Reuven Frank, Broadcast News Pioneer, Dies at 85
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Reuven Frank who for many years was president of NBC News died last night at age 85. Frank teamed David Brinkley and Chet Huntley to be co-anchors. He championed documentaries, pioneered the coverage of political conventions, and produced the offbeat Saturday night news magazine Weekend. In 1991 he wrote a memoir called Out of Thin Air, and he talked on this program about his unembarrassed enjoyment of working in TV news.
REUVEN FRANK: I have never apologized for working in television. I left a good newspaper job to go into it. If I had felt I had to apologize I wouldn't have gone into it. It is honest work. Why these people feel inferior to people from other media, or in other functions, I have never understood.
SIEGEL: In retirement, Reuven Frank wrote commentaries for this program and others. And for those lucky enough to meet him, he told stories. My favorite was from the days of sponsorship when he wrote the Camel Caravan of News for NBC in the 1950's. A news show sponsored by a cigarette company that placed some restriction on content.
Mr. FRANK: I was not allowed to use any picture that had a no smoking sign in it. I was not allowed to use a picture of a live camel, of the animal the camel.
SIEGEL: That wouldn't be a problem occurring very often but what was their objection to seeing a live camel on the news.
Mr. FRANK: Well to them a camel was this sweet-smelling cigarette endorsed by doctors and good for your T zone. And the real camel, as anybody who has been to a zoo knows, is a large and smelly beast that is likely to spit at your or kick you. The serious problem came in the proscription of any picture of a man smoking a cigar.
SIEGEL: That is someone smoking something other than a cigarette.
Mr. FRANK: Other than a cigarette, a cigar. They were not in the cigar business. And this was very difficult because at that time the most famous face in all the world was that of the former prime minister, the leader to victory, Winston Churchill. And Churchill's face always had a cigar in it. And if you could not use anybody smoking a cigar, you were going to miss some important news program, news story.
SIEGEL: You couldn't show a picture of Churchill.
Mr. FRANK: No, all, I guess occasionally you get a shot. But to do a story about Churchill, you could not do it without a cigar. So I went to the people I work for and I said, you can't do this. I mean, something has got to be done about it. And they were terrified. They were terrified, first of all because they were second-raters, and, otherwise they wouldn't have been in television. And, and also NBC had won this in a competition with CBS, and Camel paid enough for that program to run the entire television news department. So they did not want, no, nothing, nothing to jeopardize that.
And I said, well then I'll go down. I was the lowest man in the pecking order. I was the writer. And I said, I will go down to the agency and ask them. And I trotted myself down to 42nd Street, to the offices of the William Esty Company, and I said, look, you've got to give me some kind of dispensation on the cigar rule, otherwise I can't use Churchill and I can't run a news program. And without any argument he said, fine, okay. And I felt, you know, why all this stress, all this angst? And I thanked him and I headed to the door, and as I got to the door of his office, I was about to leave and he said, but only Churchill. I said how about Groucho Marx? He said no.
SIEGEL: So there was one cigar smoker permitted on your program.
Mr. FRANK: In the entire population of the earth at that time, I could show one of them smoking a cigar and no others.
SIEGEL: That's Reuvan Frank back in 1991. He died last night at the age of 85.
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