Los Angeles, Aug. 30, 2020
Simesite has learned of the passing of former longtime Daily Variety mugg Morrie Gelman last Wednesday (Aug. 26) in Palm Desert, California. He died of heart failure at age 90 with his family at his side.
During his nearly 50-year career, Gelman reported news as a journalist at prestigious big-city newspapers during their heydays, and then transitioned to business magazines as they ascended on the media landscape. He was employed at multiple leading consumer-focused and trade publications including Variety, Daily Variety, Broadcasting & Cable, the New York Post and Advertising Age. He worked initially in New York and then in Los Angeles, retiring in 2000.
As a journalist, Morrie chronicled the rise of TV broadcasting and later the cable TV revolution, providing insight and vision in thousands of his by-lined articles. Colleagues remember him as a man without pretensions covering the media industry which is populated by many overbearing personalities. He was a steadying influence in newsrooms that were volatile, a deep thinker about industry shifts, and a caring and well-liked co-worker.
Born Morris Gelman in Brooklyn, he began his work career in the New York City mailroom of national radio broadcaster Mutual Broadcasting System in 1948. After two years in the Army, he worked five years at the New York Post as an assistant to famed nationally-syndicated columnist Earl Wilson and later as a police reporter. He also was a journalist at the Brooklyn Eagle.
Gelman then continued his career as Features Editor at Theater Magazine, a national monthly, and was a member of the Drama Critics Circle. Later, he was Editorial Director at United Business Publications and Japanese publisher Dempa Publications.
Gelman spent 12 years as Senior Correspondent for weekly trade mag BroadcastingMagazine (now Broadcasting & Cable), was West Coast Bureau Chief for Advertising Age, where he helped establish its print weekly trade magazine Electronic Media (later known as TV Week). He also worked as a senior writer for 10 years for Daily Variety and weekly Variety,based in the Cahuenga Blvd. office of the Daily in Hollywood.
As a historian, Gelman was one of the chief interviewers for the Archive of American Broadcasting at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He ran his own marketing and media research firm in the 1990’s and in 1998 published his book, The Best in Television, 50 Years of Emmys at which time he also did a series of interviews for a six-episode Oral History of Television. He is survived by Marisa, his wife of 65 years; two sons; and two grandchildren.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary celebration of Variety in 2005 and the dinner that was held in Sardi’s restaurant on September 24 in conjunction with it, Morrie sent the following contribution for the Centennial Souvenir Album that was printed at that time:
A Haimish Place
“Don’t change,” the stranger pleaded with me. I was at a convention taking in the scene when this nicely-dressed, middle-aged man approached me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What did you say?”
“Don’t change,” he repeated, this time more emphatically. I could see by the plastic badge pinned to his left lapel that he was a professor from the University of Denver.
“I don’t understand. What is it that I shouldn’t change” I wondered.
“You’re from Variety, right?” he questioned. I didn’t need to answer. I was wearing an identification badge as well. But I nodded.
“There’s going to be pressure for your paper to change,” the professor continued. “Don’t do it,” he advised. “You’re one of a kind. Don’t become like all the others. Keep being special.”
I told him I would do my best. This was he extent of our conversation. A brief encounter. It took place six months before Variety changed ownership.
I went back from the convention to the musty, dusty, noisy old office of Daily Variety at 1400 North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. That office fitted my personality like the black cloth Mountain Country, made-in-China slippers I put on as soon as the front door of my house closes behind me. It had character. There’s a Yiddish word that described the office best. It was haimish, meaning informal, cozy, warm.
The office also had noise. Clack, clack, clack went the Underwood and the Royal typewriters. Even louder clack , clack, clack sounds burped from the teletype machines. Always there was the busy sound of reporters on the loose: phones ringing, a loud cackle of laughter from a corner, a burst of profanity from the side, the rustle of papers unfolded, talk of conversation across desks, the incessant hum of activity in the air.
Hello, Central Casting? File this one under old-fashioned, shimmy-suit type newspaper office. It had all the requisites: battered typewriters, cheap metal desks, dented file cabinets, peeling paint on the walls. Despite a woman at the switchboard and later another at the music desk, this was as much a male retreat as the pool of the YMCA nearby where swimming in the nude was the norm.
I first came to 1400 Cahuenga in 1977. I intentionally parked blocks away at the Taft Building on Hollywood and Vine. This was my old haunt and I was overdue for a revisit to the area. Behind me as I started my rediscovery was the round tower of the Capitol Records building, Hollywood’s most indelible landmark with its design resembling a stack of 45 rpm records stacked on a phonograph. I strolled past the Brown Derby, already 50 years old, the Broadway Department Store and Vine Street Theatre on the other side of the street. I crossed over Sunset Boulevard, site of one of the first film studios in Hollywood, and then the home of the NBC radio network. The open-all-night Hollywood Ranch Market was in sight further down on Vine but I headed west on Sunset past Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome. Further down on Sunset was Hollywood’s first shopping arcade, the tacky Crossroads of the World. But I turned on Cahuenga walking the short block to the corner of De Longpre.
I was overdressed for the occasion. I was wearing a jacket and tie. Little did I know that the dress code at 1400 Cahuenga was as laissez-faire as a rock concert. I must have looked like the typical middle-class drone. A bearded guy was sitting with his back against a building, a guitar in his lap. He positioned his thumb and index finger in the form of a gun and shouted, “pow”, blowing me away in his mind. That was my welcome to the gateway to 1400 Cahuenga.
The Daily Variety building was on the corner of Cahuenga and De Longpre, just south of Sunset. I quickly appraised it as a dinosaur of a place, an anomaly, more suited, as many other structures in the area, as a post production facility. As I walked through the glass doors, past the switchboard where Maggie Books sat on my way to Tom Pryor’s office down a dark little hallway, I peeked into the editorial space. It looked like the city room of the New York Post at 75 West Street in New York, only one-third as large. I spent my first years in newspaper work there, although most of my time was in Earl Wilson’s office, one floor up, or at the Brooklyn Police Headquarters press shack. The only thing missing was the smell of urine which was always present there, but I didn’t detect it here.
After hiring me, Tom assigned me a desk in the back, on the aisle, between the rest rooms and the teletype room. I understood I was the rookie as far from a corner office with a window as one can get. That’s OK. Did you hear of the Stockholm syndrome in which captives become sympathetic with their captors? That was me with my location in the office. I grew to love my place of capture.
There are some people who can’t sleep without the hum of an air conditioner or music playing It got to the point where I couldn’t write without the vibration of the AP, UPI machines rocking my desk. The clatter of the machines blocked out the cross current of telephone conversations going on all around me.
I looked across the room and saw Whitney Williams, the quintessential veteran, oblivious to all but the work in front of him, at the other end Peter Pryor and the busy desk people were in the middle. Art Murphy, Grumpy and unapproachable, was in the corner opposite me. Joe McBride, charged with energy and Jim Harwood enveloped in smoke in front of me. Dave Kaufman and Wil Tusher, both straight out of Ben Hercht’s Front Page, on the side of me. I could view the whole churn of reportorial activity from my seat on the aisle. There were no cubicles. There was no working in isolation. This was a warm-blooded, ink-stained, no-frills newspaper workplace.
A couple of years after leaving the paper, I had occasion to visit the new office under the new management at 5700 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 120. A suite not a city room. It was stilled. It was sterile. There was a scent of apprehension in the air. Thomas Wolfe’s creation George Webber comes back from Europe and revisits his home town. He’s disillusioned by what he sees. He concludes you can’t go home again.
Back in 2009 Morrie Gelman filed an obit on Jennifer Pendleton, which we posted onSimesite at the time. You can see it if you click on:
Jennifer Pendleton – Simesite