Today – so far at any rate – has been quiet and peaceful and so here I am right after lunch, and ready to write to you. Yesterday i.e. – last night was a good one – we got some mail and I got 4 swell letters from you, a nice one from Bea, one from the Salem Hospital and one from Lawrence. Lawrence’s birthday is today, by the way – but I’ll bet he’s not celebrating; 3 days in camp – a soldier is pretty green. He wrote me that he had renewed my subscription to Time Magazine, sent me a box of Phillies De Luxe, for which he apologized, and asked me if I needed anything else. That was pretty thoughtful of him – considering he had enough of his own affairs to look after.
I enjoyed Bea’s letter too and the way she describes her household is really funny to read. I think we’ll enjoy visiting with them; don’t you dear?
One of your letters, sweetheart, was an old one from Sept 14th; it must have been misplaced in some APO or other because it was the only old letter in today’s delivery. You were really worried in that letter, dear, having listened to Gabriel Heatter the night before. Darling – you shouldn’t let these g-d’d commentators affect you so; by now you should realize that every one of them – including the so-called best – have been wrong on several occasions. They all stuck their necks out on when the war would end – and how it would end. You can see by now that they apparently know no more about things than you or I or millions of other like us. They’ve guessed and they’ve guessed wrong. Therefore I wouldn’t believe anything they say as gospel or even approximating it. We can draw our own conclusions, I think, on what the post-war world will be like. I don’t think there’s a decent working plan in anybody’s mind right now; I think life in the United States won’t be too bad for awhile because there’s bound to be a lot of work. From what I personally have already seen of destroyed cities and towns – it seems as if the whole world will be busy with re-building. I saw a city yesterday of the size of Springfield or Worcester, Mass.; I spent a good part of the day there, enough time to tour the whole city; there was not one street, one house, one business building, cathedral, museum, theater house that was not leveled. I had seen in France – a village or medium-sized town leveled – but I didn’t believe it was possible to destroy a city so completely. The same is happening to other cities in Germany and more is coming. The same has happened to cities in England. It will take years to re-build because they’ll have to start from zero. I’m not worried about the immediate post-war world, dear – and why should we look ahead now – farther than that?
I was very much interested in your remarks about my wanting to be a surgeon. I’m sorry I’ve groused so much about the subject – but you do realize, I know, that I can’t help but get moody now and then and I know also that you must excuse me for it. I have so damned much time to think. I end up thinking about everything – particularly things that affect us in the future – and that is one matter that indirectly will affect us, dear – i.e. the manner in which I make my livelihood. There have been times when I’ve had time only to consider my immediate safety, and the human mind is really a wonderful mechanism when it lets you forget such things and makes you bitch about the future. The fact is, sweetheart, that the most important and prime factor is that I return home safely. If I thought of that more often – I wouldn’t worry so much as to whether or not I’ll be a surgeon. I have so damned much to be thankful for – I should kick myself for complaining. I have – at present – so much more than a lot of other MD’s who didn’t finish their internships, or who hadn’t got started in practice, or who didn’t have a hospital appointment or who didn’t have some darn good contacts – or – and what is most important of all – who don’t have a swell girl waiting for them. So, darling, I’ll try to remember all those things – and I’ll worry about just how I provide for you – later. One way or another I feel pretty certain that I can take care of you – and that is what counts fundamentally – that and the fact that we know we love each other and want each other. We’ll figure out the details when I get back.
Now I think I’ll sign off for today, dear, and do a couple of things. I owe Charlie Wright and Col. Pereira letters. The latter is on maneuvers in Louisiana again and hates it. Charlie is at Fort Dix and not too happy.
All for now, darling; love to the folks and
Photo courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf via Old Time Radio
This child of immigrant parents was born on the east side of New York City on September 17, 1890 and moved to Brooklyn soon after. His mother woke Gabe and his brothers Max and Edward every day at 5AM to deliver baskets of food to poor people in the neighborhood (at that early hour so the people wouldn't be embarrassed by being seen to accept charity). For the rest of their lives the boys always woke up at 5AM. Heatter did not do well in school and found high school particularly difficult. Despite that, he had an ability to speak well as he was very interested in reading and the world around him. At 16 he became a sidewalk campaigner for William Randolph Hearst when Hearst ran for mayor of New York City in 1906. Despite the candidate's loss, he had an influence upon the young Gabriel.
His interest in journalism was piqued. Soon after high school, the young man began working as a reporter of social functions for a local weekly, The East New York Record. From there, he moved onto the Brooklyn Times. While still employed at the Times, he was offered a position as the Brooklyn reporter for The New York Evening Journal, a Hearst publication. His career as a journalist was solidifying.
In 1931, he wrote an article for The Nation magazine reasoning against the Socialist Party's existence in the United States. The appearance of the article prompted a New York radio station, WMCA, to offer him a chance to debate a prominent Socialist on the air. However, the Socialist was unable to show, so Heatter went on discussing his article in more depth. Listener's were impressed and WOR, a Mutual outlet offered him a position as a commentator and reporter, which he accepted now realizing his future was in radio news. In 1933, his big break came when WOR assigned him to report and comment on the Bruno Hauptmann/Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping-Murder Trial, the trial of the century at the time. This gained him national fame as his reports influenced public opinion greatly. Other better-known reporters of the time were there including Walter Winchell. His audience expanded again when in 1934, WOR became the flagship station of the newest network, Mutual Broadcasting. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of covering the trial was when, in 1936, he had to report on the execution. It was delayed, forcing Heatter to continue ad-libbing while awaiting word of when it would occur. His professionalism under pressure and his ability to keep the audience informed without resorting to sensationalism earned him critical praise.
With the coming of World War II, Heatter continued to report and comment on the day's events as war broke out over Europe. When the US entered the war and as times grew darker and darker, the news was simply not good. Finally, after the US sank a Japanes destroyer, Heatter came on the air reporting "Good evening, everyone---there is good news tonight." This became a catch phrase and prompted many letters and calls. Heatter continued to use it throughout his career as he became known more and more as a morale booster always looking for some patch of blue to include in the news. When the war finally ended, first in Europe and then in Japan, there were probably millions who would not have believed it until they heard it from Heatter. Indeed, his broadcast upon V-E Day is still considered a classic of radio commentary. He was just as influential upon coming generations of journalists as were more dynamic radio figures such as Edward R. Murrow. Eric Sevareid, Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, and Fulton Lewis, Jr.
Heatter remained with Mutual until, like many of the Depression and wartime broadcasters and commentators, his influence gave way to a newer generation of broadcasters - those who made the transition to television, or started in TV bypassing radio entirely. By the 1960s, Heatter was all but retired.
The paradox was that this national comforter - and, in an apparent rarity for public figures, a man devoid of scandal - may have needed an awful lot of comfort himself, as Heatter admitted when he wrote in due course that one secret to his uplifting style was that by trying to pick himself up, he seemed able to pick others up as well. Insecure to the point of tears in moments alone, Heatter as often as not could barely compose himself when a stranger said hello to him or praised him; he was unable to eat what was put in front of him at formal affairs and often tucked a carefully wrapped sandwich of his own to eat; as much as he loved dog stories and his own dogs, strange dogs on the street terrified him; he was fortunate to have a wife and family who understood and supported him and never seemed to have assailed or criticized him for the insecurities his listeners would never have believed.
At the height of his fame, when he was getting a huge amount of fan mail, the post office delivered many letters that were simply addressed "Gabriel Heatter," without an address... and even one envelope that had no words on it, just two small pictures: the angel Gabriel blowing his horn; and an electric heater, radiating warmth.
That Gabriel Heatter was a powerful force in American broadcast reporting is unquestionable. He did not have all of the dramatics and dynamics of Edward R. Murrow, but Heatter's approach to newscast and commentary was an influence on reporters to come. After his wife's death, Heatter lived in retirement with his daughter until he died of pneumonia in 1972.