Ed Bradley, The News Pioneer Who Never Lost His Cool
Friday, November 10, 2006
Ed Bradley had cool like a vault has money.
The celebrated "60 Minutes" newsman, who died yesterday of leukemia at 65, was certainly learned, absolutely a globe-trotter, and highly honored. But it was his cool that drew bearhugs from men and cheek-to-cheek kisses from women all over the world.
Deborah Willis, a professor of photography and imaging at New York University, came of age in Philadelphia -- Bradley's birthplace -- during the 1970s, when the newsman was routinely showing up on national news broadcasts. Women were pointing to his picture in Jet and Ebony, in Time and Newsweek. Ed Bradley came to the American party with crossover cachet.
"He had this style that everyone tried to emulate," says Willis.
Willis chatted with Bradley two months ago in Manhattan. Bradley had arrived at the New-York Historical Society to listen to her interview the artist Betye Saar. Afterward, "He complimented me on my interview! Do you know how much that meant to me?" she says.
Willis noticed how people watched Bradley at her lecture. "There was the cool pose that wasn't posing. He personified this look. It was a constructed self, constructed from a history of men who knew what it meant to be masculine and cool."
After college, Bradley taught school and did some unpaid disc jockey work. But he knew he had a voice, and the kind of diction that might lend itself to a job with a microphone. He started on the news side of CBS radio in 1967. Soon enough he was in Vietnam. It was a kind of trial assignment.
"They made no promises to him when he went to Vietnam," says Lee Thornton, who covered Jimmy Carter's White House for CBS along with Bradley, both among the first blacks to do so.
But reputations were made in the Vietnam jungle. When Bradley emerged, with a thick but well-coiffed Afro and beard, his profile began to soar.
"He had his own kind of jazz," says Thornton, who now hosts the cable talk show "A Moment With," which is taped at the University of Maryland.
"He had a swagger and class. Mind you, he was not the first generation of black males at the networks. Hal Walker preceded him [at CBS]. But he brought his generation's feeling of: 'I have a right to be here. So let me show you.' "
Thornton remembers overhearing Bradley talking to "60 Minutes" producers as he made a follow-up pitch on the telephone shortly after his initial job interview for the program. "He was not, in the beginning, wanted by '60 Minutes.' I was there the day he kept making his case to them. I listened from one of those little booths near him. His case to them was: 'I'm good, period.' "