Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Few Minutes About Andy Rooney

Zoe Peyronnin & Andy Rooney, Hill Country Barbeque, NYC, 2010

Andy Rooney has been the voice of America for thirty-three years. He once described himself as, "a dead center normal average American." But the always modest Rooney was so much more.

Rooney seemed to epitomize a curmudgeon--however, he really just played one on television. And he willingly accepted this role, "I don’t like to complain all the time, but that’s what I do for a living, and I am lucky because there is so much to complain about." And complain he did, about everything from the way shoes are made to the way mixed nuts are packed. That is why his weekly "60 Minutes" commentaries connected with viewers. He spoke for them.

Born in Albany, New York, in 1919, Rooney experienced the Great Depression as a young boy. He attended Colgate University until he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Rooney began writing for the Army publication "Stars and Stripes" in London and found himself on the frontlines of history. He reported and wrote about the allied entry into German occupied Paris and the concentration camps. He also was one of six correspondents who flew on the first U.S. bombing raid over Germany in 1943. These experiences had an important impact on his career.

Following the war Rooney joined CBS in 1949 as a writer for Arthur Godfrey, whose shows were hits on television and radio. He later moved on to the "Garry Moore Show", which also was a hit program. And, at the same time, he began writing for CBS News public affairs programs, including "The 20th Century". Subsequently he collaborated with the late CBS News correspondent Harry Reasoner on many critically acclaimed specials. In 1968, he wrote two CBS News specials in the series "Of Black America", and he won his first Emmy for his script for "Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed".

In 1978, "60 Minutes" creator and executive producer Don Hewitt began including Andy Rooney's essays at the end of the program as a summer replacement for its "Point/Counterpoint" segments, with Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick. Rooney's commentaries were so popular by the fall that Hewitt alternated Rooney with "Point/Counterpoint". By the end of the season Kilpatrick and Alexander were dropped in favor of "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney".

For nearly fifty years Rooney wrote his essays and scripts on a 1920 Underwood typewriter. His transition to computers was not smooth and the experience resulted in a commentary directed at Microsoft founder Bill Gates. "Some one screwed up the way computers work and I blame it on him," Rooney opined. "I had one typewriter for fifty years, but I bought seven computers in six years," he observed, "I suppose that is why Bill Gates in rich and Underwood is out of business." Rooney said the reason is, "They make computers so you have to buy a new one when there is a full moon."

Rooney came up with the ideas for all his commentaries. He would write them in a modest office in the CBS Broadcast Center on New York City's westside. He would then record them there, at his desk, at the end of the week. It was all very low-tech. Yet the commentaries almost always had an impact on millions of viewers.

At 92 years of age Andy Rooney has decided to cut back on his work schedule. His final regular appearance Sunday will be his 1097th commentary for "60 Minutes". "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" was a unique fixture on American television that will never be replaced but will always be remembered. Thank you, Andy.

2 comments: said...

From other CBS News staff posted on Facebook

Lily Chavez Dickinson Every Sunday night I would have an anxiety about Mondays. Just before Andy Rooney gave his editorial, I would look at my husband and say, "I want Andy Rooney's job". Thats a good memory for me. Thanks Joe!!

Jack Laurence Back in the 60s and early 70s, I had an office on one side of Andy's larger corner office. Harry Reasoner, with whom he worked most of the time, was on the other side. There were several other correspondents with offices in the same area, including Charles Kuralt who worked longer and later than anyone, and one researcher, Howard Stringer, who was younger than the rest of us and appropriately deferential. It was a quiet place, like a library, where people could read and write without interruption. There was not a lot of office chat, as I recall. Andy was so quiet, so unassuming, that you rarely noticed he was in there, working away. But he was the least grumpy of anyone. Just modest and nice. In 1970, after I came back from a long hitch in Vietnam, he sent me a polite note which ended, "I'm proud to have an office next to yours."

Willis Brown I worked with Andy in the field, as he would sometimes go out and produce the pieces he was writing for his segment on 60 Minutes. He couldn't have been nicer to me and the many people who would recognize him on the street. Once he tried wearing a disguise (big hat, Groucho glasses and mustache) and was chagrined when that made no difference). He was, and is, The Best... Thanks, Joe.

Kay Marryshow Andy Rooney used video of me working in the Fishbowl once (sitting at my desk, reading the paper, phone cradled in my neck chatting away, left arm stretched out tapping at the keyboard as I glanced to read the latest wire feed) for a piece on multitasking. Despite his criticism of me, it was one of my dad's prized possessions, The Andy Rooney talking about his daughter! As always, Joe, thanks for your memories and thoughts! When are you going to write a book?!
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Paul Fischer Before i was hired to write for the CBS Evening News, i was filling in on the broadcast for a few nights for a staffer who was off. One day, Andy came into the Cronkite studio demanding to know which writer had used "zeugma" in a story the night before. Mosedale and West nodded in my direction. I had no idea what "zeugma" was. ( the joining of two or more parts of a sentence with a single common verb or noun) Andy smiled at me. I had indeed used the "zeugma" construction...but i don't remember now what i had written. But to this day, I remember that Andy Rooney smiled at me.

Guy Brierre I worked gate security at the '88 Republican Convention (think TSA) and Andy Rooney came through my gate. "Can you handcheck this" he asked in the unmistakeable voice when i started to put his computer through the screener. "This place (Superdome) is too big!" he said as he walked out. What you saw on 60 Minutes was Andy Rooney, no act.

Kathleen Frankovic I left the 1996 GOP San Diego Convention at the same time as Andy. They checked our bags in at the hotel (unimaginable today -- but the subject of great praise from Andy in the cab ride) -- and the folks who checked in our bags were just thrilloed by the fact they they were checking in Andy Rooney. So thrilled, in fact, that his bags followed me to Newark Airport and mine went to him at LaGuardia. We both claimed our bags were lost; they (the wrong bags) were hand-delivered the following morning to each of our apartments, and we made the final transfer at Andy's apartment building!

Sam Roberts Back in 1976, Harriet, then a researcher, had the office next to Andy's. One day she came to work and found that her desk had been burglarized and several items, including a picture of me in a drug store frame, were stolen. Andy walked into her office to console her, shook his head and said: "What kind of pervert would steal a picture of Sam?"

Matthew Resnick said...

Great picture!