Ooops. It's Betty Furness again, live on TV for Frigidaire, her face red as a tomato. She just CANNOT get the fridgy fridge door open. All those nice things she's been promising about how roomy it is, too. Now she's kicking the door, yanking at it, swearing at it under her breath. That nice Betty Furness. We've never seen her like this before. Shame,shame.
Or it's Ed Sullivan introducing singer Jose Feliciano. These guests creep up on him. Those directors never tell him anything. Who is this guy? He's famous, says a stage hand. He's a singer from Puerto Rico. Ed sees Jose across the stage. He has a German Shepherd dog at his side. "Ladies and gentleman," Ed tells the audience and millions of TV viewers, "please welcome to our stage Jose Feliciano. He's blind and he's Puerto Rican!"
The misses, like the hits, just keep on coming, even now, even though TV isn't very live anymore and announcers have bleep buttons and pre-program tape to edit. We asked a silly question of TV reporters and anchorpeople - "What's your worst blooper?" - and these are the silly answer we got: Roger Mudd CBS
Even Roger Mudd has his days. In 1954 when he was working for WRNL radio in Richmond he was broadcasting the five o'clock news. The story that hour was about the condition of Pope Pius - except it didn't come out thaty way:
"The condition of Pipe Pois grows steadily worse."
And Mudd, bursting with laughter, threw a switch known as a coughbox that blanks out sound. Back in control, Mudd continued:
"The Pope's doctor has summoned to the Vatican a Swish specialist."
Howling with laughter, Mudd switched to the coughbox again as he tried to calm himself down. By this time the technicians on the other side of the glass window were bent over with hysterics. The fact that the Pope's sickness was hiccups didn't help any.
Mudd wrapped up his newscast still tickled. Thank goodness for that coughbox, he thought.
He was right. The coughbox is a wonderful thing if you throw the switch the right way, but Mudd had thrown it the wrong way.
"It was a mangled mesh of words mixed with laughter and the worst day of my life in this business," said Mudd, but not without laughing. Lesley Stahl CBS
Lesley Stahl was interviewed Lynda Bird Robb at the Democratic National Convention last summer when Cronkite broke in on Stahl's headphone to ask her if she could ask Robb a question for him. Yes she would. Into the on-the-air mike, Stahl said, "Lynda Bird, Walter has a question. She wants to know . . ." Being called an anchorperson instead of an anchorwoman is one thing. Being called an anchorwoman if you are Waslter Cronkite is another. At CBS, they still haven't let one anchorwoman forget it, "I've been reminded of that mistake many times," says Lesley Stahl. Howard Cosell ABC
If Howard Cosell makes a mistake you would have a time convincing him of it. Even when he finds himself in a jam he somehow manages to get out of it smoothly. Once when Dandy Don Meredith and Cosell were broadcasting an Oakland-Houston contest ("It was a hor-ri-ble game," laments Cosell), the cameraman, apparently searching for action (as there was none on the field), scanned the crowd and focussed on a fan who as Cosell puts it "was giving us the finger." Cosell quickly relayed a message to Meredith and in a matter of seconds the television audience heard Dandy Don say:
"That means we're Number One." Peter Hackes NBC
"I wanted to crawl the nearest rock," said Peter Hackes. He was covering, live from Andrews Air Force Base, the return of four U.S. Air Force men who had been held captive for months behind the Turkish border. Hackes, held back a quarter mile from the returning jet, was relying on a television monitor for his description when sun reflecting on snow blanked out the screen. Nevertheless the show must go on.
Hackes began a vivid description:
"And here they come off the airplane, down the steps . . . "
Suddenly a technician better placed, broke in:
"You silly son of a b - ," he said, "they got off the plane ten minutes ago!" Jim Vance WRC
It was a tough election year for many in the news media, repeating headline about candidates night after night. But Jim Vance, who has been with WRC for seven years, inadvertently found a new approach to the candidate's aura when he opened a story on the five o'clock news this way:
"Today President Farter and Jimmy Cord announced . . . "
"Fortunately," says Vance in retrospect, "I had a reasonably professional crew and those that laughed turned their backs." Eric Sevareid CBS
As meticulous as he is, the commentator laureate had a slip of the mind one day in the late 1940s as he was broadcasting a radio piece from the Washington studio. At the conclusion, he gave his sign-off: "This is Eric Sevareid, CBS News, Palestine." "I don't know why Palestine was even on my mind," said Sevareid. Gordon Peterson WTOP
Once, when Peterson was working for WNEB radio in Worcester, Massachusetts, he woke his listeners up one morning with this introduction:
"It's 53 degrees with clear skies and this is Gordon Portoson repeating WNE-boss."
"After that I couldn't get through the news cast," said Peterson. Marilyn Robinson NBC
Several years ago Marilyn Robinson did a storybook piece about a student-teacher program at an elementary school in Washington. Robinson said it was a "fun piece" because of the positive approach and the film footage of children, students and parents coming together. She wound up her story with cameraman John Payne filming her in a typical vacant lot close to the school.
Everything was perfect - until it hit the air at 6 p.m. that night. When film reached the stand-up in the vacant lot, Robinson and her crew, watching from the news director's office, started "screaming and leaping out of their chairs." Behind Robinson's pretty face was a huge obscenity sign, relaying unkind feelings to the television audience.
A quick meeting was called by the news director who berated anyone, especially Robinson, for having anything to do with such a negligent piece. He got so wrapped up in a rage, though, that he forgot to notify the 7 p.m. producer about the piece. So it came on again.
"This time we laughed, said Robinson, "and the news director took the weight answering every phone call that came in after that show." Barton Eckert WTTG-TV
It wasn't really his fault. One day Eckert, who has been in journalism since 1963, was doing a story on a child who had been bitten by a raccoon. Eckert was doing the story with a straightforward close, when he stumbled his words and said, "Wait, let's do it again."
That evening, Eckert was home watching the news telecast when his piece came on. As he was watching he was horrified to hear himself say, "Wait, let's do it again," and then the entire report was repeated.
He almost died. So did a film editor. Ron Nessen White House Press Secretary
Ten minutes before Nessen, who was working for NBC at the time, was to broadcast the news came to him over the wires that India's Nehru had died. At the top of the show, Nessen announced the headlines to the world:
"Grandhi is dead."
And then his mike went dead as the station took a commercial break.
"I don't know whether it was the night before or just one of those days," says Nessen. "But when I came back on I just ignored the mistake." Barbara Walters ABC
In 1967, Walters was covering Luci Johnson's wedding for NBC radio and television. No members of the press were allowed in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, so she had received her orders to "corner the first person out for an interview." Spotting a very elegantly dressed man coming out of the chapel she rushed up to him:
"Sir, my name is Barbara Walters of NBC, and I want you to describe for our live audience what went on inside with Luci Johnson's wedding."
I'm sorry, Mrs. Walters, but I'd rather not," came the reply.
After a little persistence, and another negative reply from the gentleman, Walters found another person, conducted her interview and finished. Later she asked Perer Hackes, also of NBC, why the first man would not cooperate. "Barbara," said Hackes, "that was Frank Stanton, president of CBS."
About five years ago on the Today Show, Walters was interviewing a woman who had worked with Albert Schweitzer in Africa and was raising money for Schweitzer's hospital. During the course of the interview Walters asked the following question:
"How old is Dr. Schweitzer now?
"Ms. Walters," came the reply, "Dr. Schweitzer is dead."
"It was one of those moments when you just didn't know what to say," says Walters. Tom Brokaw NBC
Although John Chancellor once introduced him as the "White Horse correspondent," Tom Brokaw is now the host for the Today Show. Broadcasting twenty years ago from a station in his hometown of Yankton, South Dakota, Brokaw, 16, began his career with this auspicious opening:
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Governor Joe Foss addressed the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Whores today . . . "
"It was my very first broadcast," said Brokaw. Allen Smith WTTG
"The more we tried the more impossible it became," said Allen Smith, WTTG's veteran anchorman. It was Christman Eve. He and coanchorman John Willis were already in a cheery holiday mood and it only took a single ploy to trigger a laugh bonanza that all but obliterated the ten o'clock news. One of the engineers had set up, off-camera but within the view of Willis and Smith, a simple, mechanical toy man whose pants dropped every time he took a drink.
"Between Willis and myself," laments Smith, "there wasn't much left of the news." Walter Cronkite CBS Anchorman
In 1952 CBS had a program called "Man of the Week," which closely resembled NBC's "Meet the Press" - so closely that NBC's Lawrence Spivak accused Walter Cronkite and his associates of copying NBC. ("He was quite indignant," notes Cronkite.) Apparently it bothered Cronkite enough to alter his own performance as he signed off one night: "Thank you, Senator, for being on Meet the Press."
You can't really call it a blooper and no one saw it, but during one of the Kennedy Space Center broadcasts as TV viewers headed for the kitchen during a commercial break, Cronkite headed for the bathroom. The viewers made it back on time, bu t not Cronkite. He was locked in the stall.
"It was a fully place with water on the floor so I couldn't crawl under. So I started looking for a way to climb over. But that didn't work so I started to throw my weight against the door until it finally swung open," he says now.
And to prevent such a thing from happening again?
"I had a sign made to hang on that door: 'Reserved for John Chancellor.'" Ed Myer WMAL
For years Ed Myer gave the 8:30 newscast on Washington's well-known "Hardin and Weaver Show." After each show, the news director would call Myer to give him his assignment for the day, and Myer would leave the studio to work on his story. Day after day this procedure would occur: Myer's 8:30 broadcast, the telephone call from the news director, then Myer into his car and off to break another story.
One morning after he had received his phone call Myer jumped in his car and headed out to cover the Rockwell murder case. As he was steering his way through traffic listening to WMAL he heard a familiar introduction:
"And now here's Ed Myer with the news."
"I almost ran off the road," said Myer who knew no one was going to hear Ed Myer with the news unless they were in his back seat. Hardin and Weaver, still looking for their dependable newsman, gave, in Myer's words, "the longest introduction in the history of broadcasting."
As Myer sat hopelessly in his car in morning traffic he realized what had happened: his news director had called - for the first time ever - before his 8:30 broadcast.
"Now stand by folks, Ed Myer will be here with the news . . . Ed?" Bernard Kalb CBS
"The situation had that uproarious and surrealistic quality which just made it hard to get out," said Bernard Kalb who has been with CBS since 1962.
In 1968, Kalb and CBS were preparing a one-hour special on the Vietnam war - one of the aims being to show the American people that the Vietcong were a worthy and sophisticated army.
The focus of one segment of the show was on a Vietcong agent (called a "sapper") who had been caught within the Saigon city limits by the Saigon police chief. The police chief decided to give this sapper (whose name was Sam) a cruel and anonymous death if he didn't talk. Despite the fact that Kalb realized the seriousness of the situation he could not bring himself to describe it straight-faced.
"Today the police chief threatened to run a truck over Sam the Sapper's head in the middle of the street if he doesn't talk."
Somewhere in the closets of CBS is a rather lengthy tape of Kalb trying to get that one line out. Hughes Rudd CBS
Like a Falstaff on the air, Hughes Rudd sometimes makes it difficult for himself. Rudd, for example, once tried to broadcast an item about a Wisconsin go-go dancer whose silicone injections were paid for by the state because the state employment agency had qualified her as disabled. The reason: she complained she was unemployable because her chest measurement was too small.
But as Rudd reported, she is "gratefully employed" now, but he added, "the legislators don't think that is anything to get puffed up about," and four members of the state agency have been indicted "for mismanagement of funds."
Rudd, already losing a battle against this giggles, delivered his final blow:
"This may be the first case on record where anybody has been busted for making mountains out of molehills." Frank Gifford ABC
Vince Lombardi thought he was one of the five greatest he had ever coached. Forest Gregg may have another opinion about Frank Gifford or at least Gifford's memory.
Since Gifford was well acquainted with the champion Green Bay Packers, ABC assigned him to conduct postgame interviews after Green bay whipped Oakland in the second Super Bowl.
In the locker room Gifford began his interviews, moving from one fellow to the next, as the floorman lined the football players up for the Gifford interview. The producer was timing the interviews and was telling Gifford (through Gifford's earpiece) when to bring on the next player.
As he was conducting the interview with Fuzzy Thurston, Gifford glanced at the next player and suddenly realized he coulcn't remember his name.
"I knew him," recalls Gifford, "but I just couldn't remember his name. I thought 'Goddammit, who is this guy'?"
Meanwhile pressure form the earpiece: "Bring on the next guy."
Gifford asked Thurston another question and kept looking at the Packer with subtle panic, wondering "who is this guy? - I know him - who is he?"
"BRING ON THE NEXT ONE," said the voice over the earpiece.
Gifford asked Thurston yet another question.
"GODDAMMIT, BRING ON THE NEXT ONE!" demanded the voice over the earpiece.
Praying for an advertisement, Gifford asked another question of Thurston, who was probably beginning to think he was the game's most valuable player.
Finally the big player in line realized the problem and mouthed two words: "Forest Gregg."
"OK, Fuzzy," Gifford said lightly, "we've had enough of you - let's bring on Forest Gregg." And the postgame show glided on. Tom Jarriel ABC
A few years ago White House correspondent Tom Jarriel had been notified that he might have to summarize the President's press conference for the evening news. When the cameraman gave him the cue, Jarriel began his report, though he was uncertain whether or not he was on the air because he could hear nothing on his earpiece (known as an IFB). With his peripheral vision, Jarriel could see producer giving the hand across the throat action - a signal meaning "cut." At this point Jarriel leaned off camera and asked, "Are we on the air?" at which point his IFB began to work, and Jarriel heard himself asking the question over the air. But it was too late - Jarriel knew the answer, and so did several million viewers. Fred Graham CBS
"I had a disaster," recalls Fred Graham, CBS's courtroom and legal correspondent. Graham, whose Louisiana accent earns him "corrective" notes from CBS's speech consultant, was using a mechanical device that allowed him to write his script, record it, then play it back to himself with an earplug during his broadcast.
During the Watergate months an assignment put Graham on K Street outside Leon Jaworski's offices. He began videotaping his news his recording device - just as the afternoon buses began pulling up.
"I could hear the recording but I couldn't hear what I was saying," said Graham. He didn't hear what he had said until the Cronkite show that night. Graham then discovered he had said every word correctly, but had put the accents on the wrong syllable in almost every case. Henry Tenebaum WTOP
The problem with Henry Tenenbum is that when he has a "fluff" no one notices - it's a part of his story.
"If I don't have a fluff it's a disaster," says Tenenbaum who has been with WTOP for two and a half years.
There was one day, however, when Henry had just joined the station and he had to ride a bucking bronco (yes, he's a newscaster). The gate opened and Tenenbaum held on for dear life until the bronco finally threw him off. When he picked himself off the ground the cameraman said, "Do it again."
"What! What do you mean do it again?" Tenenbaum asked.
"Do it again," said the cameraman. "Our focus was off."
The second take was a bit rougher - a scraped leg - but the show must go on. Betty Wolden WRC
Early in her career Betty Wolden, the present executive editor at WRC was doing a live coverage of an "Aquatennial" for KSTP in Minneapolis. Spotting a "perfectly adorable" 7-year-old, clad in dark suit, white gloves and a cute expression, Wolden took her mike and TV audience to the youngster and asked him, "Now what advice did your Mommy and Daddy give you for today?"
"My Mommy and Daddy are dead," returned the child.
"I honestly didn't know what to say," said Wolden. "Nor to this day do I remember what I said next." Joe Garagiola NBC
You wouldn't expect such a likeable fellow like Garagiola to be flustered in an embarrassing moment, and you're right. Except for an occasional "toin coss" ("no one even notices that," says Garagiola) the former procatcher has fielded few istakes. The one he remembers, however, occurred while making a comparison between Boston's Carl Yastremski and old Brooklyn Dodger, Carl Furillo. Commenting on Furillo's expertise, Garagiola noted that the ballplayer knew "every crook and nanny" on Ebbets Field.