VIEWPOINT;IN THE PRESENCE OF GENIUS

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There's a new book out about the man who more than any other pretty much invented broadcast news. It's called "The Murrow Boys" and it's by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson, published by Houghton Mifflin. Herb Mitgang in The New York Times gave it a rave the other day and once I have the $27.95 in hand, I fully intend to buy it.

I worked in news for CBS for six years and had a wonderful time. My only regret is I was a generation too late to work for Edward R. Murrow.

Murrow was sent to London by CBS early in the war not to broadcast but to hire a team of young correspondents for that job. He ended doing both, assembling an extraordinary group (mostly by raiding United Press, known for its low salaries) and, starting with the Fall of France and the London Blitz, telling a still-neutral America what was going on over there.

It was radio then, of course, and not yet TV. But Murrow had the voice and the looks to do both, being one of the few young men who ever lived who could sport a homburg and not look silly. And that voice? Listen to it sometime when they're doing a retrospective. Like a James Earl Jones voice it comes out of the lower abdomen and moves thrillingly on to higher registers, crisply informed and authoritative, even magisterial.

And when you recall some of Murrow's best broadcasts ever were from London rooftops looking out at a great, blazing city hammered by a thousand planes at a time, invariably introduced by Murrow's "This . . . (pause) is London," you realize where the "Scud Stud" and those other guys got the idea during the Persian Gulf.

Murrow's "boys" weren't bad either. Shirer, who wrote the definitive work on Hitler's Third Reich, Sevareid, Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, Kendrick, David Polk. When I went to Europe in '59 some of those guys were still around, still working, still, to me, giants in the trade I'd made my own. As Mitgang writes, "He (Murrow) hired print journalists because they could write and report, not for their hairdos..." Which, in the end, doomed some of them as television took over. Sevareid, for one, was camera shy; Alexander Kendrick wore thick glasses.

After the war Murrow did documentaries, famously ripping Joe McCarthy and helping set an atmosphere in which the Senate could and did vote censure. He also did "Person to Person," visiting celebrities at home, a job he did with one hand but which earned huge ratings. He also anchored the evening news. And, in the end, was a bitter man, taking a whole year off, then finding less and less to do, once telling Charles Collingwood, "You're only important around here as long as you're useful to them, and you will be for a time. And when they're finished, they'll throw you out without another thought."

He was rescued, briefly, by President Kennedy, who named Murrow director of USIA. But the great days were over and at 57, in 1965, he was dead of lung cancer.

In the mid-50s Murrow did the evening news from the then-CBS studios on 52nd Street just east of Madison. Then he would go across the street to a joint called Louis & Armand's. Murrow would come in, take a stool at the near end of the bar, light a cigarette, and drink. I know, because a couple of us, besotten with the great Murrow, the image as well as the reality, would go up to Louis & Armand's every so often and sit way down at the other end of the bar and wait for him to come in. We'd drink our beers and watch Murrow, watch him drink, coming down off the high of the evening broadcast, cooling out and knocking back a couple, and lighting one cigarette after another.

We never interrupted him or even said hello. Just watched Ed Murrow take a drink.

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