY.
Chris Stanley had a story for everyone.
There was no story too small or too large.
But there’s one story he never told us.
When Chris was in the Air Force, his first assignment was counter-intelligence.
As his brother, Tim, tells it when they found out about Chris’ politics, he was reassigned – to supply.
He was stationed in Thailand, there at the same time the US Government was conducting a secret bombing campaign in Laos.
Chris was at the very air base from which the planes were launched.
In Thailand Chris was already behind the mike, Armed Forces Radio. He worked at the station at that air base. ‘Good Morning Thailand!’
One day, a returning plane from the bombing effort crashed at the base. It plowed into the radio station -- think of it as a radio tent -- everybody at the station was killed.
Chris — that day – had called in sick.
I had thought when I began this that I would split this tribute, this epitaph, into two parts.
One for the casual reader – or listener – and one for the rest of us.
But there was nothing casual about Chris.
This is the deep end of the pool. If you expected less, you didn’t know Chris.
Some facts are good. Some things we don’t know as much as we’d like.
But if Chris were here he’d tell us to report what we know.
Some of those facts:
He was born in Rhode Island, Woonsocket
He grew up in Ohio. He thought of Youngstown as home. He has two brothers. The older is Mike, the younger is Tim.
His father was in radio. He moved on to television. One of Chris’ fondest memories of his youth is of movies. Back in the 50’s, he saw, by his own count, every bad and good and every very bad science and monster movie made. They ran on his dad’s TV station. And his father set up a projector at home and the Thing from Another World, It Came From Beyond Space, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers all unspooled in front of his eyes both on the small screen and within the private walls of home sweet home.
Maybe the seed is there, the broadcasting seed -- dad’s TV station and dad’s work in radio -- then, it germinates in Southeast Asia.
But as well and before the Air Force, he’s on the air in Goldsboro, North Carolina: WGBT -- a top 40 deejay. Chris Stanley: DJ. Try to picture him answering the phone taking a request from a listener.
It’s after the Air Force that he becomes a reporter: WIVK and WNOX in Knoxville.
Now somewhere in this mix is a theater troupe. Chris studied drama at Pepperdine. The troupe barnstormed across the Midwest and parts of the south one summer. On his way West just a few weeks ago, Chris hooked-up again with one of the key players with whom he walked the boards back then. Hank Rosenfeld, a good friend of Chris’, thought that final road trip might have been Chris revisiting his own resume, his own past. Theater wasn’t the only thing on his mind on that trip.
On the radio history ledger, I believe Green Bay is next. Don’t know the calls. But something happens there. He meets folks from Texas. They tell him to come on down. In very Chris fashion, he uproots himself and his life in Wisconsin gets on a plane with a toothbrush, and he’s in Houston. At KPFT, and now News Director, he’s digging the cosmic cowboy days that spilled over Austin.
As Eben Brown, a colleague of Chris’ from CBS and Fox, astutely notes: Chris may be the only radio journalist to have worked at both Fox News and Pacifica.
After Texas, Chris heads to San Francisco. From cosmic cowboy to psychedelic – and Chris was psychedelic. Not a drug casualty. But the boy – he was in orbit.
Hank Rosenfeld remembers the first time he laid eyes on Chris. Walking into the KSAN newsroom at 5 AM letting his freak-flag hair tumble down like a waterfall. Like a lot of us. It was a different time. It was the time of Hunter Thompson and Ken Kesey, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane This is not nostalgia. That’s wishing for something that wasn’t. That was. If you’re honest, you know it. Maybe you don’t tell your kids about it but maybe you lived it. And you know it was real. It was the world we lived in and not a place of make-believe.
Though – make-believe had a role to play. Chris had characters that he would play on the air. He’d call in when his gumba, Steven Capen, who has also joined that Heavenly Radio Choir, was on the air. He’d call himself “Fatboy,” Corporate Head of Meglomeaningless. The bit would be different but the signoff was always the same: “You know what Fatboy wants? Fatboy wants more.”
Chris wanted more – more of his friends and more of his country.
There’s a thread – with voice work – with theater -- that picks up years later in New York. Chris would call in to Capen when Capen deejayed at KROC in New York. There, he was the voice of a travel agent urging people to visit the Big Apple for its many sights and sounds: ‘Donald Chump’ and Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi black market arms dealer involved in Iran-Contra.
Chris kept his feet on the ground -- most of the time. But we’re not here to pretty things up. Chris was a man. He had flaws and failings. He could be a danger to himself.
Sometimes, I think he felt too much.
He had a talent for being in the right place at the wrong time, and at the wrong place at just the right time.
Chris could also soar. And Chris in flight could take his flock to the right place at the right time, just where they needed to be.
Chris Stanley not only wanted to report on the moment. He wanted to be in that moment.
I met Chris Stanley in l979. I worked with him in San Francisco. He hired me away from WMMR in Philadelphia. Our relationship started in peculiar fashion.
The job was the Daily Planet, based in the City by the Bay. I put everything I owned in a U Haul, dragging it off to the Left Bank. We put programs on vinyl and they were mailed out to affiliates. I had a gig for about five weeks. There was a new owner, High Times Magazine. They changed the locks and pulled the phones out of the wall. Nothing like job security. None of this seemed to matter to Chris. As though a storm was going by and the sun would be out later.
There’s one detail worth mentioning. Chris and I worked on one show together there for which we shared a DuPont/ Columbia Citation award and a Clarion Award for radio documentary on the Guyana massacre.
I ended up going back to New York. Unbeknownst to me, so did Chris. We found ourselves working together again: DIR Broadcasting. Again, programming on vinyl brought to you by the pony express.
Another odd coincidence follows. I left to work for WPIX-FM and then, departed to work for NBC Radio News. WPIX needed a newsman to fill my shoes. That guy turned out be Chris Stanley.
CBS Radio is next. He was there first. I followed.
Chris had a good run: 1982 to 1998.
For Chris, KNX is next: 1998 to 2007
He met Gail Eichenthal there. Gail played a large part in Chris’ life. The two of them shared a Golden Mike for their Oscar coverage in 2003. In 2004; Chris won a Golden Mike and an Associated Press regional award for his series on Ronald Reagan. He also won a Golden Mike in 2002 for a series on the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death.
Ed Pyle who was the skipper at KNX then says he and Chris would have shouting matches. At the end of it, he says, they would be laughing. Ed says “It didn’t make sense to be mad at a talent like that.”
Fox News Radio follows: 2007 to just a few weeks ago.
I need to relay some other anecdotes:
These are not in order, there’s no chronology.
Dave Clark, who worked with Chris at CBS, and while now in a different division at Fox, Dave was there when Chris was at Fox News Radio. He remembers meeting Chris in the late 70’s. A protest to shut down the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire. Dave was the News Director for a Boston disco station. Chris wanted a ride to where the action was. The ride was a disco van – painted appropriately with fat red lips on the side. And there was Chris: waist-length hair. And I bet a quarter: San Francisco battle dress. They all crashed in a seedy motel room – and by Dave’s account – had a blast.
Flash forward to Fox where Dave says he couldn’t imagine a more square peg in a round hole than Chris at Fox, and Dave adds: “but above all else, Chris was a pro.”
Chris was a pro, let that sink in, even if his death – hasn’t.
There are other stories about Chris, other memories.
Larry McCoy, Chris’ boss at CBS Radio News for so many years, says what made Chris so special was that he cared.
Cared about the news, cared about what we, in the business, label as news. The line is blurred these days. Larry says it’s upside down. Gossip and trivia in competition with the real events and policies that shape our lives.
Chris was keenly aware of how much BS has entered the arena. When Chris was here, with us, it was easier to see where that line was. That’s a loss we share, all of us. That’s a loss the public shares. There’s one less keen eye. One less sharp mind. One less voice of experience.
You hear it all the time: what people want to know. What do people need to know. Chris Stanley knew where that line was.
As Larry says: Chris loathed those who thought broadcast news should be an arm of show business or a faucet for a political philosophy.
Larry also touches on something else: Chris was not always easy to work with. Run-ins with Chris, he says, were triggered by his passion for reporting, doing it straight, and under great time pressure.
Before Chris left New York and was packing up for California, he wanted to set his house in order. A few of us met for one last dinner. I saw him after that but alongside us at that dinner was Larry McCoy, Larry Cooper (the former Vice-President of Radio News at CBS) and Charlie Kaye who is still the Executive Producer for the CBS Radio News operation.
Chris deeply respected Charlie and it was mutual.
Charlie says of Chris that he was simply one of the smartest journalists he has ever known.
Charlie also makes the point that that is now a double-edged sword, a blessing and a curse -- at those times when Chris encountered people who did not grow up in that world where intellectually curiosity was required in journalism.
Who, what, when, where and why. It’s what we were taught – not out of a book, but taught by life itself. Taught by the work.
Charlie makes another point: that when warranted -- a reporter’s job meant challenging authority. Chris’ standards of ethics and integrity were impeccable, Mr. Kaye notes. And knowing Mr. Kaye I can assure you there is no higher standard – or praise to be extended – not in broadcast journalism. But here’s where Chris – or any other honest reporter -- could get bit in the rump. Heaven help him or her if they tried to lower the bar. Chris did not willingly compromise.
When Chris blew it -- and there were times when he failed his standards – failed himself -- he would come round a few days later and own up.
Chris could be generous and gentle, even innocent, but never bashful and always fiercely loyal. He spoke his mind when others held their tongue.
They’re qualities -- as Charlie points out -- that are not always conducive to job security. Charlie makes another point, one that many of us who knew Chris, know to be true: he was a man who battled personal demons, sometimes with success, sometimes without.
The last safe harbor Chris had was at Fox News Radio. I brought him in. It’s Mitch Davis’ shop.
Mitch says that for four years, the radio division was blessed by Chris’ presence. He calls him the embodiment of a professional broadcast journalist, noting his passion for truth and accuracy, his honest reporting, his fierce advocacy for the beliefs he held dear. Mitch says he was one of the best he has ever worked with.
Now what do we say at the end?
When Chris Stanley was in the room you knew he was there.
He could be a gentlemen but he wasn’t always polite.
He was blunt, loud, insistent, adamant, abrasive, in-your-face. He was REAL. He gave no quarter. He welcomed challenge. He may have needed it.
When times changed, when the world changed and reporting with it, Chris changed – from local to national, from vinyl to digital. The old dinosaur changed because he wasn’t ready to be written off.
He learned. He adapted.
He was proud of all of his work -- from his time in Green Bay to Fox. Chris could not do what he did and not take pride in it. That was his way.
One thing never changed. Chris believed in the verities. Sometimes, I think, he believed in angels. That no matter how far he went they would protect him. I don’t think Chris let the angels down. But they may have let him down.
Let me tell you how we knew Chris had died.
He was in LA, at his new home in Playa del Rey -- from which he told me -- he could see the mountains and one tiny patch of ocean. He was working on pieces for KUSC. Chris’s big plan was to get to October 27th – his birthday when he’d reach 65.
There was a deadline for the segment he was working on for KUSC on Joel Grey. Chris missed the deadline.That’s when a red light went off for Gail, the woman with whom Chris had a long relationship – and KUSC is Gail’s station. Chris Stanley, she thought, missing a deadline?
That is radio. That is when the bells go off. If he was alive, there’d be no missed deadline.
I need to say some other things. Steely Dan is one. Chris loved that band. He loved Elmore Leonard. He loved Al Pacino. He loved Mailer. He loved Vonnegut. He loved to read. He loved movies, probably from the time he could watch them on a reel-to-reel projector dad brought home. He loved the day he interviewed Gore Vidal in Vidal’s home in LA. He loved shooting the breeze with Edward Albee at Albee’s home in New York. He loved his two dogs, the two dogs he shared with Gail. He loved snaring an interview with Abbie Hoffman when Abbie was on the run and the cops couldn’t find him. He loved Gail’s son. He loved not having -- things; the idea that he could throw all of his belongings into a suitcase and four boxes and just head out.
He loved California. He hated winter.
He loved political conventions. He covered six of them – and he came away from one campaign in particular -- after riding the bus with Pat Buchanan – telling all who would listen then, “Ride to the sound of the guns.” All his life, Chris rode to the sound of the guns.
So many people have ended up living their life guided now by a manual that is the opposite of the one that had been their compass. Chris was not one of those.
He thought, fought, breathed, lived for everything at the end that he did at the beginning.
Several people have told me they were envious of Chris’ drive and talent.
Everyone has told me they will miss him.
Me -- I can’t believe he’s gone.
He came from a world that when you had a story, you worked that story. You worked it that hour, that afternoon, that night, you worked it all that day and you worked it the next day.
If you knew Chris, you had arguments. You had fights. Not school yard fights. Bar fights. They were knockdown drag out.
But here’s what’s also true: I trusted Chris. I trusted his reporting. I had the chance to watch at close range for 33 years. There are very few other people in my life that I can say that about or will ever be able to say that about again.
We are at the end. This ending, at least.
If I can paraphrase Hemingway: you only know what you’re fighting for when you’ve lost. We’ve lost something – we’ve lost someone.
At the very end of Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles-directed film noir, Tana, the character played by Marlene Dietrich says, “He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?”
We can say this about Chris Stanley. He was a reporter.
A Good Life Judged From Afar
More than 20 years ago Irene and I were meandering around southern Vermont—no destination in mind, just enjoying the countryside and the time off—when we came to a farm with tins of maple syrup for sale. We stopped, bought some syrup and resumed our hunt for small roads, the smaller the better. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we had found our “dealer” for life: Truman D. Young Jr., according to the sticker on the can. No one’s maple syrup tasted as good as Mr. Young’s.
Two or three times a year we sent a note and a blank check to Mr. Young, asking for another half-gallon of syrup. Around Christmas we might order a tin or two for relatives or friends. When the syrup arrived, this newsman looked forward to reading a few pages of the Rutland Herald wadded up as padding in the shipping box.
On trips to Vermont, we occasionally looked for Mr. Young’s farm, but, being firm believers that GPS takes all the spontaneity out of traveling we don’t have one, so we found his farm in the Tinmouth area only one other time. We pulled into the driveway that day and saw the barn door was open as well as the trunk of a car. Before I could head for the barn, an older man came out of the house, and Irene, asked, “We’re looking for Truman Young.”
“That would be me,” the man said.
I told him we wanted to buy some syrup. “You probably want the amber, medium grade,” Mr. Young said as I followed him to a shed near the road. Inside the cool shed, he handed me a half gallon tin and apologized for asking $22 for it. “They keep raising the price of tin on us,” he said, adding that it hadn’t been a good year for syrup. Too short a spring.
Vermont was losing its farms. People from New Jersey were “buying the land and putting $800,000-$900,000 houses on it,” Mr. Young lamented. But he perked up when he spoke of a marvelous new machine that could shrink-wrap hay in a tight, white plastic cylinder. He explained to us suburban sprawl folks that when piles of hay are left uncovered in the fields they get wet and the bottom part rots. With this new wrapper, the hay can be left out in all kinds of weather.
After raving about this advance, he pointed across the road and there was the very piece of machinery he had been describing, so he described it some more. (This conversation stuck me with because my dad, an Indiana farm boy, never lost his enthusiasm for new equipment, large or small. During the CB craze, he had one. His handle “Prairie Chicken.”)
Mr. Young said he and his family had been on this farm for 189 years. He grew up there as did his father. If he made it to October he would be 85. I told him he had to make it because we would need more syrup.
I asked where he had gone to school. Wallingford was the answer. “I used to ride a horse to school, even when it was 15 below.” He had an aunt in Wallingford who had a stable, and he left the horse there until school was over and it was time to ride back to the farm.
A few months ago our latest batch of syrup arrived along with a note from Mr. Young’s family. He died last November, a few days before Thanksgiving. I looked up the obituaries in the Rutland Herald and learned that Truman Dwight Young Jr. of Tinmouth, Vermont:
-Was 96 years old; was one of 13 kids; was married at age 22; lost his wife 33 years later and a year after her death married a woman with children and outlived her by three years.
-Had three children and at least three stepchildren. Grandchildren, in the words of the newspaper, “number more than 10 as do great grandchildren.”
-Was a dairy farmer in addition to a maple producer, helped found the Rutland County Maple Producers Association, and built a sugarhouse on the Vermont State Fairgrounds to promote the maple products industry, a sugarhouse that now bears his name.
-Was a member of the local school board for several years.
-All seven of his sisters along with one brother died before him.
The note from the Young family said Mr. Young “was active and independent until the very end.” On the Internet I found an interview a Vermont TV station did with him when he was 93, more than eight years after our talk with him.
We were instructed to send our future orders to his son, Truman Young III. We certainly will. It’s been more than syrup we’ve been buying all these years.
(Posted October 13, 2015)
Big Time Rewards In A Small Town
Larry Hughes was a smart, energetic desk assistant at ABC Radio News when I met him back in the late 1960s. In addition to tolerating boisterous know-it-alls like me, he was writing a book about the 13 months he spent in South Vietnam as an Information Specialist for the U.S. Army.
“You Can See A Lot Standing Under A Flare In The Republic Of Vietnam: My Year at War” was published in 1970 by William Morrow & Company. A couple of years later Larry started doing what he really wanted to do, work for a small town paper. He was hired as a police reporter by the Poughkeepsie Journal. Forty three years later he’s still there, writing two columns a month.
Last month he marked his anniversary with a column that began: “I remember my first day at the Poughkeepsie Journal. I dusted off the buckles on my shoes and straightened my tri-cornered hat.”
Larry and I, along with Gil Longin, another refugee from ABC Radio, have lunch at least once a year to share notes about the news business (past and present; there may be no future), what pills we are taking these days and how pretty the Hudson Valley is. At every outing Larry will have a fascinating story or two about covering news and sports in a small town or an anecdote from his time as the host of a morning talk show. I’ve told him many times he has had a wonderful career and ought to write a book about it. (And yes, I’m jealous that he found such a major publisher for his Vietnam book.)
With Larry’s permission, here are some nuggets from that anniversary column.
“My first City Editor was GAP – George A. Palmateer, crusty exterior, soft interior. He’d been around forever. GAP took an extraordinary amount of time and patience to make me a reasonably competent print journalist.
“I handed in a short police story. Couple guys arrested for gambling. They were charged with shooting ‘crap.’ A note soon came to me: ‘Craps is gambling. Crap is doo-doo. GAP.’ ”
“I was still new to the Journal when two city police detectives appeared at my desk. They needed me to write a story. They wanted to help a young couple raise money for an infant daughter dying of cancer. The money wasn’t for treatment, it was for her funeral. They took me over to the hospital where I met the family. The story helped raise a few thousand [dollars].”
Years later when Larry was doing public relations for a hospital a staff member saw him in the cafeteria one morning and said “I know who you are now!” She had spent the weekend with her parents, and, while leafing through a scrapbook, came across the story Larry had written about the sister she never met.
“I wanted to visit a group home [for the developmentally disabled] and write about the people who lived there. The agency I dealt with gave me complete access to staff and clients. Raymond, who must have been in his 30s, loved music and invited me up to his room to see his collection of 45s. We sat on the floor, he played his favorites and we sang along.
“Years later I received a large envelope. Raymond had died, his mother wrote. Did I remember? She thanked me for the story I had written in which he was prominently mentioned. It was her most cherished possession.”
“A few nights a week I acted as the City Editor focusing on the front page. My best headline: ‘Welcome Home’ in conjunction with the release of the Iranian hostages. The morning they were bussed from Stewart [Air Force Base] to the military academy…many people stood cheering along the roads waving the front page. I’m sure other newspapers did the same, but I like to think they were holding copies of the Journal.”
He covered the trial of serial killer Lemuel Smith who was accused of killing a female prison guard and was soon on a first-name business with one of Smith’s lawyers, William F. Kunstler. “One of Smith’s guards handed me an envelope one morning. We’d never spoken, just nodded morning greetings. He’d sent me a Christmas card. I went shopping for a card. Hallmark does not make a line of holiday cards for convicted murderers facing the death penalty. ‘May the spirit of the holidays light up your life’ etc. did not seem appropriate. But I found something.”
Larry estimates that over the years he has written about 2,500 columns. Here is the close to his anniversary column: “I stopped for a container of milk one evening and a woman standing to the side asked, ‘Are you the columnist?’ Yes. ‘You look better in the paper.’
“She wasn’t being nasty or sarcastic. You see, she ‘knew’ me. I was Larry and she read me in the Journal.”
Please keep writing, Mr. Hughes, and, in between lunches, see if there isn’t a book in all those columns you’ve turned out and all those gems you dispense one by one at lunch.
(Posted September 3, 2015)