Murrow: His Life and Times, A.M. Sperber

This is the hugest book ever.  I have been reading it and reading it.  It’s about Edward Murrow as you might have imagined, and I will just tell you now that Edward Murrow was quite a person.  He wasn’t always perfect (of course), but I admire him tremendously.  Everyone I know is now tired of hearing Edward R. Murrow stories.  Like the one about when he went to Buchenwald with the troops, and people there – people who were in Buchenwald – recognized him and asked if he remembered them.  And the one about how someone asked his four-year-old son Casey if he had been to the playground and Casey said, “I have not.  I have spent the day investigating Washington.”

But my favorite story is this story.  Someone Murrow knew had been blacklisted, and had subsequently (of course) had trouble finding work, so this guy was going to sue the blacklist people, and the lawyer fee was $10,000.  Edward Murrow told the guy, no worries, CBS will pay for it, it’s in everyone’s best interests that CBS pay for it; so he went and asked CBS to pay for it, and CBS said no.  So Edward Murrow said to the guy, okay, you pay what you can, and I’ll pay the rest, which was $7500.  He said he didn’t want to be paid back.  He said it was “an investment in America.”  He said he had a son to raise and he wanted this lawsuit to work out because the blacklist was paid.  And eventually the guy won the libel suit and got several million dollars, and still Edward Murrow wouldn’t let him pay him back.

So that is a really nice story.  Edward Murrow was a really good guy.  I admire him, and I enjoyed this book a lot.  It was very sad in many ways because Edward Murrow was often very depressed and felt defeated, and the author conveyed that quite well.  I found it hard to read some of it, how unhappy Edward Murrow must have been.  Like when he said it was a hell of a thing for your eight-year-old son to be called a dirty Communist.  That hurt my heart.  Poor Edward Murrow.

I thought that sometimes the author wasted a lot of time on setting up a story or anecdote that didn’t really lead anywhere; i.e., to understand the story you had to have all this very dull backstory first, and then the story itself wasn’t that interesting to start with.  As well I had the same problem I always have with biographies, which is that I couldn’t keep track of all the characters there were, which was many, many, many.

My other complaint was, not enough Janet Murrow.  I believe that Janet Murrow was a very cool and smart person, and I wanted to hear more about Edward Murrow’s family generally.  Family is important!  I wanted to know more about it!

Still, it was an excellent book.  While I was reading it, I started also watching Good Night and Good Luck, to see how it compared.  I liked it that I knew who all the characters were – aha, Robert Downey Jr. is Wershba!, I said to myself with happiness – but I decided to wait until I finished the book, to watch the movie.  So that I would know what was going to happen in the film, and also so that I could decide how I felt about the way they did all the different things.  I shall watch it tomorrow maybe.

Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America Into War, Philip Seib

What a lovely book.  I didn’t know Edward Murrow had had anything to do with Britain in the War at all, but evidently he and his wife moved there before the war started and stayed after it began.  The Murrows came home to America in 1941, just in time for Pearl Harbor, and then they went back to England again, because Edward Murrow wanted to explain America to Britain and the other way around.  When I was reading this book, I discovered lots of nice things about Edward Murrow and his lovely wife Janet.  For instance, they moved to London before the War, and they stayed there all through the whole war.  Janet Murrow worked on committees and wrote charming letters to their parents, viz.:

Janet told her parents that Mary Street, an older woman who lived in a flat below the Murrows, had “heard that my husband was out all night broadcasting.  So, thinking I’d be nervous, if there were air raids at night, she wanted me to know that she’d be glad to have me come down anytime and sit with her.  She has made a gas-proof room out of one of her small rooms.  I thought it was terribly sweet of her to say I might share her gas-proof room.”  Janet reported that Miss Street had also told her she’d be ready at any hour: “I’m an old trouper.  When I hears the guns I tuck me nightie in me knickers and put on me shoes.”

Actually I found all the excerpts from her letters really endearing.  I wished there were more.  She said that when she and her husband went to see Gone with the Wind, “Ed kept saying ‘God, this is horrible,’ in all the most sentimental parts, much to the annoyance of the people about us.”  I so feel it.

In addition, they worked really hard to get children out of London.  They would ring up their friends in America and ask them please to sponsor families  from London who were escaping to America away from the bombs, and they would say, Do not worry if they incur any expenses, we will pay those expenses.  And they both wrote, and Edward Murrow delivered, many broadcasts on the American radio to tell everyone in America what was going on, so that America would come and help Britain to defeat Hitler, who was very, very evil.  Edward Murrow would say “This is London”, and he would tell stories about how brave the Londoners were even though they were being bombed, and he would tell them what was happening with Hitler and the War.  He did this very much, in order to build support for the war in America, so that people would not listen to That Enormous Poophead Charles Lindbergh who said that London was doomed and anyway the Jews probably deserved it because they were annoying.

And the Londoners were very brave.  Darling, darling London.  London is so brave and stiff-upper-lip-y.  I always thought it was exaggerated, but then one time I was in London when they had a massive catastrophe, and no, really, the truth is, the Brits have a stiff upper lip.  They are the people you want to hang out with in a crisis.  (Out with in.  Mercy.)

So I feel extremely fond of the Murrows.  They did not have to stay in London when it was being frighteningly bombed.  They could have gone straight home when the war started, but instead they stayed put and tried to communicate what was going on to America; and when they were not doing that, they (and by they, I think I mostly mean Janet) were organizing helpful war effort projects like evacuating children and making things for the soldiers.

This book was rather slight, but it was sweet.  Like when Churchill told Joseph Kennedy that the British would fight Hitler to the last man, and if Britain should be overrun, then they would move the government to Canada and fight on from there.  Bless them.  And bless Edward Murrow, he seems like a man of such conviction.  I admire a man who can make an impact.  Here is what Archibald MacLeish said to him, after America had finally entered the war, after Pearl Harbor:

“You burned the city of London in our houses and we felt the flames that burned it.  You laid the dead of London at our doors and we knew the dead were our dead – were all men’s dead – were all mankind’s dead – and ours.”

P.S. On the other hand, Nancy Astor was evidently so awful and anti-Semitic and let-the-Germans-have-what-they-want-y, and BFF with Joseph Kennedy who got his daughter a lobotomy and didn’t even tell his wife – anyway, she was an MP, and one time another MP referred to her as “the honorable member from Berlin.”  Ouch.