Saturday, March 28, 2009

529 Irving R. Levine

529 Irving R. Levine

They did a lot of writing about Irving R. Levine this weekend.  But they left some stuff out.   About Irv and about news.

What they left out was the guy's personal warmth.  And they only hinted at his keen intelligence and his ability to slice through twisted concepts and pretzel words and phrases to come up with reports -- decades of reports -- that no one could misunderstand.

Think about this:  here was a bald guy with a bow tie, who looked old even before he was old, and who talked like a rabbi on national television where the template for correspondents includes Ken Doll hair,  square shoulders, a health club physique, chiseled facial features and a smooth baritone.  If Irv ever walked into a health club, other than to do a story about health clubs, he kept the information to himself.

His years in NBC's Moscow bureau at the height of the cold war told of life in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, when none of us at stateside had a clue about what really went on there.  He'd later write an op-ed piece for the New York Times, in which he described attempts to recruit him as a spy, talking into the chandeliers at hotels to make sure the people who were spying on him heard him clearly enough.

He and Khrushchev weren't exactly best of buddies, so when he was "invited" to leave the USSR, NBC made him chief of the Rome bureau.  And, yes, in those days, they had a Rome bureau.

But Levine shone most brightly in describing the economy to average Americans.  This was at a time when there was no CNBC or Bloomberg.  It was at a time when the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and The Economist were written for traders and scholars.  Irv changed all that.  And he did it with grace and clarity that made this important subject real to truck drivers and farmers and electricians and, yes, even professors of economics.

And here's another little quirk.  When it was common among NBC correspondents to ignore radio and concentrate on television, Irv Levine still did radio.  In the waning days of the radio network, we could always count on Irv to do a radio version of his television report.   And we could always get a "yes," when we asked him to do a report for radio that WASN'T going to get on TV.  A cool head and refined (if rabbinic) thirty seconds, after listening to which you knew what the story was and why you should care about it.

He didn't talk much about his younger days with International News Service, which was known in the trade as where the good writers worked.  But you could hear it in his his words, and later see it in his choice of pictures.

If you wanted to know about his schooling, you practically had to pry it out of him.  Brown and Columbia.  Two ivies.  He never bragged about it.  It would have been, he'd say, unseemly.

This was a guy who connected.  With his colleagues and more important, with his listeners, readers and viewers.  And we are all poorer for his passing.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

1 comment:

Ted said...

Just another of your brilliant pieces. More about Irv than I knew.. though I had the honor of tossing to him on CNBC until the people who ran the place decided he was not "chisled" enough.

Just great Wes, Irv is kvelling.


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