Old Newscasters Never Die
August 27, 2011
The chronology unfolded about like this: I recently visited my hometown Sacramento, which I’d left in 1991, and was as ever moved by familiar places laden with ancient memories, and shortly after returning to Bakersfield I wondered what had become of several television newscasters from my youth. And in particular I was interested in Harry Martin who a half century ago delighted me with his daily announcement, “Hello, Captain Sacto to control tower, tell all the boys and girls I’m coming in” on a jet he landed and emerged from to take the “assignment, cartoon fun for everyone.”
Martin later parlayed his lifelong devotion to movies and television into a career interviewing hundreds of celebrities. I searched online and found him imitating how John Wayne answered his hotel phone and asked Martin what he wanted before The Duke agreed to talk in a half hour, and kidding Paul Newman about making many movies starting with H and wondering why he didn’t call the latest “Hot Hand Luke,” and laughing at the impromptu jokes of Jay Leno and Dana Carvey. I’d always considered Martin a witty fellow and now realized he was often entertaining as stars he hosted.
So what happened to Harry Martin? A five-minute report from 2008 by his old station, Channel 3, revealed he’d died of cancer. I was stunned by what seemed a premature demise but compelled to do the math posted on-screen: he was born in 1927, when Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs and Calvin Coolidge, an uncredited advocate of civil rights, quietly dwelled in the White House. Martin, indeed, had retired a generation ago, at age sixty-one in 1988. I still lived in Sacramento and should’ve known. My images of the man had ceased changing decades ago, but time proceeded. John Wayne passed away in 1979 and Paul Newman in 2008. And in the intervening years Jackie Gleason, Burt Lancaster, Bob Hope, and many other Martin interviewees departed. Now we have only the videos and memories of a man who personified good times.