This spring, while a reporter from a Spokane TV station sat face to face with 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt, two Washington State University communications students waited quietly in the hall for their turn with the television legend.
Jamie Grosz, a senior who would soon be interviewing the CBS news veteran, used the time to run over her questions and switch into a pair of high heels for the on-camera interview. The cameraman, Brent Weisberg, started unpacking his equipment.
They weren’t missing much by waiting outside since the Spokane station interview covered many of same questions Hewitt had been answering over the past few years in the New York Times, on Good Morning America, and even in his own biography Tell Me a Story.
Trading quips with the professional reporter, Hewitt rattled off a few classics like the time he ticked off Frank Sinatra by allowing the interview to include his mafia ties and the time he urged Dan Rather to grab the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and run. After making the suggestion, Hewitt changed his mind and called the caper off.
A practiced story-teller, Hewitt didn’t drop out of his shtick until the two students and their teacher, Marvin Marcello, moved in around him. Then he seemed a little more thoughtful, a little more relaxed. Their questions focused on his reason for being there—to receive an award with Ed Murrow’s name on it for his lifetime achievement in the news business, as part of the Edward R. Murrow Symposium at WSU. Hewitt was very frank. Murrow wasn’t the easiest guy to be around. He was moody. He could be self-absorbed. But he was also “a giant, a guy apart,” Hewitt said.
“He was willing to wade in and take on a villain,” said Hewitt, while Weisberg delicately pinned a mike on him. “Ed taking on Joe McCarthy was a milestone in journalism.”
Murrow is very much alive in 85-year-old Hewitt’s memories, since he worked as a director and producer for him at CBS. He brought him to life for the two students.
Hewitt credits Murrow for inspiring him to develop 60 Minutes. “Some reporter called it low-Murrow and high-Murrow,” said Hewitt of Murrow’s two shows, Person to Person and the more serious and prestigious See it Now, on which a young Hewitt served as a director.
“It was not very well watched,” said Hewitt of See it Now. “It went off the air because it couldn’t compete with Amos and Andy.”
So when it came to creating his own news show, Hewitt had very clear ideas. “I decided to do high-Murrow and low-Murrow in one show,” he said, reverting to his classic line. “You can look into Marilyn Monroe’s closet, as long as you look into Robert Oppenheimer’s laboratory, too.”
As he wrapped up his interview with the WSU students, he offered one last piece of advice. “The story teller is just as important as the story,” he said. “Find people who can tell their own story better than you can.” Grosz smiled a little. She knew she and Weisberg had done just that.