Big Birthday Memory #5: Ed Bradley – Fini Bi Bi 41 Years Ago Today

Ed Bradley 1 sized
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 9, 2006 – the last from this year.

Ed Bradley died today – of leukemia.  He was not a usual man — not at all.  Good, funny, gifted, fierce, loving and decent, he was a gentleman to the core. For two political convention seasons in the 80s I was his CBS News floor producer.  In the midst of one of them, his mother had a stroke and was very ill in Philadelphia.  She wouldn’t let him miss work though – insisted that he be on the convention floor every night.  The convention was in New York , so Ed drove to Philadelphia after we were off the air each night, sleeping in a limo on the way to Philly – spending the night and morning with his mother and then returning in the limo the next day.  He was there for her — and for his work, as she insisted that he be.

If you saw him on 60 Minutes, interviewing Aretha Franklin in the kitchen with a dish towel over his shoulder, chopping while they talked, or jamming with Aaron Neville, you saw another, wonderful Ed — no pretense, no baloney.  And if you saw him with his godchildren – daughters of the wonderful Vertamae Grovesnor, you saw yet another part of this wonderful man.

Frantic efforts to escape on the last US choppers to leave Vietnam 4/75
Frantic efforts to escape from the US Embassy roof on the last US choppers to leave Saigon 4/75

Somehow though, when I read the CNN Alert just an hour ago — what I remembered at once was that night in 1975, 41 years ago this month, when Saigon fell.  I was just back from maternity leave and alone on the overnight for the foreign desk at CBS.  As a long-time CBS correspondent in Vietnam, Ed was the last guy out — or just about.  What I can’t get out of my head is his account of walking down the deserted embassy hallway — where almost all the lights were out except one far down the hall — and his description of thinking of “the light at the end of the tunnel” — and then – as he signed off for the last time from Saigon – ending with the words of Saigon hookers “fini bi bi.”  I’m not sure I can describe the sensitivity and sadness of this report – but I do remember sending him an email “Ernie Pyle, move over.”

The thing is – he was at least as wonderful as he was gifted and as talented as he was dear. It’s just so sad to think of him gone and of such a miserable disease.  He’s leaving a beautiful legacy but that doesn’t make it OK.  Not at all.

Big Birthday Memory #1: My Mother’s Sisters

Wedding Pic Kalish GirlsNOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here.  Today -from June 30, 2007: the end of a generation.

They’re all gone now – my mom and my aunts. Here they are at the wedding of Barbara, the youngest, who died this week. My mom, Jeanne, the oldest, gone since 1998, is the one on the right – that’s my dad next to her. On the left side of the photo is Bettie, and my Uncle Jim.

Growing up in the Depression, they were wartime girls – my mom worked for the Office of Price Administration — the agency that controlled prices and tried to prevent gouging and war profiteering. She met my dad there – his hearing loss prevented him from active military duty so he fought unscrupulous businessmen instead. Bettie was in the WAVES. Barb, the youngest, came of age closer to the war’s end; her husband Bob was a Ranger, decorated several times.

The Depression had been hard on them. My grandfather was unable to bring in much. It was so traumatic that once, when Bettie started to talk about putting cardboard in their shoes to cover the holes, my mother cut her off. We were in a car, the three of us, and Bettie was just kind of spinning yarns. But to my mother she was raising things better left alone. I have always understood that these three sisters – so lovely and happy here — went through plenty. I also understood that they were not alone; no one their age was untouched by the Depression and the war.

I’ve come to realize over the years that my parents’ Depression experiences had a profound effect on me. Not only did I read menus from the price to the item – and check dangling price tags before examining clothing on a rack. That was the obvious stuff I inherited. Beyond it though was a sense of sadness for them all. My mother, who was an artist, got a scholarship in education, so she because a teacher. My father, who wanted to be an architect, got a scholarship to law school so he became a lawyer. My Uncle Bob was to be a veterinarian but his wartime injuries impaired his movement too much for him to be able to lift the animals so his dream died too. That was just how it was.

In some ways, they were the lucky ones; all three sisters and my father and uncles — were able, on scholarships, to go to college. All three marriages, despite tensions and tough times, survived with a real friendship between spouses for most of their lives. Each had three children who were smart, interesting, and self-sufficient. Even so, the bounty of choices they gave to us was so much more than they had had themselves. The young women in this photograph, and their husbands, never had the luxury of dropping out of school to campaign for Eugene McCarthy or majoring in music or theater or spending years doing trauma medicine a couple of months a year to pay for a life of mountain climbing and exploration. There was no give, no leeway, in the lives of those whom the Depression and the war that ended it – had stamped forever.

None of that shows here, of course. It’s a wedding. There’s no hint of all the scars the Depression had left on them, no hint of the loved ones and friends lost to World War II, no indication of the profound pain of watching a father who couldn’t support them and a mother who was permanently enraged. Nope. This was a wedding day and a lovely one at that. Tonight – well tonight I’m thinking of what it must have been like as the third sister, the baby sister, married. Who, I wonder, was missing – lost to the war. Who, I wonder, were the absent friends lost to the jolt of economic inequality when their parents retained a steady income and my grandparents could not. What are the stories my sisters and cousins and I will never know?

When we cleaned out my mom’s apartment I found the strangest thing: the Phi Beta Kappa key of the husband of one of my mother’s best childhood friends — a woman whose first husband had died early in the war. Why did my mother have it instead of her? What, if anything, had been between them when they were young? To me, the key is a symbol of all that was never said – the reserve of this brave and noble generation who didn’t want us to know how tough it really was. One picture and so many random thoughts — probably self-indulgently cobbled together here.

I’m writing this at the beach — the ocean slamming against the shore just steps away. This little barrier island on the Jersey shore has been a family destination since I was little –well more than 50 years — so I’m probably more available for all this nostalgia as memories rise up unfiltered on the sidewalks and sand dunes and ice cream parlors. But that’s not all it is; these thoughts are never very far away and when my sister sent this photo tonight many rose to the surface. I so wish I had asked more questions and said more often “You guys were great, so brave, so remarkable.”At my mothe’s funeral I said something to an old friend of hers about their role as “the Greatest Generation.” He laughed. “We weren’t great Cindy. We just did what we had to do. If you have to, so will you.”

Look at this photo and think of all that touched these young women and their families. If, as they did, we faced more than a decade of economic and political upheaval, wiould we be as strong, as determined?

So long girls. I know we always loved you, but appreciate all you were and all you never got to be? No we didn’t do that. At least not enough.

Grief, Prince, Bruce and a Lost Friend

This is one of just many musical tributes to the loss of a great artist and since it’s Bruce, it’s especially meaningful to me.

When a celebrity dies, the public memories of respected peers add a kind of emotional gravitas that helps all of us who love the mourner or the mourned – or both.

Personal loss. though, has a weight and impact hotter, sharper and deeper.

Sunday, we went to a “shiva,”a home memorial services held for a friend.  We’d met him and his wonderful wife on a cruise, sailed all through the Mediterranean and had a great time; we were so happy they lived nearby, especially since we  shared so much: they’d been married as long as we have, also had grown kids and grandkids and, it turned out, lived just across San Francisco Bay from us.

Gerri Larry tender fixed2
Gerri and Larry Miller Summer, 2015 Outside Gironda, Sp;ain

Larry was a blast to be around, intense, funny, smart and curious; he and his wife Gerri were a great pair and it was so very hard to see her grieving so intensely.

As I near my 8th decade with very little sense of age, I’m so aware of each loss of a peer and remember my dad telling me with astonishment every time one of his friends left us; it seemed to impossible to him.  Like so many other things, I understand this so much more now.

Of course it’s easier to grieve the loss of a public person, no matter how admired:  the sharp reality of a more personal one, deep feeling for his family and realigning of each memory of them, especially in the years that we become so much more aware of our own mortality, cuts and lingers so much more.


David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth

There’s a prophetic scene in the 1976 David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth; he’s in what looks like a control room with dozens and dozens of screens, each showing something different.  There he is – with his weird, lens-shaped
irises, clearly watching all of them at the same time.  lens

For years I’ve used that scene to describe kids growing up as our own digital natives.  Yesterday I was playing music on my iPad for my 16 month old grandson, and showing him how to do “play” with the arrow and “stop” with the double bars.   When I decided it was time to switch gears and got out a book to read with him he took it from me and began pushing on a big red picture of the sun and sliding his finger, looking genuinely bewildered that nothing moved.  We’ve all heard an apocryphal version of this story but I now no longer need SNOPES to know it’s real.  Digital native indeed.

So the visionary that was David Bowie transcended his amazing music – We Can be Heroes, it seems – and took prophetic risks in many ways in diverse venues.  He was beautiful and gifted and unique; despite his music, for me, it was his presence in this film that demonstrated the astonishing breadth of vision.

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Cancer, Courage and Rage

Cancer has taken so many people I’ve loved and admired. This new interview with two hugely admired and much-loved celebrities reminded me of how deeply it affects us all .  We know, in our heads, that the presence of beauty, courage, fame and an amazing marriage and family can’t keep the monster at bay.  Neither can being the most respected broadcast journalist of the past 30 years; Tom Brokaw had cancer too.  So did my husband, by the way.  Thankfully, they are still with us.  But it’s a roll of the dice, not fame or fortune, or even education, that’s made it so.

So why are we not all enraged?  Why do we refuse to keep this plague at (or at least near) the top of our agenda?  We face so much right now: attacks on women, racial tension, income inequality, climate change, declining education systems and infrastructure – fill in your own particular blank.  But no matter how we feel about any of these issues, we all grieve for those we’ve lost to cancer; we all long for their presence in our lives and know that it is just a lack of knowledge that took them from us.

No family is untouched; the lucky ones face it among older members but so many lose loved ones — family and friends, well before they’ve seen their children grow up, or get married or find their way in the world and before they’ve exhausted the gifts that brought so much to all of us.  I’ve been thinking about them a great deal recently, and have felt, for some time, a need to honor them once again here.  Many died before there was an Internet but I’ve added links where I could.

We were young journalists together:

Margot Adler

Mary Halleron

Mark Harrington

Joan Shorenstein

Teachers, mentors, friends:

Ed Bradley

Ed Hornick

Eden Lipson

Maggie Morton

Susan Neibur 

The Dearest:

Laurie Becklund

Bob Squier




My BB King Story – Farewell to Such a Lovely Man

BB King carried music in his hands and in his heart, joy at the sound of it and commitment to the making of it.  All you had to do was hear him for three minutes and you knew that.  And he faced down plenty to keep doing it. As the BBC tells it:

He played more than 300 gigs on the so-called Chitlin’ Circuit, the collection of performance venues in what were then racially segregated southern states where it was safe for black musicians to perform.

King said: “I have put up with more humiliation than I care to remember.

“Touring a segregated America, forever being stopped and harassed by white cops hurt you most ‘cos you didn’t realise the damage. You hold it in.”

I met him once, and the memory of that morning haunts me still.

It was, of course, when I worked at the TODAY SHOW (are you sick of those stories yet?)  I used to go in early to hang out in the green room when someone I admired was going to be there.  Of course, that included the morning BB was coming.  He arrived with his musicians – no entourage, no fuss.

That morning, the Canadian singer Anne Murray was also on the show, appearing earlier than Mr. King.   As we sat there quietly, watching the show, she told Bryant Gumbel that she was taking “a few months” off from her touring schedule to “recharge.”

King glanced up at the screen, looking sort of sad.  “A few months” he said. “I could never do that.  I can’t do that.” The disparity of income between blues musicians and the rockers they inspired was well-known, so much so that a foundation was established to help those who never made a dime from their royalties.

Even so, although he told the BBC in 2009, at the age of 83 “I can’t retire, I need the money,” I was never sure if his reason that day was money, or love of the road, but he said it with such longing, and with such an expression of regret, that I can see it right now.  Clear as day.

I will always love his music and love his spirit and humor and warmth, and be grateful for his legacy.    In my mind though, as he leaves us, it’s that peek into the life of a blues man – even a great one – as he made his way that I remember most.


My Friend Laurie: the Post I Never Wanted to Write

X Cindy and Laurie 2

“Inside you someplace” laughed my friend Laurie, “lives a 16-year-old boy!”  We were talking about cyber fiction; I was trying to explain my attraction to this geeky, otherworldly material to the only person who would really understand what I was talking about.

I’ve known her since the early 80s, when I produced her appearance on TODAY; she had come to discuss her masterful LA Times Salvadoran death squads series. Our friendship deepened in the years I lived in LA, her long-time home.  We were both major Web freaks.  After all,  both of our minds bounced around like the facts on the Web (often to the confusion of those with whom we were speaking.) We were struggling to, between us, get enough information to understand how this astounding Internet worked.  Laurie found The Electronic Cafe, an arts space in Santa Monica that hosted speakers ranging from the EP of The Legend of Zelda to the founder of Earthlink.  We were on our way. It was thrilling.

We never stopped talking when we were together – circling around topics, bouncing to other ones then back to the first — or third.  We never got lost and were always intoxicated by the messy exchange that was our conversation, sometimes joined by her husband Henry Weinstein and their daughter Elizabeth.

They were, Laurie called it, “a triad.”  From the beginning Elizabeth was an active partner in their lives; the “adult” events, the travel, the baseball, the cooking and, lucky for all of us, the time spent with parental pals.  The three of them were a beautiful thing.

When she decided high school journalists needed more resources, she founded, from sheer determination (i.e. with hardly any money) Associated Student Press, to help high school reporters learn the rules, skills and sheer joy of journalism.   I worked with her on a couple of their events, including a high school journalism convention, and it was so great; the kids loved it.   We did too.  I knew the depth of her affinity for teenagers because she had become a real friend and mentor, quite independent of us,  to our younger son.  It was a friendship he treasures to this day.  She and Henry came to his wedding.

Laurie Becklund died on February 8th of metastatic breast cancer.  She used every reporting skill she’d ever learned to locate experts, treatment and allies and I believe extended her life through her fierce determination.  In the past year, she applied that determination to advocacy for people with advanced disease and the need for “big data” tools to aggregate and parse new information and the effect of new treatments to help find trends and flaws in treatments, drugs and drug trials.  She also challenged researchers, in talks and in person  “We have the cells to help your research.  Use us.”  She called her campaign Use Us or Lose Us.

(I’m telling you about her post-newspaper years.  You can read about Laurie as an award-winning journalist here in this LATimes profile and other stories that will, I’m sure, keep coming.)

On the day she finally told me that her cancer had returned, Laurie sat in my car as we drove out of the driveway and said “Don’t put the sun visor down. I don’t want to waste any chances to look at the trees.” As I struggle to write this post, I think of that afternoon and her hunger for everything from a beautiful view to a cool new technology to visit to a new country to a personal story gleaned from a conversation.  She was full of courage and curiosity and loyalty; she was a gifted mother and wife and friend; she was — Laurie.

We are about to leave for Los Angeles for her memorial service.  I have been so haunted and sad; it’s very hard to write this.  I’m hoping to find some — some something — as we join what I know will be a crowd of people who Laurie, Henry and Elizabeth so generously included in their lives.  When I told one friend how sad I was, she wrote “I wish you comfort in your memories.”  Yes.

The traditional Jewish version is “May her memory be a blessing.”  That it certainly is.

This Just In: The Longer You Live, the Older You Are!

Banksy seniors
Banksy’s view of older folk


They look like big insects with wheels, those people with walkers and canes.  I pass so many of them on the streets.  Every time, it gets scarier.

“That’s OK” I tell myself, “Lots of them are really obese, many are clearly far far older or looking it and some are obviously dealing with life-long disabilities.  They need all those appliances.  I don’t.”  Even so, each time they pass I see, for the first time, not another species but a possible (perhaps inevitable) future.

We all age.  Our grandsons are growing so fast; miss a week and they seem transformed.  Our kids have somehow become men of 35 and almost 40!   Younger people are more willing to reveal their resentment of those of us from the 60’s and 70’s. (“We’re just bitter because the media spent our formative years (well, the teen and college ones) calling us slackers and then our entire generation got known as a waste of space. It’s still mean about us! I think we are the hardest workers who will work until we drop dead.”)

I understand what that means, even though I disagree with much of it.  I don’t mind the idea of aging; so far I’m pretty lucky in how I feel and what I can do and think and be.  Even so, I know it all turns on an illness, or a fall, or a loss of strength or hearing or sight.  I continue to see myself apart from those old people, but somewhere inside I know the truth.  I can’t hide from it forever.

We all get old.  We all change, sometimes decline and sometimes gain wisdom.  Boomer or Millennial, Gen X or Y – all of us move along the continuum no matter how much we fight it.   And no matter how long I sit here trying to finish this, I can’t find a way to make it any better.






Bruce Morton: a Master Journalist and a True Gentleman

CBS News camera platform at the March Against the Vietnam War, April 1971
CBS News camera platform at the March Against the Vietnam War, April 1971

Bruce Morton died yesterday.  He was a sensitive and deeply moral man.  He never raised his voice and when I asked him why he told me that he had seen so much violence when he covered the Vietnam War that he didn’t want to be responsible for inflicting any more – even verbally.  Those years had left a deep mark on him, but that reply was about as far as he would go in discussing it out loud.

He was smart too, and funny, and brilliant.  He won an Emmy for his coverage of the 1970 trial of Lt. William Calley for the 1968 My Lai Massacre.  It was tough for someone who had been so affected by the war to cover this tale of atrocities and shame, but he did it elegantly and well, as he did everything.

I learned so much from him; some of it really unexpected.  Once at a party in the studio for the guests who had appeared on a just-completed live broadcast, we got into a terrible fight about Lyndon Johnson.  I was part of the anti-war movement before I went into journalism and was only 23, as you can see in the photo of the two of us ( along with hundreds of thousands of marchers.)  I hated Johnson, blamed him for the war, of course, and had very little perspective on the rest of his history.

With the kind of passion I learned to expect from him but that was really scary then, Bruce ran the litany of Johnson’s Poverty Program, Civil Rights accomplishments and background and insisted that I take another look.  He was, of course, right.  Like every other story, this one had two sides and I had only seen one.  That never happened to Bruce.

He was really nice to me; he and his wife Maggie even hired me, since I was usually short of cash, to babysit for their two fabulous kids Sarah and Alec.  And their Great Dane. And their cats.  It was a real privilege to be invited into their very exciting lives and be trusted with their kids.  All those times are memories I cherish.

As I remember this lovely and remarkably talented man, (I once saw him ad lib a 1:30 live radio report and get it right, beautiful and to the second) I can’t do much better than our colleague Joe Peyronnin:

Bruce Morton was a brilliant political journalist, and a superb writer and reporter. He wrote a script faster than anyone I have ever known. His writing was imaginative, incisive and informative. We worked together at CBS News on many stories in the 70’s and 80’s, and got the scoop of the1984 Democrat Convention, that Walter Mondale had picked Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. Bruce was a truly remarkable man. RIP my friend.

The Normal Heart – a Kick in the Gut

HugOf course there’s no such thing as time travel.  Of course not.

The Normal Heart though, for anyone who was in New York in the 80’s, comes about as close as you can get.  We watched it after the Emmys.  I had avoided it, knowing how troubling it would no doubt be, but it felt wrong to not look.  Too many people had done that 30 years ago.  Here’s how one New Yorker described, to the New York Times,  Manhattan in May of 1987:

‘Going to funerals has become a way of life,” said George Getzel, a Hunter College social work professor who counsels AIDS patients as a volunteer. ”People in their 70’s and 80’s experience this but here people in their 20’s and 30’s are visiting the sick at homes and in hospitals and burying the dead. Some are themselves sick. It’s become a regularized aspect of the lives of gay men and others like myself who are involved.

The Normal Heart slammed me back to those days:

The day, when I worked at the TODAY SHOW, that my friend Susan Weaver did one of the first AIDS stories that included a live guest in the studio.  There was fear in the air that morning.  A couple of studio crew members asked to be replaced and people debated in advance whether to shake hands with the young man who had the courage to show up and talk about what was happening to him, to New York and, we know now, to all of us.

The day that Allison Gertz, who succumbed to AIDS in 1992 at the age of 26 (and who spoke at many high schools to very effectively remind teenagers that for her, AIDS came from a single encounter with an infected man and that heterosexual sex was anything but safe) spoke, with enormous impact, at my own son’s high school.

The day that our sweet friend Stephen left us.

The day one of my oldest friends told me that of his entire book group, he was the only survivor.

The day Elizabeth Glaser,  wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser, stricken through a blood transfusion during the birth of her daughter Ariel, who also contracted the disease, showed up at a Georgetown party lobbying and fundraising simultaneously.  Ariel’s illness drove Glaser to form the Pediatric Aids Foundation, later renamed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation in her honor.  She was everywhere, from Georgetown to Hollywood to endless television appearances, raising money and awareness until she died in 1994.

The day we watched Mark Harmon, the loveable, mischievous Dr. Caswell, walk away alone from the brilliant St. Elsewhere, his own AIDS diagnosis and certain death drawing him to an AIDS hospice to provide care until he died among his patients.

For everything here came days and weeks worth, years worth of deep melancholy and, for so many, pain, death and grief.    Because New Yorkers live so close together, ride mass transit, hang out in public parks, buy food from hotdog carts on the corner and, even if they’re really really rich, can’t stay clear of strangers, we all knew it, felt it and feared it.

Of course, AIDS is still with us, a terrible epidemic in the developing world, and still present in the West.  Here the reality is different today, if not entirely.

So yes, The Normal Heart was time travel; the gift of a perfect document reminding us, and portraying for those who came after, of a terrible, terrible time.