Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Path Not Taken

Nicholas Kristoff’s column in the February 16 edition of The New York Times about the irrelevancy ograduationf academic scholars in the national discussion has set off quite a conversation among my academic friends on social media. His point is that the academy contains some of the greatest minds in the world today, but too many of them have voluntarily removed themselves from taking part in a larger discussion in the national arena and marginalized or even punished their colleagues who do.

He quotes Will McCants, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution: “academics frown on public pontificating as a frivolous distraction from real research. This attitude affects tenure decisions. If the sine qua non for academic success is peer-reviewed publications, then academics who ‘waste their time’ writing for the masses will be penalized.”

Even worse, the International Studies Association executive council proposed that its publication editors be barred from writing personal blogs like the one you’re reading now. As Kristoff writes, “The association might as well scream: We want our scholars to be less influential!”

As someone who works for a public history educational institution, I have a large stake in this conversation. The Georgia Historical Society bridges the gap between the academy and the public, taking the sometimes-esoteric findings of the profession and making them accessible, understandable, and relevant to a larger public. As Senior Historian, it’s my job to make sure that happens, and it’s a role I’ve come to relish. We try to incorporate the latest in cutting-edge historical research in everything we do, from public programs, to K-12 and college and university teacher training, historical markers, and the Today in Georgia History program. It’s one of the reasons that I write this blog. (That and it’s just so much fun.)

I spoke to the Rotary Club of Savannah last week about the controversy over removing statues and monuments and was introduced as, among other things, a “public intellectual.” Far be it from me to claim such a distinction, but I’m glad if others see me that way. It tells me that they do in fact see me playing a public role and contributing in a meaningful way in the discussion of issues and debates of our time. I have worked hard over the last 15+ years to build a respectable public history resume that demonstrates engagement with my peers in public history and in the academy, and with the public at large.

And I am unashamedly a public historian. When strangers ask me what I do for a living, I usually tell them I’m a historian, specifically a public historian. Not a professor, not a teacher, not an academic, but a public historian (though public historians are of course teachers). What does that mean? In the simplest of terms it means I get paid to think, talk, read, write, and talk about history in the public arena on behalf of an educational institution that has for its mission teaching the public about the past in order to create a better future.

I say “unashamedly” because when I finished my Ph.D. in history the University of Florida (pictured above) I was expected to get a job in the academy and teach and publish. When I didn’t, there was a palpable sense of disappointment among some of my professors, past and present. Not, I should say, among my UF peers—the men and women I went to grad school with there are among the finest minds and best people in the world.

grad mates

Chris Olsen, Dan Kilbride, Mark Greenberg, me, Glenn Crothers (with son Colin), and Andy Chancey, November 2002

In fact, let me take a moment to give a shout-out to the Band of Brothers that I entered UF with in the fall of 1990, all gainfully employed in various jobs in history and the humanities: Andy Chancey, Glenn Crothers, Mark Greenberg, Dan Kilbride, and Chris Olsen. Andrew Frank and Lisa Tendrich Frank followed a couple of years later, and collectively they are some of the best historians I know—and seven of the best friends I am ever likely to have. They have all gone on to distinguish themselves in the profession and I’m proud to say that we always supported and encouraged each other in a way that I knew even then was unusual in the cut-throat world of academia.

From many others former colleagues and professors and from new acquaintances I’d meet at professional meetings, I kept getting the same questions in the years after graduation: when are you going to get a real (aka academic) history job? When are you going to come back to doing “real” history? It didn’t seem to matter that I had a job working in Savannah, one of the most beautiful places in the world, in a job that made me very happy. I wasn’t in the academy, doing “real” research, writing monographs, teaching undergrads, and there was a sense that I was wasting the training I had received. I was often treated by other professional historians in the academy condescendingly as the proverbial red-headed stepchild.

That isn’t the case anymore, I’m happy to say. Public history jobs are as desirable as academic ones in the ever-shrinking humanities job market, though there will always be those who turn their nose up at anyone working outside the academy or at those who seek to reach a wider audience beyond specialized journals and monographs.

For me personally, the rewards of the job after almost 16 years have far surpassed anything I could have imagined when I first started working at the Georgia Historical Society. I was hired to direct programs and publications, which at first meant planning and implementing our lectures and meetings and assisting with the editing and production of the Georgia Historical Quarterly. The job has happily grown far beyond that.


With GHS colleagues Laura Garcia-Culler and Todd Groce, 2009

Through the years I’ve been fortunate to be able to shape the job in ways that have made it uniquely my own. I’ve dropped many of the duties that I first had while picking up others along the way. As Senior Historian, I serve as the chief academic officer of the institution, responsible for ensuring the scholarly quality and integrity of our brand  through all of our educational initiatives, including public programs, publications, historical markers, teacher training initiatives, and public outreach.

If that sounds like the boiler plate off my job description, it is. But here’s what it means, directly relevant to the topic under discussion here: Above all else, it’s my job to make sure we’re connecting with a larger public in three important ways: 1) educating the public about the importance of history and the role it plays in our contemporary culture and society, 2) the role that GHS plays in serving as a bridge between the academy and the public and 3) how GHS serves as a national research center that facilitates the ongoing study of the past in order to ensure a better future.

bob schieffer

With Bob Schieffer of CBS News, 2006

None of this is what I thought I’d be doing when I was interviewing for academic jobs as I finished my dissertation. I thought I’d be teaching a heavy load of classes, grading blue books, and serving on various committees. Not that I would have minded any of that. I enjoyed doing all of it as a grad student and got great teaching evaluations from my students. But as a public historian, I’ve been able to do things and meet people in this job–writers, journalists, broadcasters, politicians, sports figures, entrepreneurs, Supreme Court justices, musicians, actors—that would have seemed impossible when I began. And very improbable if I’d followed the traditional path. I’ve been able to grow professionally in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

From the beginning of my tenure here at GHS in 1998, I’ve been fortunate to work for a boss, Todd Groce—himself a published, professional historian—who never minded when I got the spotlight and the publicity as long as I was making the Georgia Historical Society look good. And he understood that the more we were all out there, talking to and engaging with a larger public, the better history and GHS were being served.

Consequently, from the moment I arrived here I starteOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAd doing public speaking and haven’t ever stopped, becoming along the way the public face of a public history educational institution. I’ve spoken to every group imaginable at meetings, dinners, and luncheons, hosted televised round-table discussions, directed a half-dozen National Endowment for the Humanities summer workshops that trained hundreds of college and university professors from all over the country, written dozens of historical markers, helped with fundraising and donor cultivation, assisted with manuscript recruitment for our research center, conducted oral histories, and written editorials and book reviews for newspapers and other publications, including here in this blog.

And it was my supreme good fortune to serve as writer and host for Today in Georgia History when that opportunity came along, which garnered two Emmys. All of it has been enormously rewarding professionally and I’ve had a blast doing it.

I think Kristoff has missed the mark about my colleagues in the academy, too. They are almost all engaged in the larger community outside the walls of academe, and they use social and broadcast media to do it.

Karen Cox

Karen Cox

Some examples among people I know, all interested in different subjects: my friend Karen Cox at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, on her blog PopSouth: The South in Popular Culture, recently highlighted eight different blogs (including this one) being written by professional historians, and hers is one not to be missed.


Stacey Robertson

Stacey Robertson serves as Oglesby Endowed Professor of American Heritage and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Bradley University in Illinois. She writes about her work on women abolitionists and their meaning in contemporary culture, among many other things, at

Dan Kilbride

Dan Kilbride

My former grad-school mate Dan Kilbride, now at John Carroll University in Cleveland, is host of the webcast New Books in American Studies, a consortium of podcasts that introduces new scholarly books to a larger audience. Check out Dan’s latest interview with Michael O’Brien, editor of The Letters of C. Vann Woodward (which I reviewed here) and his own webpage for other interviews.

heather thompson

Heather Thompson

No scholar I know is more heavily engaged with the public than Heather Thompson at Temple University, whose findings about the historical and cultural implications of mass incarceration have landed her on nearly every media outlet in the country. She’ll be even more widely seen and heard when Pantheon Books publishes her new account of the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and how it still reverberates in American society.

doug egerton

Doug Egerton

Finally, Doug Egerton, who teaches history at Le Moyne College in New York and serves on the editorial board of the Georgia Historical Quarterly, has spent his career speaking and writing for a broad audience. His recent editorial in the New York Times on the controversial Denmark Vesey statue in Charleston is a model for what all of us should be doing in both local and national media when we can.

All of these scholars, and many others too numerous to list here, are also on Facebook and Twitter.

The truth is, all professionally trained historians have a responsibility to talk to a larger audience, no matter where we work—on college campuses, libraries, in museums, national parks, or historical societies. There is a great hunger for history out there, and it is readily available now on the internet, but so much of it is just plain bad. Indifference about engaging a larger public isn’t just ignorant, it’s dangerous. All of us, in and out of the academy, have a responsibility to be engaged with a larger public because we cannot afford to cede the ground to others who would willfully distort the past for partisan ends.

Americans revere their history, but they need to get that history right, and they need trained, credentialed professionals to help them understand not history as some wish it had been, but as it actually was, based upon sound research in credible primary sources. It’s one thing to examine the evidence and come to disagreement over what it means. That’s the very essence of education. It’s another thing entirely to fabricate history out of whole cloth, like the myth of black Confederates. No one will ever be served by a pejorative, factually inaccurate distortion of the American past.

And the internet, as we all know, is full of self-anointed authorities. As writer Alexander Chee said in a recent New York Times editorial about everyone and anyone “contributing” to on-line encyclopedia articles, the belief that we all have a right to our own opinions has given way to a larger cultural problem, the belief that we also have a right to base those opinions on misinformation. As he put it, “I believe all information should be as democratically available as possible, but I’m averse to it being democratically produced.”

If we can ground our history in good, modern, sound and credible scholarship, that is the best foundation of all. And the best answer of all. All of us in the academy and in public history have a responsibility to engage with the wider world. No more turning our collective noses up or looking down on each other. Let’s join together and make our voices heard.

Everybody Complains About the Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It

20140129_atlanta_snowstormAs I write, Atlanta is bracing for the second fall of snow in the last two weeks, and after the debacle last time, the nation is watching to see if city and state leaders are any better prepared for the latest few inches/avalanche/ice storm. Most Atlantans seem to have made it easier on them by simply staying at home and off the roads before the first snowflake even falls.

It’s very easy to poke fun at Southerners and what happens when it snows on them. I myself, born and raised in metro Atlanta, have been doing it all my life. Unlike most Southerners I know, I actually like cold weather. It’s so hot down here for most of the year —particularly in Savannah, where I live now—that when it does get cold, I enjoy it.

And it never lasts very long. Winter here in Savannah would pass as a mild autumn everywhere else. I absolutely detest—detest—hearing a meteorologist say in winter that “It’s going to warm up nicely!” We get enough of that during the other 9 months of the year, and we’re not going to get any correspondingly cold days in August to make up for warm January days. Let it stay cool for a day or two. Give us a chance to break out those sweaters or LL Bean fleece jackets we never get a chance to wear.

True, we very rarely get really, really cold weather—like single digits—but everything is relative. When you’re used to 90 degrees, 50 is chilly. 30 is really cold. The teens are frigid. All of it—cold temperatures, snow, ice—happens so rarely even in the coldest months that when it does, our bodies, our roads, and our psyches just aren’t prepared for it.

Few Southerners I know have the proper clothes for really cold weather, and many times in the winter you have to bundle up even indoors. I live in a house that is over 60 years old, and believe me when I tell you that no builders in the early 1950s in Savannah were spending any money on insulation for the walls and floors. When outside temps dip into the 30s, the house turns into an icebox very quickly and the heater struggles to keep it in the 60s inside.

Even most Southerners who don’t like cold weather, however, still get excited at the prospect of snow. It happens so rarely in our lives that it’s like Christmas for small children. The best snowfalls are those that come in after midnight but before morning: everyone’s home from work and school, off the roads, snug in bed and warm (if the power doesn’t go out) and you awake to a winter wonderland.

It means missing school or work for a few days, maybe playing outside in it if enough snow falls, and because it warms up so quickly, we never have to shovel it, salt it, scrape it, or plow it. Hold your breath and it will be gone in 48 hours. During some weeks in February in some towns in the South you can play in the snow on Monday and go to the beach on Friday during the same week.

Part of the fun—and terror—of snow in Georgia is that Atlanta TV stations now cover the “storm” as if it was the D-Day invasion. It’s non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage that can only be possible in the age of the 24-hour news cycle:

“Channel 2 Action News reporter Sandra Slushy reporting live from Cobb County, where businesses and stores remain closed and nothing is happening. Now out to Dolph Dutlinger in Gwinnett. Dolph?”

“Thanks Sandra. As you can see from the streets behind me, nothing is happening. Residents here have been indoors since the last storm ended two weeks ago just in case such a terrible thing ever happened again. And we at Channel 2 Action News have been reporting live 24-hours a day since the last storm ended, ramping up anxiety and fear about the 2 inches of snow that might, indeed, one day fall again here in Georgia, and the chaos that would ensue if such a thing ever did happen. Now on to Dekalb County, where reporter Lotta B. Essen has confirmed reports of nothing happening there either.”

And on and on and on for hours. At that point you wish the power would, indeed, go out.

There have been three major winter storms of historic proportions in Georgia in the last 40 years (before the most recent, which I would argue wasn’t a bad storm, just bad timing and planning): the ice storm of 1973, SnowJam ’82, and the Storm of the Century in 1993.

snowjam 82The storm of 1982 was virtually unprecedented for the Deep South because the temperature had been in the 20s for days before the snow arrived on Tuesday, January 12. Every snowflake, as we say, stuck. The ground was frozen solid long before over 6 inches of snow fell that afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. without much warning at all—no internet, no Weather Channel—and the commute home that day was, for many Atlantans, the worst of their lives–until January 28 of this year.

I say that the storm arrived without much warning, but here’s the other thing about Southerners and snow—it doesn’t matter how much warning you get, you never actually believe it’s going to happen. If you grow up in the South, you are tantalized too many times by the threat—or promise, if you’re young—of snow, only to have it turn to rain or, worse, sunshine when the big moment comes. So a Southerner’s first instinct is just to ignore winter storm warnings because they usually turn out to be nothing.

In 1982, I was a senior in high school and got sent home early that afternoon from my after-school job delivering office supplies. Most other commuters didn’t, and by the time they all ran out of their offices at the same time to start driving home on the already-frozen roads, disaster struck. Snowjam 82 had begun.

My brother Jeff picked that afternoon to go shopping at Lenox Mall, and when he walked outside to come home—a drive that might normally take an hour in bad traffic–there were already several inches on the ground. It took him over 8 hours to get home that night, and the only reason he made it was due in large part to the front-wheel-drive Honda he owned. He managed to creep along, driving through ditches and around abandoned cars and never stopped. With no cell phones then, we didn’t know where he was until he drove up the driveway and into the arms of my frantic mother shortly before midnight. He was one of the lucky ones. Most drivers had to abandon their cars or sleep in them.

storm of the centuryTemps that night dropped into the teens and stayed there for days, followed by more snow, and it was a week before life returned to normal. Typical up North, of course, but very unusual for Georgia.

On Saturday, March 13, 1993, the “Storm of the Century” dumped up to 17 inches of snow on some parts of metro Atlanta, which was, needless to say, record-breaking. It was all gone in two days, however, and unlike the storm of ’82, this one arrived late on a Friday night and into the wee hours of Saturday morning and didn’t disrupt life very much.

Icestorm73Not like the ice storm of 1973. On Sunday, January 7, a cold rain started falling and quickly turned to ice. First limbs and then pine trees and power lines started falling all over Atlanta, turning roads into an icy mess and leaving hundreds of thousands without power and heat. Out in Snellville, my family huddled in the darkness without power, listening to limbs crack and trees fall, waiting for one to hit our house. My parents lost almost 20 pine trees on less than one acre, leaving a mess of epic proportions for us to clean up. But miraculously, not one of them landed on our house.

One other thing I remember about that ice storm: dragging pine limbs out of your yard is hard, heavy work; dragging pine limbs out of your yard that are covered with frozen pine needles is very hard, heavy work.

So Southerners don’t deal with bad winter weather very well. No surprise. We simply don’t get it very much.

I mentioned that un-insulated houses can get cold in the winter. The same is true in reverse in the summer of course: with no insulation, even the best air-conditioners can barely cool the inside air to more than 20 degrees less than outside. That can get uncomfortable in a hurry.

Which leads me to observe that while Southerners may go off our collective coconuts when it snows, we are used to heat, and lots of it. Not so in other parts of the country.

It’s always amused me that in the summer, when the mercury hits 90 degrees for two consecutive days in Chicago or New York, it makes the national news. People actually start dying from the “heat.” Residents are urged to use caution when moving around outside, told to drink lots of fluids and not to over-exert themselves, and should check on elderly neighbors who may be shut-in.

Hot weather is worse on our Northern friends, they tell us, because they aren’t “used to it,” and don’t deal with it well because often their homes and businesses don’t have air-conditioners because most of the time “they don’t need it” and it’s not worth the financial investment.

Does that sound familiar? That’s what we say about snow: we don’t get it much or aren’t used to it when we do, and we don’t spend money—our own or taxpayer funds–on snow plows or snow shovels because we don’t need them.

Needless to say, it doesn’t make the national news when the thermometer hits 90 degrees in Savannah. It can do that in mid-February and stay there till you’re singing Olde Lang Syne.

Stay inside? Even as the heat index on some days soars past 110, roofers continue working on dark-shingled roofs, street pavers continue laying down black asphalt, and everyone routinely endures temperatures for 6 months that would blow the power-grid of the entire northeast if it had to endure it for more than two days. It’s not uncommon to go to bed at midnight with the temperature still past 90. And it never makes the national news.

floodingThen there’s the bonus: oppressive heat usually leads to torrential, monsoon-like afternoon rains here that can drop 5 inches of rain on the city in 15 minutes during the afternoon commute. Schools are not cancelled and businesses don’t get out early. We drive through it and around it.

If that happened in some places farther North during rush hour it would bring the city to a standstill and would be known forever after as “The Great Rainstorm of ’14.” It happens here 3 times a week for months on end without comment.

The other thing that won’t make the news: the stultifying humidity and the ever-present gnats and mosquitoes that can turn lowcountry summer evenings outside into a tortuous exercise in survival.

thermometerWorking out in your yard on a July evening, for instance, when the temperature has finally dipped to oh, say, 93, is an experience that cannot be adequately described. It simply has to be felt. Why gnats are drawn to your ears I don’t know (moisture?) but trying to keep both hands on the lawn mower while they cover your ears, mosquitoes devour your extremities, and sweat drips into your eyes can be a level of hell that even Dante never imagined.

As a historian I’ve read a lot about the “hardy New Englanders” who endured the harsh winters to settle in the Northern climes, but I can only imagine the fortitude it took to endure the 18th-century lowcountry summers without air-conditioning, fans, or screened windows. Simply drawing your next breath would have earned you a Purple Heart.

So while the snow falls, flake by flake, on our friends in Atlanta now, it’s easy to giggle about their over-reaction and the media’s hyper-ventilating over a little inclement weather.  Some might gloat over the fact that our northern neighbors will still be working their snow-shovel muscles in April while we’re all working on our tans, but I’m not one of those. Remember, I like cooler weather, and I dread the coming of heat and humidity the way some folks dread a thermometer below 50.

It’s 36 degrees outside, cold, and rainy right now in Savannah, and I love it. Pardon me while I run outside to enjoy this beautiful weather. If I don’t dash out now, by the time I finish this post it may be 85 and sunny. Who needs that?

Worth Reading: Cronkite

book cover cronkiteCronkite. By Douglas Brinkley. Harper Collins, 2012, 819 pp., $35.

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 o’clock p.m., Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock, Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.”

Last week I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination that America commemorated last November. Among all the moments that linger from that day in Dallas, there is another iconic image that has entered into our collective historical consciousness: that of Walter Cronkite sitting at his anchor desk at the CBS studios in New York, overcome with emotion as he announced President’s Kennedy’s death to a shocked and startled nation. Cronkite taking off his glasses and blinking back tears remains for an entire generation one of the most-remembered moments from that awful day and one of the most famous pieces of television theater in the history of the medium. (

Iwalter-cronkite-JFKmagine now to find out that “Uncle Walter” staged the whole bit with the glasses, as Douglas Brinkley tells us in this new biography of the broadcasting legend. November 22, 1963, cemented Cronkite as presiding media king of America’s booming television empire. He metaphorically held the nation’s hand during those four excruciating days through Kennedy’s funeral, and when it was all over he was on his way to becoming the “Most Trusted Man in America.”

It’s hard now, given all the television, satellite, cable, and internet viewing choices we have and the proliferation of social media, to remember or appreciate what it was like for millions of Americans to turn on their TVs each evening and invite the anchormen at the Big Three into their dinner hours. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley ruled on NBC (and beat Cronkite in the ratings till 1967), with Howard K. Smith and later Harry Reasoner at ABC. Even when I was in journalism school at the University of Georgia in the mid-1980s, the mantra was “hear it now [radio], see it tonight [TV], read it tomorrow [newspapers].” First CNN, then the internet and now the smart phone have made all of that obsolete.

CBS_Evening_News_with_Cronkite,_1968But in post-World War II America, no one was more trusted or relied upon to tell Americans “that’s the way it was,” and for many Baby Boomers, Walter Cronkite was America. From the launch of the Telstar satellite, through Sputnik, JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, no other media figure commanded the authority or the trust that Cronkite did as CBS reporter from the mid-1950s and as anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981.

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, this book is chock full of the faces and voices we all knew and loved: Cronkite, Roger Mudd, Eric Severeid, Douglas Edwards, Charles Collingwood, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Connie Chung, Leslie Stahl, Bernard Shaw, Barbara Walters, Charles Kuralt, Andy Rooney, right up to Brian Williams, the current NBC News anchor who revered Uncle Walter and had a special relationship with him. For an old news junkie like me this book was a feast.

edward-r-murrowBrinkley details Cronkite’s rise from Kansas City and United Presser scribe through World War II to the top of the media mountain as the revered CBS newsman. Most interesting to me was his volatile relationship with the legendary Edward R. Murrow and his later fierce competition for interviews with Barbara Walters at ABC, whom he did not at first take seriously.

Cronkite hadn’t been one of Murrow’s Boys during World War II, and the fiercely competitive and territorial Cronkite was never beholden to Murrow once he went to work at CBS. Murrow was good on CBS specials with a script and the ever-present cigarette in his hand, exposing Joseph McCarthy or some other corrupt politician, but Cronkite was better on the fly, as he proved repeatedly at political conventions, NASA rocket launchings, and especially on the day of Kennedy’s assassination. No one was smoother, more relaxed, or more reassuring than Walter Cronkite in a crisis. When he finally denounced the Vietnam War as a stalemate in 1968 following the Tet Offensive, LBJ knew he had lost middle America.

For Cronkite, Barbara Walters heralded the Cronkite_with_capsulesadvent of “entertainment as news” and he scoffed at the notion that she was serving the public’s interest or practicing serious journalism. He refused to take her seriously until she repeatedly got the big story, leaving Cronkite sputtering that this glamorous upstart had scooped him once again.

For all his on-air good manners and avuncular nature, Cronkite was fiercely competitive and never hesitated to go for the jugular when his territory or ego was involved. He deplored Dan Rather’s work in the anchor chair after succeeding Cronkite on the CBS Evening News and never missed an opportunity to blister Rather’s performance in public, particularly after Rather’s spectacular fall from grace at CBS. Brinkley says that Rather was the only man whom Cronkite despised, and the one person he would not mend fences with before he died.

Cronkite lived long enough to see not only entertainment become news, but also the advent of reality TV, Twitter, Facebook, and an entire generation that confuses fame with real accomplishment.  We are now all velocity and no coherence, and it will only get worse. But before we descend completely into curmudgeonly-ness, a la Cronkite in his dotage, we must remember that for young people coming of age now, this will eventually be “the good old days.” Context is everything.

Uncle WalterAs Brinkley points out, when so much of American culture is disposable, Cronkite and his work endures. Anchors will come and go, but there will be only one Uncle Walter, the one guy in TV, who, as Ted Turner noted, nobody ever got sick of. We seem now to long for his brand of authenticity, his pride of professionalism, his sense of moderation.  The American public sensed what fellow sailor Mike Ashford said at his funeral: when people asked him what Cronkite was really like, his answer was always “He’s just the way you hope he is.”

WalterCronkiteWhen those moments of collective shock come—assassinations, Watergate, the Challenger explosion, September 11—we still turn to the media, splintered and fragmented though it may be now, to help us understand it and to share our grief with each other. And as long as America remembers that tragic autumn day in Dallas, we’ll also remember that singular moment when Walter Cronkite cemented his position as national father-figure-in-chief.

And that’s the way it is, Wednesday, February 5, 2014. For GHS, I’m Stan Deaton. Thanks for reading.

The Original Mad Man

max schellLost in the news yesterday of the Super Bowl and the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman was the death of another actor, one equally talented and brilliant: Maximillian Schell, dead at 83 on Saturday, February 1.

If you’ve never seen him or heard of him, watch him in Judgment at Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer’s 1961 re-telling of the Nazi war crimes trials following World War II. Yes, it’s in black and white, but it’s all the better for that. You can watch the trailer here:

Schell was 30 years old in the film and “ruggedly handsome,” as the New York Times said, and even though Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, and Montgomery Clift headlined the all-star cast, it’s Schell you can’t take your eyes off of. And not just because of his looks.

He plays a brooding and angry German defense attorney charged with defending the undefendable. He asks the judges to consider the fact that if Germany is guilty, who is not? “Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcasts all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf published in every corner of the world? It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the ‘basic flaw’ in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power – and at the same time positively ignore the ‘basic flaw’ of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! No, Your Honor. Germany alone is not guilty. The whole world is as responsible for Hitler as Germany.”

schell oscarSchell’s passionate and riveting performance as Hans Rolfe won him an Oscar for Best Actor. After seeing Schell in this film, you’ll never watch Jon Hamm’s moody portrayal of Don Draper in “Mad Men” the same way again. They even look similar.

Maximillian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg is the kind of role by an actor that sends you looking for everything else they’ve done. With Schell you were never disappointed. He was, as they say, electrifying.