Maury Z. Levy

Posts Tagged ‘tv news’

Jessica Savitch: ‘Please Don’t Send Me Panties!’

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on January 20, 2011 at 11:44 am


By Maury Z. Levy

Saturday is pink, which is only fitting. She is standing there in the middle of the newsroom, Jessica Savitch, somewhere in between Orien Reid and Al Meltzer, and she is flashing her panties.

Maybe this is not the most professional thing to do. Mort Crim doesn’t go around showing his jockey shorts in public. But then Jessica Savitch is still pretty young, 26, and pretty green—they fix that up with makeup.

The panties are a gift from an admirer in Allentown. There are a lot of them, admirers. There is even a whole Jessica Savitch fan club, people who do nothing but live for weekends at 6:00 and 11:00 on Channel 3 to watch her anchor the local news, people who sit there all week through four newscasts a day hoping to catch a glimpse of her reporting on a fire.

It has become a cult, almost. Jessica Savitch, in about a year and a half here, has probably gained the biggest following of any local female television person since Pixanne left. She did leave, didn’t she? Or maybe she’s doing Gene London’s show.

Anyway, she is holding up the panties, the different-colored ones that came in the plain brown wrapper, she is holding them up, all seven pair of 
them, and reading off the days of the week embroidered on them, which she already knew by heart. Don’t let that blonde hair fool you.

There is a card, a big one, that came with the gift. The guy from Allentown paid two and a half bucks for it. It’s your basic Hallmark foldout, but he’s written his own messages on it in pencil: “How would you like to spend a weekend at a ski resort with me? I love you much. I am very interested in marrying you.”

The panties were nothing new. They send her gifts all the time, these people. One Christmas, some guy sent her five $100 bills and didn’t bother to sign the card. “I’ve enjoyed you all year,” he wrote, “and I just wanted to thank you. Please buy something nice 
for yourself.” Jessica Savitch gave the money to charity.

She says she doesn’t understand a lot of this, how she has become the sex symbol of the ’70s to a lot of people in Cherry Hill and Chestnut Hill and at least one guy from Allentown. She appreciates it and she resents it. Jessica Savitch, who has a very pretty face, is not just another pretty face. In 
fact, she’d even give you an argument on the pretty part.

“I’m a very flawed person,” she says. “I’ve got this lisp. People in television are not supposed to have a lisp. I have a very square jaw and my 
skin breaks out terribly and my hair 
just never lies flat and my front tooth 
is chipped.” She forgot to mention that her legs are skinny, which is why she never wears dresses.

But somehow the way it all falls together is enough to knock you over.

She didn’t always look this good.
She used to purposely tone down her 
act, because if she came on too much like the blonde bombshell, people would only talk. They’d say she got 
her job by flicking her eyelashes or dating the program director. The raps are nothing new. She’s got a lot of things going against anybody recognizing the real talents she has—the brains, the imagination, the drive, the on-camera presence in a medium that has been dominated by men.

“I had no one to emulate,” she 
says. “Who did I have to try to be 
like? Walter Cronkite? John Facenda? Read the rest of this entry »

We Interrupt This Issue To Bring You An Eyewitness News Bulletin

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on September 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm


THIS LATE FLASH HAS JUST BEEN HANDED TO US: On February 17th, during a prime ratings week, Mort Crim left the country. It was announced that Crim was on “medical leave of absence.” Station officials said he was sick. Inside sources said he was sick, all right—sick of station officials.

We now join our story, already in progress.

3:28 PM SOON IT WILL BE DARK, and at night, when all the tungsten stars are strung out in the firmament of Tinsel Town, and the lights of the 40-watt successes beam red across the Delaware to all the ships at sea, then it will be cold and soon it will be dark and then morning will follow by a probability of 50 percent, depending on the isobars in Iowa.

It is Thursday, the 23rd of January, 1974, a day not unlike all other days, a day that will be filled with turning points and colored ketchup. And here on Independence Mall East, at what used to be known as 5th and Market, in a brown brick building decorated with long black chains, there is a meeting in the Eyewitness Newsroom, the newsroom of the news team that has been rated number one in Philadelphia for a whole three months in a row now. The notice for the meeting is written in pencil on the back of a sheet of white paper Scotch-taped to the door.

It is a small room, the newsroom, much too small and instantly obsolete for a building so new. It was supposed to be bigger. But then the city planners came along and looked at the plans and said no, no, the lobby for this pri­ son has to be much bigger to fit in all the ladies in the pillbox hats who’ve come to see Mike Douglas. There had to be a cut made somewhere. And so, to make the lobby larger, they cut the newsroom in half.

There is the news director’s office, which is mostly glass, and there are five rows of desktops, separated by five partitions into ten cubicles with 20 chairs. There are small, semi-private offices in back of them, small enough that three people can’t stand in them at once and not face the danger of a sexual encounter. They have no doors, just these tacky blue and white plastic accordion closures they got on sale at Two Guys. Jessica Savitch and Marciarose and Al Meltzer live here.

In a room off to the side, a room with a real door, is the shared office of Vince Leonard and Mort Crim. It used to be the film editing room. Before that it was headquarters for the staff of the Marciarose Show, which no longer exists.

Most of the field reporters are in from their assignments by now. They’ve all stopped by to talk to Don Shoultz, a man with a green shirt and a polyester tie who produces the 5:30 news, and then to Jim Boyer, a man with a white shirt and a silk tie, who produces the 6 o’clock. Both of them are working on their rundown sheets, trying to figure out all the news that fits. The newsroom is alive with a calm panic now. Faceless voices are yelling out of a squawk box that connects to the editing room upstairs. The art department needs some description for the chroma-key slides.

“Anybody ever been to the Oxford Valley Mall?” Carl Ward, who produces the 11 o’clock news, yells. “What kind of place is it? We’ve got a murder there.” An intern says that she has shopped there once and that it is a pretty decent place. The art treatment will reflect that research.

“Who’s handling the mall murder?” a voice from editing asks.

“It’s me,” Robin Mackintosh says, “Captain Suburbs. That and five other stories.” He sits down at his typewriter and starts talking to himself.

Jessica Savitch has just blown in from an interview with Alice Cooper for a rock and roll series she’s doing. Before she sits down to write her half of Newswatch 5:30, she stands in front of Marciarose’s mirror and brushes her hair and touches up her makeup. “I don’t understand it,” she says, frowning at the blonde in the mirror. “All this work and that’s still not Faye Dunaway in there.”   Read the rest of this entry »

John Facenda: When Times Were Tough

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on September 9, 2009 at 8:19 pm

By Maury Z. Levy

The Italians call it polenta. And if you mix it up really 
good with a big heavy spoon, you really can’t tell what 
it is. Which is probably better because all that mattered 
was that it went into your stomach and that it filled you 
up and that it kept you warm.

In the later days, when times were good, they would 
make it with bits of pork and bits of sausage and bacon 
and things like that. And real milk. But that was a good 
time off. In 1934, in West Philadelphia, on Chancellor 
Street near 55th, they mixed it with water and leftovers 
and bits of scrap they stole from the dish of the dog. But 
you couldn’t afford to stop and think about where it came 
from or what was in it. Only that it kept you from going 
hungry and that it was cheap. A lot of this doesn’t mean 
anything if you were born in the past 30 years or so. Sure, maybe the new Depression has you worried about 
the price of meat. The people who lived in this town, or 
tried to, back in 1934 didn’t worry much about the price 
of meat. Actually, meat wasn’t expensive. But it didn’t 
really matter, because when you’ve got no money in the 
first place, when you’re forced to steal a couple of lumps of coal to keep the furnace going, when you’re the 75th 
guy in the soup line and the kitchen closes in 20 minutes, 
you tend not to worry about such worldly things as the 
price of meat.

A lot of people suffered in 1934; they suffered from a 
lot of things. They were bad times, times a lot of people 
would like to forget but can’t because growling stomachs 
leave scars. And just in case you think you’re having it 
really rough now because the price of gasoline for your 
second car has doubled, maybe it wouldn’t hurt you to 
look at some of the pictures that follow, or listen to a 
report of the times by a man whose reporting has made 
him a legend in Philadelphia, a man who lived through 
and worked through and managed to survive 1934 and 
the few years before and the many years after.

JOHN FACENDA WAS GOING to school then, to school at 
Villanova on a scholarship because that was the only way 
he could afford it. His father, an engineer, a professional 
man, wanted his son to be one, too. But Facenda’s voice 
became his profession. He was destined to become the top 
newsman in town at WCAU. But then, to earn some pocket money and to help 
keep some polenta on the table, he was working two jobs while he was going to school. He figures he put in a good 
90 hours a week between the old Public Ledger and his first announcing job at wit’. He was making $18.75 a week 
in radio. He remembers it well. Reporting the strike stories, the labor violence, 
the political convention. He worked hard for his money, for his $18.75. 
”Today,” he says, “a booth announcer 
makes that much for saying ‘Sears sale starts tomorrow.'”

Facenda remembers the bad times and the good times, but mostly the bad 
times. And how people rallied to make 
them good. “It was the most difficult 
thing in the world,” he says, “although 
nobody really thought that they were 
poor because everybody else was in the 
same boat. It wasn’t a question of any 
disparity between a Cadillac and a push cart. It seemed that everybody 
had the push cart.”

Facenda says that one of the things 
that impressed him most as a boy 
growing into manhood was how hard 
it must have been for parents in those 
days. “To go to bed not knowing what 
you were going to put on the table 
the next day for the kids. And to wake 
up the next morning realizing there 
wasn’t enough food to go around, I can even remember my Read the rest of this entry »

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