Thursday, April 19, 2007

Alone At Last

I was thinking about Peter Jennings the other day, how I miss watching his nightly newscast, and how sorry I am that he died so young. I am especially sad about the cause of his death. Before he stopped smoking, you could see the evidence of a live cigarette smoldering just out of camera range. Swirls of smoke wafted across his face as he relayed the events of the day.

I used to enjoy wonderful dreams in which this intelligent, handsome and from all accounts serious jazz fan and I were the featured players. In mid-1987, I was a substitute radio host for a popular music program broadcast at the NPR affiliate WGBH-FM in Boston. At the same time, Peter was hosting a PBS series emanating from the television studios directly above, which meant that on many days, a mere flight of stairs separated me from the man of my dreams.

The program I produced ran live from Noon to 5 PM, five days a week, and when I'd successfully hit a switch linking to All Things Considerd, I was in need of a quick splash and brush. Heading down the corridor one day, I looked up the stairwell just in time to see Mr. Wonderful making his way to the floor above. A quite audible gasp of recognition escaped my lips. He paused, turned, looked down, flashed a brilliant smile and gave a little wave before continuing upwards. I was rooted to the spot for a full minute. For a few heavenly, golden moments, Peter Jennings and I were blissfully and most emphatically Alone Together.

Many years before that all-too-brief encounter, freshly groomed and ready for the day, I shared a 30-story elevator ride in a New York office building with another famous man, former Republican Presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey. He once (very) briefly celebrated his falsely reported victory over incumbent President Harry Truman in the general election of 1948. Probably still a bit sour about the results even in 1963, Mr. Dewey neither smiled or waved, but he did in gentlemanly fashion remove his hat.

Not surprisingly, the memory of that silent elevator ride will never match the romantic sparkle of Peter and I, together on the Stairway to Paradise.

1 comment:

Jo Ann said...

I, too, was an admirer of Peter Jennings. Every evening, my family watched him give his report for ABC news from London, while Max Robinson reported from Chicago and Frank Reynolds, from New York City. He was so handsome and seemed so suave. At 16, I was smitten!

Remembering how I felt when I heard he had lung cancer and watched him give, what turned out to be, his final report, I thought he would be back. There was a sense of optimism in his gravelly voice. Sometimes I wonder why good people are taken from this earth prematurely. Is is because there is a lesson to be learned by those who are affected? I hope that among the millions of people who watched him over the years, at least a handful quit smoking.

If I could rate him any higher than I already had, he would get an additional star for being a jazz fan! I did not know this about him. Perhaps he and Ed Bradley are up there sitting back, taking in some Ellington and enjoying a good Scotch, instead of a cigarette.