The Passing of Peter Jennings
August 9, 2005, Vol. 1, Issue No. 20
The Passing of Peter Jennings
And How I nearly met Humphrey Bogart
IN THE NEWS
NEW YORK -- Peter Jennings, the suave, Canadian-born broadcaster who delivered the news to Americans each night in five separate decades, died yesterday. He was 67.
The Associated Press, August 8, 2005
I never met Peter Jennings in person, but my wife, Peggy, and I watched him nightly for many years. At one point, ABC News had a trio of anchors reporting from around the country--Jennings, Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson. As I recall, Reynolds, a splendid journalist, died of AIDS from a contaminated blood transfusion.
Peter Jennings became the solo anchor.
For months he would sign off, “For everyone at ABC News, I’m Peter Jennings. Good night.”
This used to drive me nuts. In effect he was saying, “Nobody here knows me, so ‘for everyone at ABC News, I’m Peter Jennings … ‘”
Finally I wrote Jennings a letter saying his nightly farewell made no sense. It should be, “I’m Peter Jennings. For everyone at ABC News, good night.”
I assumed Jennings did not read his mail, but at least I had scratched an itch.
A couple of weeks later, Peggy took a phone call in the early evening. It was ABC News. “Watch the news tonight,” the person said. “Peter is taking your husband’s suggestion and changing the way he signs off. Peter wanted him to know.”
Jennings was not only a consummate journalist but also a gentleman.
According to reports, he had given up smoking 20 years ago, but started up again as a result of the pressures of reporting the Sept. 11 tragedy.
His death on Sunday at 67 from lung cancer was a terrible waste--yet another wonderfully talented and valuable human being cut down by cigarettes.
It got me thinking about the time I turned down a chance to meet Humphrey Bogart.
The Hollywood Years
My uncle was Eric Hatch, a short story writer and novelist whose most famous work was the novel, “My Man Godfrey.” Eric went out to California to write the screenplay with Morrie Ryskind for what became the great 1936 screwball comedy starring William Powell, Carole Lombard and Mischa Auer. Eric was nominated for an Academy Award.
While in Hollywood, Eric and his wife, Gertie, became friends with many of the stars, including Humphrey Bogart and his wife, Mayo Methot, whose stormy marriage earned them the sobriquet, The Battling Bogarts.
Once a year my father would go out to Hollywood to visit Eric and used to party with Bogart and occasionally play bridge with him. “It was really unnerving to have Bogart growl ‘three clubs’ in his most menacing Duke Mantee voice,” my father said. “And he used to cheat outrageously at croquet.”
Fast forward to 1956. I was living in New York, and my father and stepmother came into town from Long Island to take me to a late lunch at ‘21,’ the legendary saloon on 52nd Street that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition--a favorite haunt of my father’s during the ‘20s and ‘30s. It was a Wednesday afternoon. The matinee crowd had left for the theater and the bar was practically deserted. We were seated in the prestigious first bay--only because no celebrities or regulars were in the place.
Midway through our hamburgers, Bogart walked in with Lauren Bacall, Clifton Webb and a woman none of us recognized.
Bogart looked awful. His face was deeply etched with dark lines and he had a gray, sallow pallor. Nearsighted as I am, it was obvious to me that the hand of death was on his shoulder.
Bogart and his party were shown to their regular booth in the second bay and proceeded to order lunch.
After we had finished eating, my father asked me if I wanted to meet Bogart. I declined. The great star was clearly in terrible shape and the one thing he did not need was to have his private time interrupted by one more 21-year-old fawning kid.
My father went over and they had a brief exchange, and we left.
As I tell people, I am probably the only person on the planet who had a chance to shake hands with Humphrey Bogart and didn’t.
It was the right thing to do. He died in January 1957 at age 57.
Thinking back now, I do not believe Bogart had yet been diagnosed with cancer. As I recall, very shortly after the diagnosis he was operated on. His esophagus was found to be riddled with cancer, so they sewed him up and sent him home to die a slow and dreadful death. But it was obvious to me that day at ‘21’ that he was gravely ill.
I do not know whether anyone counted the number of on-screen cigarettes Bogart smoked in his 71 films. He was a consummate actor who always knew his lines and his films were made with a minimum of takes. But counting the out-takes and the scenes that were a wrap, he must have consumed tens of thousands of cigarettes.
And, of course, he was a heavy smoker in his private life.
Bogart was cut down in his prime--as was Peter Jennings.
What a shame. What a waste.
Cigarettes in the Workplace
Many years ago I worked for a man who was addicted to cigarettes. His breath smelled of smoke. His clothes smelled like an ashtray. Ten minutes out of every hour were spent taking a smoke break out on the fire escape, regardless of the weather. That meant he spent more than one hour a day, or five hours a week, or the equivalent of six weeks a year, out on the fire escape killing himself on company time.
Let’s say the guy was making $100,000 a year or $2,000 a week. His six weeks on the fire escape satisfying his addiction meant he was bilking the company out of $12,000 a year.
According to government statistics, smoking causes 440,000 premature deaths a year with smoking-related health care costs amounting to $75 billion. Total cost to the economy is $167 billion.
General Motors spends the equivalent of $1,525 per car on employee health care. Smoking is a large part of the problem. Little wonder the company cannot make a profit.
Help is on the Way
From a Feb. 8, 2005, Wall Street Journal story by Jeremy W. Peters titled, “Company’s Smoking Ban Means Off-Hours, Too”:
OKEMOS, Mich. -- Warning: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your job.
That is what employees at Weyco, an insurance benefits administrator in this small central Michigan town, found out.
Under a new policy that legal specialists say is the first of its kind, Weyco began testing its 200 employees for smoking in January. And the company put workers on alert: In the future, they will be subject to random testing. If they fail, they will be fired.
Rather than take the mandatory breathalyzer test, four employees left the company.
And while Weyco’s strict no-smoking policy is drawing the ire of civil liberties groups, it is within the bounds of employment law in Michigan. The state is one of 20 that has no laws preventing employers from firing workers who smoke even when they are not at work.
Stephanie Armour of USA Today reported that Alaska Airlines instituted a no smoking policy for its employees and that a urine test is required to prove new hires are free of tobacco.
I am a loner. I work at home and have no employees.
But more and more I think it makes sense for corporations not only to have a no-smoking policy in the workplace, but a no-smoking policy period.
Takeaway Points to Consider
* Peter Jennings, who reportedly made $10 million a year, was diagnosed with cancer last April and immediately went off the air to begin treatment. Presumably he was on salary during the four months of his illness, so ABC was out more than $3 million. Further, it’s doubtful that Elizabeth Vargas and Charles Gibson were filling in for free.
* Although he never again went on the air, Jennings reportedly used to come in to ABC between treatments to give his input. One can only imagine the sadness and crimp in morale as this wonderfully urbane and elegant professional showed up, probably bald from chemo treatments and reminding everyone of their own mortality.
* A move is afoot in this country not only to ban smoking in the workplace, but also to require employees to be completely tobacco free.
* Think about it.
Letters to the Editor
In response to “A Celebration for Women Everywhere,” which was published on July 26, 2005:
I think there are some very legitimate reasons why many musicians of the Baltimore Symphony expressed concern with the selection of Marin Alsop as Music Director. The critical reviews of her performances and recordings have not been universally positive ... in fact, quite a few have been quite negative. The (few) recordings that I have heard conducted by Alsop have not impressed me, either.
I don’t believe that most U.S. musicians today apply a gender “filter” to their preferences. Of course, there have historically been many more women “superstars” among the ranks of violinists, cellists, pianists, etc. But there has also been acclaim for female conductors.
You mentioned Sara Caldwell as an earlier example -- and a good one at that. I know of another conductor -- right now -- who has received acclaim for her recordings. JoAnn Falletta is Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, an orchestra with a background and reputation that is arguably equal or superior to Baltimore’s (Michael Tilson Thomas was once Music Director there). Maestra Falletta was named to the BPO post several years ago. I find it quite interesting that the BSO (and Ms. Alsop’s?) PR flaks went to great lengths to characterize her appointment as a “first” for a major U.S. orchestra. Not only is that claim indefensible in light of the facts, it also betrays an emphasis on “gender” rather than musicianship as a key reason for the appointment -- despite claims of BSO orchestra management to the contrary.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
--Phillip Nones, with Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc.
In response to “Why Politicians Don’t Get No Respect,” which was published on August 2, 2005:
What is the average wage for a Pennsylvanian with a 4-year college degree and at least 20 years experience … we should compare apples to apples. Our legislators are educated, and experienced.
--Joan Bodenheimer (Borowsky), ALS
There is no guarantee our politicans will be more productive if we pay them more. Instead, let’s build them a dormitory and a low-cost 24-hour cafeteria (whoops, I think they already have the cafeteria).
Sorry, can’t join you on this one.
While reading today’s column, I kept waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” I thought this was some sort of “tongue in cheek” piece, and you would eventually get around to what is the common sense of it all. But you didn’t, and frankly I’m quite surprised.
Do you really think we should feel sorry for legislators who cannot budget six figure incomes when the average citizen has to get by on less than half?!!! How do you expect the average family to save for retirement and send a couple of kids off to college? Are they to be considered somehow less deserving simply because they aren’t lawmakers?
If you will refer to the original intentions of our forefathers (especially Jefferson and Adams) it was their belief that the legislators serve the state as an obligatory responsibility (without compensation) to those less capable or less fortunate - either by virtue of education or financial security, respectively.
Wouldn’t you agree that if Congressman and Senators are having difficulty paying their bills with six figure incomes, that they would certainly be more sensitive and considerate of how the majority of their constituents live?!!!
--Dan Vinal, with The WebPrez Company
You have put the legislative branch of our federal government in much needed financial perspective. It is said that, arguably, we Americans get the government we deserve. After reading your article, today, it is clear to me that we get the government we pay for.
--Steven Pell, with Timely Advertising
As always, your columns and points of view make interesting reading. To the point of politicians’ personal proclivities, I read the following blog a while back and thought that you might enjoy it:
“Can you imagine working at the following Company?”
It has a little over 500 employees with the following statistics:
* 29 have been accused of spousal abuse
* 7 have been arrested for fraud
* 19 have been accused of writing bad checks
* 117 have bankrupted at least two businesses
* 3 have been arrested for assault
* 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
* 14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
* 8 have been arrested for shoplifting
* 21 are current defendants in lawsuits
* 20%+ have been stopped for drunk driving
Can you guess which organization this is? Give up?
It’s the 535 members of our United States Congress. The same group that perpetually cranks out hundreds upon hundreds of new laws designed to keep the rest of us in line.”
Keep up the great work!
--Fred Lederman, with Tourbillon Ventures, LLC
Usually, I don’t agree with you on a lot of things … but your bit on Congressional pay today made a big point. DC IS very expensive and you can barely buy a house on a $130K income much less support two houses. I don’t see a problem with a state maintaining a residence for a senator/rep in D.C. ... heck, even a nice apartment. With the way housing values are rising, it might even be a good investment.
I wonder how one would go about raising the issue with a state legislature to get it done …
--Mary E. Tyler
This could have been your best article ever. Well said! I’m sending it to my Congressman.
--Bart Foreman, with Group 3 Marketing
I completely agree. Our representatives should be paid a whole lot more. However, that will require a huge effort to educate Joe Lunchbucket. He perceives anyone making $158,000 per yr (4+ times his $38,000) as already rich. If you can sell that one to the American people, you’ll have lots of support from Congress, the Senate and me.
--John Kennedy, with Hammerstone Direct
Apparently, Denny, you are not aware that we are now living in a fascist country, not a democracy, and if the U.S. Congress wants more money, they will vote for it. You could react at the next election, assuming the votes will be counted honestly. They won’t. When Congress votes for an energy bill that includes $8.5 billion in government handouts to energy companies who are already making record profits, and when they include a $1 billion handout for an energy consortium in Tom DeLay’s district, it should be pretty clear who they are working for. They are not working for the good of the American people, only for the good of the corporate elite. That’s what happens when big business runs government.
--Ron Castle, with Ron Castle Webs
(1) Pay legislators an attractive wage -- perhaps a really attractive wage -- so they can live in suffucient comfort to do their job ethically and diligently.
(2) Limit ALL legislative positions to one term (more than 2 years, no more than 6) so legislators can concentrate on the job at hand, not coddling to special interests who will help them get relected. Being a legislator should be a well-paid temporary assignment, not a career.
(3) Abolish all sweetheart pension plans and put government employees on the same 401-k and social security basis that real people have to survive on. Then watch how fast SS and income tax reform gets passed.
(4) I don’t mind that legislators can cash in as lobbyists or other “inside” experts after their term. It’s done in every industry. If you can accumulate enough expertise and reputation in one term to become a billable consulting expert for others, then more power to you.
--David Stalker, with Savory Sandwiches, Inc.
Very interesting article! However I disagree with your proposal to raise congressmen’s salaries in order to support two residences and their children in college--Congress is not a job to become rich. Salary is high enough as it is right now, especially when one takes into account amount of time our elected officials spend actually working as oppose to fundraising, as well as quality of product they produce. How about providing all congressmen free, state-owned apartments--something similar to a residence provided to the U.S. president. In case of congressmen, it would be an apartment building with around 600 or so one or two bedroom apartments. Each member of Congress would get a free place to live in Washington D.C., and it would solve a number of problems discussed in your article, including providing adequate security to the members of Congress. I believe our country can also afford meals for all our congressmen while Congress is in session.
I don’t mind these political public servants being paid a wage that is commensurate with their living needs for home and family. But I do object to their pension plan. And they have health plans given them that are better than most Americans. I believe that if every senator and congressman, etc., was given the benefits and the retirement plan of the AVERAGE American, and forced to do the kind of planning we all have to deal with in anticipation of social security and medicare, etc. being part of the picture, then the issues involved in public health and social security and even consideration of minimum wage would be dealt with more realistically.
--Carol Worthington-Levy, LENSER