Friday, September 12, 2008

So Long, Sweet George!

The legendary George Putnam, veteran of more than 72 years as a reporter, broadcaster and commentator, passed away last night at 94. I hesitate to recommend reading about him on Wikipedia (very slanted)... so here is a short bio of his incredible life... and here is a little family history in George's own words. Read some of his glorious memories at this link. It's so fitting that this great American passed away as the lights went out on 9/11... and he will be sorely missed in this world.

George's was a wonderful American life. But what few people realize about him is that he served in the Navy twice and was a war hero having flown many dangerous missions as a reporter! During WWII, George served first in the Army and later as a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, winning two citations during his three-year stay. Prior to entering service in WWII, he acted as Master of Ceremonies for "The Army Hour" and he and Lowell Thomas shared the role as the voice of Fox Movietone News. While George achieved early success in New York (where Walter Winchell described his voice as "the greatest in radio and television"), he has been a fixture on the Los Angeles news scene since 1951.

He's perhaps the one reporter who interviewed the four most decorated war heroes - Sgt. Alvin York, Audie Murphy, Joe Hooper and Col. David Hackworth. He has covered every presidency since Herbert Hoover, whom he interviewed after he was out of office and has known most of the big names in politics - Nixon and Reagan in particular - whom he knew on a first-name basis before they rose to prominence. At one point when George was the highest rated television newsman and anchor in Los Angeles, he was urged to run for governor of the state of California. He chose instead to support his friend Ronnie.

For almost a quarter of a century, George Putnam's daily "Talk Back" program on LA's powerhouse KRLA was a blend of two-way conversation with in-studio guests, newsmakers across the nation and his listeners who are likely to hear people of all ages and from all walks of life. And he refused to turn that microphone off almost 'til the end!

Always on top of the latest happenings in the world, George's "One Reporter's Opinion" became a very popular op-ed column on the Internet via top news services such as I should know; I helped George write his weekly column for more than 7 years - we met once a week like clockwork. If I was one minute late, he'd call me: "Where are you? Up and at 'em!" He kept me on my toes, inspired and taught me all about people, the world and politics. And it was fun. He was such a gentleman and so thoughtful and considerate! We had a ball working on that column, of which I was so proud. When he wasn't warning us about porous borders, gangs, and radical Islam, he'd pay humble tribute to some of the big stars that passed. He knew EVERYONE and outlived them all!

I kept trying to get him to write his memoirs but he always told me he had to wait until he died to do so because otherwise they'd crucify him! I still hope "One Reporter's Opinion" becomes a book - those columns are so full of wisdom and insight from a man who lived an amazing life. He was so humble about that and always said, "Sandy, I'm just One Reporter... I don't have anything new to say." But I could never repay him for all he taught me in those 7+ years. It was like going to the school of life every Thursday for an hour or two and listening to a man who understood the ways of the world, politics, people... and how he loved his sweet gal Sal and all the animals!

One of the best times I had working on the column with George was the one about his good friend, Doris Day. He told me how they'd climb under barbed-wire fences to rescue a cat. She actually read the column and was thrilled. He told me of his time with Helen Keller and how she touched his lips to interpret his words. He told me how Mae West tried to kiss him when he was a young man starting out in the business. He recalled living next to the Jackson 5 in Hollywood and how innocent and sweet Michael once was... and how shocked he was at how rude broadcasters had become. Not to mention, his tributes to Nixon and the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, were famous!

Here are some of my favourites:
The Origins of Television - and George should know!
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Flight
The Presidents' Press Throughout Time
The English Language Tower of Babel

We love ya, George and will miss you greatly! I'm sure you're having a drink with the Duke, a one-liner with Tallulah, a smooch with Mae, and a slap on the back with the Gipper!

Please send condolences to: George Putnam c/o Sallilee Conlon - 13610 Yorba Ave., Chino, CA 91710

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