June 13, 2003
Quiet Dignity Among Men in Giant Mediums
It is Friday morning here in New York; rain continues to
fall. We had a few minutes this week of sun and the chill
has started to surrender to the city's summer mugginess.
But it may be that the rain this morning is simply the universe
weeping for the passing of David Brinkley and Gregory Peck.
The first thing I heard this morning was that Gregory Peck
had died and I felt a sense of his passing, as I did yesterday
with David Brinkley.
As a small child, I would sit with my father as he watched
the Huntley/Brinkley Report, smoking L&M cigarettes and
having a high ball, freshly home from the office. We'd listen
to the world news and those moments were, I think, my first
window to the wide world and the importance of things that
went on more than two blocks from my house.
That program helped define, as we now look back, the shape
and influence of television news. Those two men helped created
a prototype of a program that has been replicated ad infinitum
since then and which shifted the American population towards
television as their primary source of news.
We watched the final broadcast of the Huntley/Brinkley Report
as Huntley said good night for the last time before going
off to the ranch he'd bought in Montana. I thought, I can
remember now, that I was watching something important: the
end of one thing, the beginning of another.
It seemed that not long later Huntley died of cancer and
Brinkley cut his own swath across the television landscape
but for me, and I suspect many of my baby boom generation,
those two men are linked forever in our minds because they
were together when we were young.
They gave to national and international events a sense of
gravitas with a dose of intelligence and gentle humor. I will
always remember the small wry grin that barely moved Brinkley's
mouth as he said, "Good night, Chet."
This morning, as I retrospect on David Brinkley's death,
I realize how influential he was in my life, an influence
I experienced but did not cognitively recognize until today.
The same is true of Gregory Peck.
He had less of an immediate impact on my life. He was an
actor I admired and respected. He was a human being I admired
and respected. It always seemed he conducted his life with
a quiet dignity and that was, in itself, admirable. That's
particularly true when it seems that most movie stars, both
of today and yesterday, are as well known for their misbehaviors
as their talent.
He will forever be, in most minds, Atticus Finch in TO KILL
A MOCKINGBIRD, a role that challenged the rest of the country
to rethink their racial attitudes and influenced the slow
national shift toward accepting the concept, both emotionally
and actually, of racial equality.
It would not have been so important a film without his performance.
As I add more years to my life experience, I find that this
thing of quiet dignity more important than ever before. No
one is perfect. Not knowing David Brinkley and Gregory Peck
personally I am not aware of their warts and am left with
their legacy of quiet dignity and sense of personal integrity.
However, I suspect, that even if I knew them personally I
would still be left with a legacy of dignity and integrity.
Gregory Peck gave weight to the silver screen during the
"golden days" of filmmaking. His choice of roles
gave weight to his career.
David Brinkley gave weight to television when it was establishing
itself as a force in our lives and was defining its influence
- and its responsibilities - in our collective lives. And
as an active participant Brinkley helped shape and define
those things for the medium.
Individuals who infuse their time and mediums with a sense
of "weight" deserve the term of "giant"
which is how the newspapers and news programs this morning
are describing these two men. It is not an inappropriate use
of the word.
Good night, David. Good-bye, Mr. Peck.