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As Long as We Remember...

August 25, 2009

Fewer Walking Around

Roy Meachum

Friends have heard me say I know more people below ground than those walking around on the face of the earth. My disappeared numbers increased this week by two. Bob Novak and Don Hewitt were no back-slapping buddies – but we worked together.


When I knew Bob his hair was black. He had an Illinois way of speaking and would freely talk about his city of origin, Joliet, famous for housing the state’s best-known prison. I may be wrong, but, in my memory, he also stretched to include Calumet, made famously infamous for its one-time resident, Al Capone. He lightly embroidered on his connection with bent-nose gangsters, leaving my fellow Metromedia colleagues more than slightly mystified after he walked away, in mid-story.


We had no dialogues on politics. Watching few of the programs where national leaders appear to discuss their views, I was mildly surprised to discover Bob Novak was considered ultra-conservative. But one of his professional colleagues insisted he did not walk-on-the-right all of the time. He chose to pick issues.


Bob vehemently opposed the Iraq war, which did not make him persona non grata to the White House; in the waves of words since his death, it was reported that he remained in a close relationship with Vice President Richard Cheney, a prime architect in the decision to go for Baghdad. This is the highest praise I know for the bellicose consigliore. He was able to discern my former colleague’s adherence to principles rather than party. I applaud Mr. Cheney.


One more note: Bob Novak was in the basement newsroom on Washington’s Wisconsin Avenue when I returned from Rome: my professional relationship with Metromedia News started with Ed Turner’s accepting my qualifications to cover the Vatican. Bob was paired with Rowland Evans in commentary that Ed later moved to CNN. The still-dark headed kid from Joliet probed me on what was then going on with the Catholic Church; still, I was surprised to read his funeral mass was held in downtown D.C.’s St. Patrick Church. I was on a brief visit to New York and didn’t attend.


When I first came in contact with Don Hewitt, he cast me to speak in a German worker’s voice during 1953 uprisings against Soviet rule; as some of you know I speak the language. At that time CBS News’ offices and production facilities were provided by The Washington Post broadcast division; network reporters and commentators worked in WTOP radio and TV studios. He occasionally visited when producing a show.


Don had worked with Walter Cronkite in the 1952 conventions. Walter, as I reported on The, shared a large space with me while Broadcast House was still under construction. Don’s greatest glory days started with the job producing CBS “Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” then he split off. His name will be best remembered for creating and producing “60 Minutes,” where he added luster to correspondents’ names, as he did for the trusted news anchor. There is irony in the fact, Don Hewitt died about five weeks after Walter Cronkite. They were both very nice guys.


The hidden power of the behind-the-scenes executive producer caught up with me during the time I was a cultural consultant to Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House.


On a summer’s evening, Social Secretary Bess Abell invited me to her residence to meet a mysterious redhead. Her guest turned out to be Frankie Hewitt. Don’s wife told me she planned to re-open Ford’s Theatre, which had been closed since the Lincoln assassination. My initial impulse was to dismiss the notion as far-fetched. But then I thought about her husband; he provided cover for her fabulous organizational skills and business acumen. In any event, I was in a critic’s seat, when the refurbished house opened with “John Brown’s Body,” shortly after Mr. Johnson said he would not run again. Still the project was completed in the election year, 1968. Long-divorced Frankie died a few years ago.


Reading his New York Times obituary, I was surprised Don Hewitt was only a few years older than I am. Since moving to Frederick, I maintained contact with very few of my former friends and colleagues. For example, I had not seen Bob Novak since his hair became a distinguished gray, and I had no journalistic voice to raise when Don Hewitt was squeezed off “60 minutes.”


Still, I miss them now more than ever; there’s no hope to pick up the phone and talk to either. My personal list of above-ground walkers grew smaller.


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