Monday, 30 December 2013

My Love Affair with USA Today

How’s this for a Coincidence? “USA Today” started publishing in August, 1982. I quit teaching in the same week! Everybody mocked both me, the wild professor, and the innovative newspaper. Goons predicted the experimental daily would flop in months. It puzzled my colleagues at Arcadia University (in a Philadelphia suburb) that I would walk away from a full professorship with tenure, or indeed I had chucked the English chairmanship ten years before. And I taught often in London every summer and often the whole year.

Well, here’s a quick Curriculum Vitae explaining my paradoxes. It all began in 1930 when my furniture salesman father abandoned  my Mother, me and a brother seven years older. He flew off to Las Vegas with his secretary Ruth to bigamy.

I was the A+ favorite of Sister Mary Felicia (“felix” means “happy” in Latin. I was there ten years until I entered Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit to become a Catholic priest. I wowed them in both Greek and Latin! But one night just before Easter vacation, my pal Jim VanSlambrouck and I were experimenting for the first time in Chesterfields (That cigarette sponsored Glenn Miller’s Orchestra every weeknight at 7:00 p.m. But tonight, after midnight, sneaking a smoke in the Gothic Tower.  Bang. Suddenly, there was the Rector, Henry Donnelley. (We adored him because he was so good at playing short stop that the Detroit Tigers gave him a tryout! He asked angrily,”What are you seminarians doing after midnight?”  My smart answer was “We trying to learn how Glenn Miller smokes Chesterfields. Any suggestions?” He kicked me out the next day.

I attended my neighbourhood Edwin Denby High, known as “the Whorehouse of Detroit”. I was too innocent to learn why! (I graduated 2nd in the class of 432 students. I joined the Navy on my 17th birthday, joining as a Seaman 1st class (instead of the usual Able-bodied Seaman) because I had scored so high in the application tests. I was eager to appear at Boot Camp, Great Lakes, September 18, 1944, Wilbur Wright Junior College (to purge sailors not good enough in math to become a Radar Technician. Gulfport, Ms. And Corpus Christi,TX and I was Radar Tech 2nd class. Assigned to Pensacola,Fl Naval Air Station, where pilots just a little older than we were learned how to land on aircraft carriers or how to fly the huge Catalinas.

I was discharged in July,1946 and entered the Jesuit U of Detroit, graduating in 1949 as a Ph.B. in philosophy. Grad School at Western Reserve/Cleveland for a Ph.D. in American Lit. I married the best looking blonde in Detroit, Mary Elizabeth Schneider, at the end of 1950, We soon moved to Michigan State, East Lansing, because in-state tuition was cheaper. (I worked summers in automobile factories for tuition.) I was the janitor at East Lansing State Bank where I leaned that the local high school needed a 10 & 12th grade teacher. I took it. MSU had its first TV station, WKAR, so I talked them into a teenage weekly hour, “Everyman Is a Critic.”

I had become a Marshall McLuhan media freak. That got me a Ford Grant to study the newest media up close in New York City. Scholastic Teacher hired me and my wife to edit a weekly guide to radio and TV, and a monthly column in “The English Journal” on Media Teaching. I read the NYTimes every day as I subwayed from Flushing to Manhattan. One Thursday I read there was to be a media education on Saturday in D.c. I invited myself.

As I opened the auditorium door I saw a black man, Dr, Ralph Bunche, talking intently to an unidentified man: Bunche had just been a “Time” cover. I interrupted their conversation boldly: “Hi! I’m Pat Hazard from East Lansing with a For Foundation grant to improve media education in American high schools. DEAD SILENCE! Finally, the unidentified man asked, Well, how’s it going, Mr. Hazard?” “Lousey,” I replied. “I've been calling the secretary of NBC’s president Pat Weaver, the most innovative TV boss.”. And so  on and on.”

Suddenly, the unidentified guy identified himself. “I’m Roy Larsen, the publisher of “Time” magazine and I like your ideas. And I’m on the Ford Foundation advisers. How would you like an office in “Time”? as he slipped me his card! GULP. “See you Monday morning”! That lucky day I soon had my own office on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Bldg! Looking enviously across Sixth Avenue where now sat Pat Weaver, the NBC boss.

I called his secretary one final time! “Mr. Hazard, it’s the beginning of the Fall TV season, and Mr. Weaver is very busy.” Lamely, I countered it was the start of my grant. “If he ever has 15 free minutes, Please call me. I’m just across Sixth Avenue.” Then I gave the sacred Time number Judson 6-2525.” Five minutes later there was a PA question: "Is there a Patrick D. Hazard here today? Please call Pat Weaver at NBC.” Soon I was in his office where he riding a one man seesaw. It was alleged to reduce tension. Anyway my fifteen minutes exploded to three hours during which he fixed me up with all the brass at NBC.” A great year had begun!

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