restricted access 3. On the Network “Blacklist”
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47 For five years, beginning in 1959, I was locked out of network television. Five years stolen from a career that started late. Five years at the peak of one’s ambition. Blacklist is a harsh word. Put it this way: When the man who runs the company thinks you can’t perform, he has every right not to put you on the air. That man’s name was Tom Moore. The company he ran was ABC. —Howard Cosell, Cosell, 1973 In Cosell, the best-selling autobiography written by Howard Cosell, with editorial assistance from Mickey Herskowitz, during his rapid ascent to mega-fame in the early 1970s, Cosell refers to his failure to land a job on network television as being “blacklisted.” In his choice of that loaded term, he indirectly recalls the fear and insecurity that characterized work in broadcasting during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Yet Cosell actually claims that he was kept off network television not because he was thought to have been a communist, but because Tom Moore of ABC found him to be too abrasive , too much of a New Yorker, and implicitly too Jewish. The force behind this “blacklist” was not a government agency or congressional subcommittee putting pressure on the network, but an advertising-savvy broadcasting executive trying to build up a struggling network, for whom Cosell provided the “wrong image.”1 Although there is too little information to give a clear picture of Cosell’s actual involvement with the Television Writers of America, at the very least the episode detailed in the previous chapter illustrates the terrifying and stifling atmosphere created by the Red Scare, at a time when Cosell was seeking to gain a foothold in sports broadcasting. As Paul Buhle has illustrated in his extensive scholarship on Hollywood during the Red Scare, Jews in the entertainment industry had to be 3 On the Network “Blacklist” 48 chap t er 3 especially concerned about being tagged as communists. Although the great entrepreneurs of the television networks—David Sarnoff of NBC, William Paley of CBS, and Leonard Goldenson of ABC—were all Jewish, many in the television industry worried that American audiences , and particularly southern audiences, saw Jews as perennial foreigners , “un-American” by definition. It should come as no surprise, then, that as Howard Cosell worked to gain acceptance as a sportscaster during the 1950s, he would invoke the language of the Red Scare, as his struggles were very much about overcoming his status as an “outsider,” as a man whose obvious connection to an ethnic past simply could not be erased from his public persona. Yet ironically, it would be those same ethnic traits and personal qualities that kept him off the air in the late 1950s and early 1960s that would come to be seen as an asset by the network as sports broadcasters began to grapple with a new phenomenon: the political mobilization of African American athletes during the 1960s. A 1958 press release from the ABC Radio Network contains a phrase that Cosell would often use to describe a cornerback who would make a key interception or a third baseman who would catch a sharply hit line drive: “In the Right Place, at the Right Time.” The public relations document gushes about the network’s new upstart radio commentator and boxing analyst: “Cosell can be seen in the dressing rooms of fighters, both before and after every major bout, at the ballparks and just about every other place sports news is likely to develop .” It continues: The lawyer-turned-broadcaster never has been refused an interview—his log of guests reads like a sports who’s who. You name them—Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Casey Stengel, Bud Wilkinson, Jackie Robinson, Bob Cousy, Otto Graham, Paul Brown, Cary Middlecoff, Sam Snead, Althea Gibson, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzales, Paul Hornung, Frank Gifford, Fred Haney, Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, Ray Robinson, Bobby Bragan, Branch Rickey, Maurice Richard, Muzz Patrick, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain—and chances are he or she has appeared on one or more of Cosell’s programs.2 It had been over five years since Cosell began All League Clubhouse, nearly four since he had given up his law practice. He was continuing 49 on t he networ k “blacklist” to work hard to keep his career as a sports broadcaster afloat. In July 1957 he began to appear regularly on the ABC television network with a nightly sports commentary program that aired...


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