Sunday, July 19, 2009

Twelve Seconds of Fame

When Walter Cronkite died this week at 92, commentators rushed to describe his two decades of fame as the “most trusted man in America.” Cronkite was very famous. As many as 18 million viewers regularly tuned into the CBS Evening News when he anchored the program from 1962 to 1981.

For 25 years, I thought his program had given me two minutes of fame. I appeared on the show in 1973 as a U.S. Forest Service spokesman reporting on western forest fire activity. Telling new acquaintances that “I once was on the evening news with Walter Cronkite,” always was an attention-getter and a positive shot to the old ego, because until recent years just about everybody had seen and admired Cronkite.

Quite a few people told me they saw the forest fire show. But a quarter century passed before I saw it. I was interviewed at the Boise Interagency Fire Center (now the National Interagency Fire Center). My work was hectic, with no time for television watching, so I missed the original show. I asked others for descriptions. They said it ran about two minutes, and looked all right. I called it “my two minutes of fame” for years after that.

When the fire crisis was over, the Director of Fire and Aviation Management came out from the national office to tell personnel at the Boise center what a good job they had done. He planned to show a tape of the Cronkite program as part of his presentation. Just as the tape was about to roll, I was called away to answer an urgent media telephone request. I missed the show again.

Last year, in an idle moment, I googled myself and discovered that Vanderbilt University had the show in its Television News Archive. I invested $35 to view it. Sure enough, there I was, delivering a couple of uninspired sentences describing the fire situation.

The show segment did run about two minutes. But I was only on camera for 12 seconds. My fame was fleeting.

And that’s the way it was on Aug. 21, 1973.

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