Judge Brett Cullum has cigarette in hand as he watches these celebrity interviews through the window of the past.
Meet the stars person to person!
Edward R. Murrow has been painted as a mythic hero by journalism, Hollywood, and popular history. Look no further than George Clooney's recent film Good Night, and Good Luck for a fine example of how the chain-smoking CBS reporter changed the course of broadcasting history. Yet Murrow certainly wasn't always doing hard-hitting news stories on the government tracking down alleged Communists; sometimes he was doing fluffy Entertainment Tonight-style interviews with celebrities promoting their latest projects. Person to Person ran as a prime-time show from 1953 until 1959, and was never one of Murrow's proudest moments. He had originally intended the series to be portraits of "common" America, and yearned to feature average people every week. Instead the program became all about celebrity interviews with Hollywood luminaries. Yet the program was well-watched, allowing Murrow and CBS News the financial freedom to cover more important topics. The conceit of the show featured Murrow looking out a window, speaking live to celebrities in their homes instead of bringing them into the studio. The physical set defined austere: a chair, a table, an ashtray, and a couple of curtains.
Most of the footage featured in Edward R. Murrow—The Best of Person to Person has remained unseen since its original broadcast in CBS vaults for over 50 years. It's all in the original full-screen format, and the quality varies from clip to clip, depending on how well preserved the film stock is. Some segments are clearer than others, and all of them have the bleached-out black-and-white television look of the era. Audio is as clear as it can be, but a decidedly nonassertive mono mix which is also true to the original broadcasts. News anchor Bob Schieffer introduces each disc of the three-disc set, and dates are announced before each segment.
Disc 1 contains "American Icons": Dick Clark, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, Oscar Hammerstein, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Norman Rockwell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Danny Thomas, Art Linkletter, and Esther Williams.
Disc 2 showcases "Hollywood Legends": Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis with Janet Leigh, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd.
Disc 3 concentrates on "Legendary Entertainers": Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sid Caesar, Liberace, Carol Channing, and Helen Hayes.
This is all great stuff, and a nice look into Murrow's lighter side for the most part. Even the interviews with political luminaries are more human interest than hard-hitting journalism. These segments were technical feats of wonder back in the '50s. Huge cables, bulky cameras, and unreliable technology plagued Person to Person. In the Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh segment, the audio for Murrow is lost, and the two stars begin to interview each other. It's a wonderfully spontaneous moment that makes the show endearing. Back in the day Murrow was seen as a sell-out for doing this kind of entertainment-centered journalism, even though Barbara Walters is revered today for doing the same thing. And it's funny to hear Paul Newman talk about the virtues of fresh orange juice, Marilyn Monroe wax poetic about the circus, or Esther Williams give her thoughts on what makes a perfect laundry room.
For people who love the early age of television, Edward R. Murrow—The Best of Person to Person is a treasure trove of celebrity clips that have not been seen in half a century. The interviews are safe and reassuring, and Murrow is strangely comfortable just talking back and forth with his celebrated guests. Of course he has cigarette in hand always, and everyone seems eager to demystify themselves. But that's where this show gets interesting, because truly these people are not normal and they let the facade drop every now and then. They come off as a little bit loopy and out of touch, especially when they try to normalize their lives. These were scripted interviews—make no mistake—but when reality spikes through, Person to Person becomes fascinating. You need to be a fan of the studio era of Hollywood to appreciate these stars, but fans will find all of this irresistible.
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