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Leslie Midgley
Pioneering Television News Producer

Latter-day Saint. Born 18 January 1915, Salt Lake City, Utah. Died 19 June 2002, White Plains, New York (pneumonia; aftermath of falling). Birth name: Leslie Grant Midgley. Was the producer of "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" from 1967 to 1972. At the time of Kennedy's death in 1963, Midgley was in charge of CBS' prime-time news coverage. Over the four days from the Dallas shooting to Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Midgley pioneered live, commercial-free reportage. Associated Press obituary article, 21 June 2002:
Veteran television news producer Leslie Midgley died of pneumonia Wednesday at his home in Hartsdale, N.Y. He was 87.

Mr. Midgley covered the assassination of president John F. Kennedy for CBS News, producing four nights of instant specials on the president and the shooting. He was a pioneer of that type of programming.

Along with Walter Cronkite, Mr. Midgley exhaustively reported on the Warren Commission's report on the assassination.

Mr. Midgley won many Emmy, Peabody, and other broadcasting awards, and for a decade covered the Vietnam War, including the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Born in Salt Lake City, Mr. Midgley dropped out of college to become a newspaper reporter, moving from city to city, finally winding up at the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune.

He joined CBS in 1954 to write a morning program called "F.Y.I."

In his 1989 memoir, Mr. Midgley worried that network news was "not getting any better in editorial quality, despite dazzling technical advantages."

Longer article, from the Monterey Herald, 29 June 2002 (
Leslie Midgley, a veteran newsman who began his career in print journalism and went on to pioneer the "instant special" for television, producing more than 1,500 programs for CBS News chronicling events such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam War, has died. He was 87.

Midgley died June 19 of pneumonia at a White Plains, N.Y., hospital where he was taken following a fall at his home in Hartsdale, N.Y.

"News," he defined in his autobiography, "is what an editor decides it is."

Midgley, who became that insightfully decisive editor - called a producer in television - decided on a newspaper career while working as a 20-year-old government typist in Depression-era New Deal Washington, D.C., when he visited friends at The Washington Post.

"I decided almost from my first look inside," he wrote in his autobiography, "that if you could actually get paid for doing this there was no reason whatsoever to do anything else. Anything."

Within 15 years, however, he stretched the meaning of "anything" to include television, and spent the next 28 years expanding that new medium's impact on universal communication.

At the time of Kennedy's death in 1963, Midgley was in charge of CBS' prime-time news coverage. Over the four days from the Dallas shooting to Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Midgley pioneered live, commercial-free reportage.

About midnight on the day of the assassination, Midgley recalled in his book, he began to wonder aloud how long he should keep Eric Sevareid on the air. A voice behind him said, "Les, stay on just as long as you want." It was network boss Frank Stanton who kept the network ad-free until Kennedy was buried four days later, forcing other networks to follow suit. At the end of the four days, Midgley agreed with Stanton who murmured, "Television news will never be the same."

A year later, Midgley won praise for his four-part analysis of the report by Chief Justice Earl Warren and his commission concluding that no conspiracy existed in the Kennedy assassination.

The producer also amassed a myriad of Emmys and Peabodys for a decade of covering the Vietnam War, culminating in a comprehensive three-hour special on the night Saigon fell in 1975.

As new techniques developed, including videotape and high-speed jet planes, Midgley incorporated them to produce news coverage. From 1967 to 1972 he was executive producer of "The Evening News" with Walter Cronkite.

Born in Salt Lake City and a University of Utah dropout, Midgley used his family connections -- his grandfather was president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- to land his first job as police reporter on the Mormon-run Deseret News. That was 1935, an era when itinerant journalists moved easily from newspaper to newspaper, learning the trade as reporter, copyreader, page makeup man or editor.

Midgley did just that - working for The Denver Post, the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Chicago Times, back to the Deseret News as city editor, and then in 1940, to the "big town" and the big time, New York City. He landed first on the New York World Telegram and within six months was invited to work at the internationally lauded New York Herald-Tribune.

A voracious reader all his life, Midgley was a natural rewrite man who could craft a readable, informative story from rough notes or poor copy turned in by other reporters. He titled his biography from the professional question he asked his first boss at the World-Telegram, "How long do you want this story? And what do you want it to say?" He was seeking guidance for the practicalities of journalism - space or time available and salient points deemed necessary - requirements he would adapt for decades on the page and on the national airwaves.

Midgley spent a decade with the Herald-Tribune, most of it toward war's end and afterward in the Paris International edition, and then spent a couple of years editing magazines, Collier's and Look where he was managing editor.

In 1954, Midgley joined CBS as a writer partnered with Andy Rooney to script a new morning pilot program called "F.Y.I." (the name later given to the fictitious news program featured on CBS' popular series "Murphy Brown"). Soon Midgley was producing a half-hour news show featuring Sevareid.

By 1956, Midgley began producing specials oninternational news, including coverage of the Hungarian revolt, the Suez invasion, and China, which won an Emmy and a Peabody.

Midgley was named producer of "Eyewitness to History," later "Eyewitness," in 1959, producing 148 weekly programs.

After years of producing evening programming and "The Evening News," he returned to documentaries from 1972 until his retirement from CBS in 1980, when The Washington Post saluted him as "the man who practically invented 'instant specials.' " Midgley worked briefly for NBC News as vice president for special programs, but soon resigned to teach.

Widowed twice, first by the accidental death in 1965 of his wife, Jean Burke, and in 1994 by the death of his wife, consumer advocate Betty Furness, Midgley is survived by his three children with Burke, Leslie Midgley of Hague, N.Y., Andrea Connors of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., and Peter Midgley of Mesa, Ariz.; a stepdaughter, Babbie Green of Los Angeles; two sisters, Ann Gowans and Joy Orr; a brother, Grant; two grandchildren and one step-granddaughter.

Midgley clearly relished his time in newspapers, but also understood what television meant for universal communication.

"That baby," he described the medium he helped nurture, "stirred in its cradle as the decade of the '50s began, then shot up like Jack's beanstalk. Because it brought into American living rooms entertainment, great events as they actually occurred, sports-and daily news.

"Television has, in the last 40 years," he wrote in his 1989 autobiography, "opened wide magic windows through which the entire citizenry, down to the youngest, the most impoverished and the least educated, can watch - and hopefully in some degree understand - what is going on."

Web page created 19 August 2002.