Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mourning the Golden Girl

Watching Almost Golden on Lifetime, a made-for-TV movie about Jessica Savitch, the trailblazing but tragic NBC anchor who died in 1983. Sela Ward did a terrific job as the doomed golden girl, in tumultuous love with Ron Kershaw (also well played by Ron Silver). If you get a chance to see it, you should.

A little history lesson for anyone too young to recall her, or who isn't the news junkie I am -- the missing link in broadcast news between Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer was Jessica Savitch. She anchored NBC News Update, 60 seconds in primetime every night, which made her one of TV's most visible newspeople in those pre-cable days.

Here she is at her best. You Tube also features her rather infamous on-air meltdown, when her speech was so slurred that the control booth interrupted her minute broadcast with a mattress commercial. But you'll have to look that up yourself. I like this Jessica.

Beautiful and blonde and smart, she connected with the camera and had a gift for making the average viewer believe she was telling him a story, not reading from a script. She was such a gifted performer that people felt they knew her, just from one minute each night and the occasional story on the nightly news or subbing for the vacationing Jane Pauley on The Today Show. Viewers felt a personal connection to her that they didn't feel for Barbara Walters or John Chancellor. In terms of her ability to perform on camera, she seemed like a younger, prettier Walter Cronkite.

Only she wasn't. She was a star before she could learn how to be a journalist. And it helped kill her.

Jessica Savitch deserves to be remembered. Nearly 30 years after her death, she has something to say to today's women. She believed that we can have it all, but she didn't accept the price attached to that. She tried to be what "they" wanted her to be, before finding out who she was herself. Instead of accepting the past, especially the loss of her father, she kept trying to repair it.

I have an autographed copy of her autobiography, Anchorwoman. I got it on eBay. I have never read it because it's generally regarded as a whitewash of her painful life. But now I think I want to dust it off. I want to spend some more time with her. There are two other books, Golden Girl by Alanna K. Nash (my favorite) and Almost Golden by Gwenda Blair. Here's a link to the PEOPLE cover story on her death.

I don't want her to be forgotten.

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