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Edwin Newman, 91, dies; NBC broadcaster, guardian of grammar

Edwin Newman hosted "Today" and was a substitute anchor in more than three decades at NBC.
Edwin Newman hosted "Today" and was a substitute anchor in more than three decades at NBC. (1976 Photo By Jerry Mosey/associated Press)

"I agree that you won't say it again," Mr. Newman replied. "Thank you very much, Mr. Jessel."

"I just want to say one thing before I leave," Jessel added.

"Please don't," Mr. Newman said, as he broke for a commercial three minutes early.

When he came back on the air, Mr. Newman said television had a responsibility to uphold "certain standards of conduct."

"It didn't seem to me we have any obligation to allow people to come on to traduce the reputations of anyone they want," he said, "to abuse people they don't like."

Edwin Harold Newman was born Jan. 25, 1919, in New York City, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1940. He left graduate school at Louisiana State University to work for the old International News Service in Washington.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to Washington and worked for a news service and for the short-lived PM newspaper. From 1947 to 1949, he was a writer for Eric Sevareid at CBS News.

Mr. Newman, who married the English-born Rigel Grell in 1944, moved to London in 1949. In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter, Nancy Drucker.

After freelancing for NBC and other news outlets, Mr. Newman joined the network full time in 1952 and later became bureau chief in London, Rome and Paris.

In New York after 1961, Mr. Newman often appeared on local news, showing talents seldom seen on the national network. He was an Emmy Award-winning drama critic and often wondered why television didn't cover the arts more fully. For years, he was the host of "Speaking Freely," an erudite hour-long interview program featuring cultural figures, scientists and athletes.

Long peeved by what he considered sloppy and pretentious use of the English language, Mr. Newman published "Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English?" in 1974. The humorous but pointed book became a No. 1 bestseller and was soon followed by "A Civil Tongue" in 1976, securing Mr. Newman's reputation as a guardian of grammar, usage and linguistic good manners. For many years, he chaired the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.

He published a comic novel, "Sunday Punch," in 1979 and appeared as host of "Saturday Night Live" in 1984. In one skit, he repeatedly corrected the grammar of a desperate woman calling a suicide help line.

In later years, Mr. Newman lectured widely on journalism and the English language. The written and spoken word, he maintained, should be "direct, specific, concrete, vigorous, colorful, subtle and imaginative. . . . It is something to revel in and enjoy."

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