Jen Johan and I Talk about Eve Arden and Judy Greer — The Classic Movie Best Friends
Posted on September 23, 2022 at 12:00 pm
It is always a joy to be a guest on Jen Johan’s wonderful podcast, and it was a special treat to talk to her about the two fabulous actresses who are the ultimate movie Best Friends, the quippy sidekicks who act as confidants and co-conspirators, and sometimes frenemies in movie after movie: Eve Arden and Judy Greer.
“Do you know anything about telecommunications satellites?” It was my first day at the Federal Communications Commission, where I had just been appointed Chairman by President John F. Kennedy. It was 1961 and I was 35 years old. The question came from one of the other Commissioners, T.A.M. Craven, originally a Franklin Roosevelt appointee, then re-named by Eisenhower. Craven had formerly been the Commission’s Chief Engineer.
I admitted I did not know anything about them. He groaned. “This is the one area where we are ahead of the space technology of the Russians,” he said. And he began to tell me that Bell Laboratories had developed a satellite that could be launched into space to bounce signals and open up endless new possibilities for broadcasts and telephones.
In 1961 we were just a few years from having to call the operator to place expensive long-distance calls. There were just two and a half national television commercial broadcast networks and many communities had no local station. Only a few cities had what would become nationwide public television. Today we take it for granted that we can watch world events from royal weddings to the Olympic games to the Oscars in real time, but that was a long way off in 1961. As Commissioner Craven explained to me what the satellite could do, it seemed like something out of Flash Gordon. And yet, we did not imagine a fraction of the changes that launch would bring.
The technology was there. But first, we needed a plan to take it to Congress. The Communications Satellite Act was complicated and controversial. It required coordination with American businesses and the government (we wanted to make sure that no one corporation would have control). Today it might be harder to imagine that we were able to get bi-partisan legislation passed within a year than it is to count up the monumental changes the satellite has brought, but it was one of three major pieces of legislation we got passed to make telecommunications more broadly accessible and expand the choices for viewers between 1961–63.
I am the second from the right at the signing ceremony of the Communications Satellite Act in the Oval Office. See below for a full list of those in the photo.
When he signed the new law, President Kennedy said,
By enacting this legislation, Congress has taken a step of historic importance. It promises significant benefits to our own people and to the entire world. Its purpose is to establish a commercial communications system utilizing space satellites which will serve our needs and those of other countries and contribute to world peace and understanding.
The benefits which a satellite system should make possible within a few years will stem largely from a vastly increased capacity to exchange information cheaply and reliably with all parts of the world by telephone, telegraph, radio, and television. The ultimate result will be to encourage and facilitate world trade, education, entertainment, and many kinds of professional, political, and personal discourse which are essential to healthy human relationships and international understanding.
Better and less expensive communications, like better and less expensive transportation, are vital elements in the march of civilization. This legislation will, by advancing the peaceful and productive use of space, help to accelerate that march, and I extend appreciation to the Members of Congress who worked so hard to secure passage of a very effective piece of legislation.
The satellite was launched on July 10, 1962, 60 years ago today, the world’s first commercial payload of any kind in space. According to NASA, “Two days later, it relayed the world’s first transatlantic television signal, from Andover Earth Station, Maine, to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center, Brittany, France…. The first images, those of President John F. Kennedy and of singer Yves Montand from France, along with clips of sporting events, images of the American flag waving in the breeze and a still image of Mount Rushmore, were precursors of the global communications that today are mostly taken for granted.”
Last month, my family was in Europe, where they were able to use GPS to get around, send me photos by email and text, watch the January 6 hearing live on CNN, and call me for nominal cost, all made possible by telecommunications satellites that began with Telstar.
President Kennedy promised that America would put a man on the moon. I told him the telecommunication satellite was even more important because the satellite will launch ideas, and ideas last longer than people.
Souvenir of the launch
In the Oval Office photo: President John F. Kennedy hands a pen to Representative Samuel N. Friedel of Maryland during a signing ceremony for HR 11040, the Communications Satellite Act of 1962. (L-R) Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois; Representative J. Arthur Younger of California (turned away from camera); Representative John B. Bennett of Michigan; Representative Friedel (front, glasses); Representative Oren Harris of Arkansas (mostly hidden behind hand); Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington; Speaker of the House of Representatives John W. McCormack; Senator Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma; Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia; Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota; Senator John Sparkman of Alabama; Joseph A. Beirne, Vice President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); Representative William L. Springer of Illinois; unidentified (partially hidden behind Representative Springer); Senator John O. Pastore of Rhode Island; Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); Executive Secretary of National Aeronautics and Space Council Edward C. Welsh. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C
61 Years After the Legendary Vast Wasteland Speech
Posted on May 9, 2022 at 8:09 am
Sixty-one years ago today, on May 9, 1961, my dad, the 35-year-old Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, made three significant appearances. In Washington, he gave his famous “vast wasteland” speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, telling them that while “when television is good, nothing is better,” he expected them to do more to uphold their statutory obligation to serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Then he went back to the FCC office, where he met with Elizabeth Campbell to sign the original license for WETA, the first educational television station in the nation’s capital, now the producer of the Ken Burns documentaries and the nightly Newshour. And then he flew to Chicago to attend the father-daughter dinner for my Brownie troop.
I often thought about how those three events defined his character: inspiring those around him to do better, supporting the visions of people making enriching cultural content and reliable news sources widely available, and always putting his family first. Over the next decades this was reflected in his efforts as a founder and board chair of PBS, a director of CBS, helping to create the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), where he served as vice chair until this year, working to require the V-chip and closed captioning, helping to get the start-up funding for “Sesame Street,” and arguing for the rescission of the radio license of a station that broadcast virulently racist and anti-Semitic programming. His countless awards include more than a dozen honorary doctorates, a Peabody, and the highest honor for American civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama (who met Michelle when they were both working in my father’s law office). Our family’s favorite “honor” might be the sinking ship on “Gilligan’s Island,” named as an insult to my father for his criticism of television by producer Sherwood Schwartz. They later had a very cordial correspondence.
He appeared on Chicago’s PBS station last month to talk about the RNC’s announcement that they would not participate in the Presidential Debates.
Mike Leonard’s documentary about my dad has some wonderful stories.
I talked to my dad about some of his formative experiences, including the words from Bobby Kennedy that inspired him to focus on telecommunications, what he will advise the new FCC Chair, and why he told President Kennedy the first telecommunications satellite was more important than putting a man on the moon.
He is the world’s best dad and grandpa. We are so lucky.
If Halloween is over, it’s time for Hallmark Christmas movies! And a new book gives you something to look at while the many, many commercials are interrupting them. It is a delightful guide to the best produced so far, from how the Deck the Hallmark podcast hosts and best friends Brandon Gray, Daniel “Panda” Pandolph, and Dan Thompson. They unabashedly love these movies while fully aware of their formulas and other issues. Also, they are very funny.
In I’ll be Home for Christmas Movies, they share reviews that make you feel like you’re watching these holiday favorites with your best buds, discussing warm Christmas feelings and absolutely bonkers plot twists with equal enthusiasm. And thanks to original interviews with the movies’ stars and creators, fans will find out insider information on the making of the movies and learn answers to pressing questions: Why do the lead characters keep coming down with amnesia? Why do so many female stock brokers and lawyers find themselves forced to plan parties? And do all of the stories take place within something called the “Kennyverse”?
To complete the perfect Christmas package, the book is also chock-full of ideas for hosting your own holiday movie-watching party, complete with delicious recipes and it features dozens of full-color photos.
He appeared on his favorite news program, the PBS Newshour, to talk to Judy Woodruff about television then and now.
NPR celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, and its official history gives my dad some of the credit. He also helped launch the first telecommunications satellite, helped get the original funding for “Sesame Street” and helped create the Presidential Debates, involved in every one going back to the original, Kennedy-Nixon, and designed the current bi-partisan commission, where he still serves as Vice Chair.
In 1961, Dad was President Kennedy’s new Chairman of the FCC, just 35 years old, and in his first major address he told the National Association of Broadcasters that while there was much to admire on television, too much of it was a “vast wasteland.”
He told the audience about the day before the speech, when President Kennedy brought Commander Alan Shepherd, who had just become the first American in space, and his wife, to the National Association of Broadcasters event Dad would be speaking to the following day. President Kennedy invited Dad to come upstairs while he changed his shirt, to give him some ideas about what to tell the broadcasters. Dad suggested that he talk about the difference between the way Americans and the Soviet Union conducted their space program. In the US, we had all the television cameras there to show the American people, good or bad, what was happening.
At the time Dad called on the broadcasters to do better, there were just three national television networks. There was no PBS, just a National Educational Television which was not even available in most of the country, including Washington DC itself. My father told the broadcasters that as long as the airwaves were a scarce resource, they would have to do better to live up to their statutory obligation to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity, especially with regard to coverage of news and programming for children.
Dad worked over the next half-century to make more choices available, including cable and satellite as well as the creation of a robust public television station. He served as chairman of PBS and of the Chicago affiliate WTTW, served on the board of CBS, pushed for closed captioning to make television programming available to hearing-impaired viewers and those learning to read or speak English, and argued one of the only cases in history to have a broadcast license rescinded - a station that spewed hatred across the airwaves. In protest of his critique of television, the sinking ship on “Gilligan’s Island” was named after him, the S.S. Minnow! He is so proud he has a lifesaver from the SS Minnow on his office wall, a gift from his law partners for his 90th birthday. He was presented with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama, in 2016.
PBS has a great documentary about him which is free to watch online. He is also the world’s best dad and we are all so proud of him.