Fred W. Friendly Biography (1915-1998)
Born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer, October 30, 1915, in New York, NY; namelegally changed to Fred Friendly in 1938; died following a series of strokes, March 3, 1998, in the Bronx, NY.
A pioneer in the television news arena, Friendly collaborated with legendarynewsman Edward R. Murrow to shape the television documentary through their controversial show, See It Now. He went on to head CBS News, ultimatelyquitting over an incident that brought the commercialism (ratings and profits) of television to the forefront. Friendly began his career in radio at WEANin Providence, Rhode Island, in the late 1930s. He saw success with the showFootprints in the Sands of Time, which discussed important historicalfigures. During World War II, Friendly served in the U.S. Army as a Signal Corps instructor and also as a correspondent for the CBI Roundup. Later, he became a CBS correspondent in India, then began a radio quiz show on NBC calledWho Said That? with his then-wife, Dorothy Greene. In 1948 he met Murrow and the pair initiated a collaboration that would last throughout much ofthe remainder of Murrow's life. First, they created an oral history of 1932 to 1945 which was recorded by Columbia Records as I Can Hear It Now. They followed with albums featuring the 1920s and the years after World War II.The duo turned their success into a radio series called Hear It Now in 1951 for CBS. The weekly series was adapted into the television series See It Now the same year; when it aired, it became the first commercial broadcast to be seen live from coast to coast. Murrow appeared on camera, whileboth men coproduced. The show, as detailed in the Los Angeles Times,"took viewers to Europe for a ride on the Orient Express, to Korea for a battlefield tour, and to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the announcement of Dr. Jonas Salk's new polio vaccine." The show also featured more controversial segments, especially the 1954 "Report on Senator McCarthy," which attacked Joseph McCarthy's witchhunt for alleged communists. Amid its success, the show was eventually expanded to become an hour-long, yet network executives shifted its formatfrom a weekly show to a series of specials. Some joked it should be called "See It Now and Then." Canceled in 1958, "the show fell victim to the commercialism that Friendly battled throughout his career-the networks' preference for more marketable adventure and game shows over controversial documentaries,"according to the Los Angeles Times. In 1959 Friendly became executiveproducer of CBS Reports until 1964 when he took over as president ofCBS News. While with CBS Reports, Friendly produced Murrow's Harvest of Shame, a 1960 look at the life of migrant workers. (Murrow would eventuallysuccumb to lung cancer in 1965.) Friendly's stint as president of CBS News only lasted two years but included the shows Town Meeting of the World,National Drivers Test, and Vietnam Perspective. In 1966 he resigned in protest when the network chose to air a rerun of I Love Lucyrather than a fifth night of live coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee public hearing on Vietnam. According to the New York Times: "'It was not a matter of deciding between two broadcasts,' Mr. Friendly wrote later, 'but a choice between interrupting the morning run of the profit machine-whose only admitted function was to purvey six one-minute commercials everyhalf-hour-or electing to make the audience privy to an event of overriding importance taking place in a Senate hearing room at that very moment.'" Friendly then joined the faculty at Columbia University as the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Journalism. Later stints included work as a television adviser to the Ford Foundation, member of the New York City Mayor's Task Force on CATV and Telecommunications, and teacher and director of the Television Workshop forthe Columbia University School of Journalism. He continued to be concerned with the ethical problems facing the news media and he organized private conferences for news groups. He began "The Fred Friendly Seminars" in 1984, whichfeatured various politicians, educators, newspeople, and other notable figures. The seminars were broadcast on public television. He wrote several books in addition to his television writings. They include Due to Circumstances beyond Our Control, The Good Guys, the Bad Guys and the First Amendment: Free Speech vs. Fairness in Broadcasting, and Minnesota Rag: The Dramatic Story of the Landmark Supreme Court Case That Gave New Meaning to Freedom of the Press. During his career, Friendly won numerous awards with Murrow. He also won ten Peabody Awards, was inducted to the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1994, and was honored with the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.
- Journalist, producer, executive, educator, writer
- Birth Details
- October 30, 1915
- New York, New York, United States
- Death Details
- March 3, 1998
- Bronx, New York, United States
Obituaries and Other Sources
- Chicago Tribune, March 5, 1998, sec. 3, p. 12.
- Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1998, p. A1.
- New York Times, March 5, 1998, p. B10.
- Washington Post, March 5, 1998, p. D6.