Has history passed me by while I was too busy writing about television? Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been while the world was witnessing history, and that’s really frustrating!
Perhaps I was too young for Vietnam, and too naive for the French spring, Italian summer and American fall of ’68 and its antiwar demonstrations. Clearly, I was too provincial for drugs. Undoubtedly too puritanical to let my inhibitions loose. Definitely too poor to be a leftist, a demonstrator and a concert-goer. (Though I did manage to reach the mother of all concerts, Woodstock, after most people had already left — leaving me to admire piles of garbage).
I missed the assassination of John Lennon in 1980, even though I was living on the other side of his Central Park residence. Most of the great songs from the ’70s and ’80s passed me by without registering a blip on my brain’s right hemisphere. When Donna Summer died recently, I had to listen to some of her hits in order to recall who she actually was.
When Andy Warhol was alive, to me he was just a publicity-seeking artistic wannabe. Only years later, when I discovered that VideoAge’s offices are actually located in his former home, did I begin to realize his genius. And what about Keith Haring, who used to draw on the pavement all around Manhattan in the ’80s? I considered his artwork visually displeasing graffiti.
When Metromedia’s John Kluge sold his TV stations to Rupert Murdoch’s FOX and moved into the nascent cellular telephony sector, I thought he was investing in a toy to offer children better walkie-talkies.
Looking at ping-pong video games in the ’70s on an Atari computer for me did not induce amazement and a vision of a digital future, but merely sleep.
Reading VideoAge’s book review pages — great tools for those who, like me, don’t have time to read the books themselves — enhances this feeling of missing out on all the big events: the advent of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy; Leo Kirch in Germany; Emilio Azcarraga in Mexico; Murdoch in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Italy and the rest of the world; Ted Turner in the U.S.; Kerry Packer in Australia; Roberto Mariho in Brazil, and so on. They were leaders whom I had the opportunity to meet and interview, without realizing their historic significance.
In 1979 I was sent to the Soviet Union to interview the organizers of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, the first to be staged in Eastern Europe. My former publisher wanted to please NBC, the U.S. TV network that invested what was then considered a fortune on the Games, but were for the first time in history boycotted by a record 65 countries. Later, I attended the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. interviewing the chairman of the Games, who passed away before the article went to press.
I even brushed aside an IRA bombing incident. A bomb was planted one floor below my Grand Hotel room a few days before I arrived in Brighton, England to cover the IBC conference for VideoAge in 1984. Subsequently, that room exploded while it was occupied by then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. An FBI agent came to New York City to interview me regarding that terrorist act on behalf of the British International Intelligence Service, MI6.
The ordeal was recounted in the recent movie The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep.
I learned about former media tycoon Robert Maxwell only a few years before his mysterious death, but after I met him in the elevator at the Martinez Hotel in Cannes in the company of a woman at least 40 years his junior.
And what about my misfortunate well wishes to superstitious ace Mario Andretti before a Formula One car race? And the indifference I showed at meeting Sarah, Duchess of York, while she was sharing some of Lady Diana’s anguish with the British royal family; my nonchalant encounter with current Empress Michiko of Japan; and the fact that I ignored Guglielmo Marconi’s youngest daughter in the mid-’80s?
So then, was I just existing like a vegetable? A simpleton spectator without a clue? But how could I have been so clueless? I was an avid reader of weekly news magazines at the age of 12. I began to write paid articles at 14. I became an international editor of TV/RadioAge at 26 and founded VideoAge at 29.
Well, facts don’t lie, and the reality is that I only recently started to learn about the history I was supposedly a part of. Granted, not everything passed me by, but I’m still left with the feeling that history did not fully register with me at the time. Like when I interviewed Vladimir Zworokin, or Peter Goldmark, or when I exchanged a few heated words with then-U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger (I blame him for Italian statistician Aldo Moro’s death, Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile and other woes around the world).
Perhaps that is the beauty of history: it happens after the fact.