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Gabriel Heatter
BornSeptember 17, 1890
DiedMarch 30, 1972 (aged 81)
NationalityAmerican
Spouse(s)Sadie Hermalin
ChildrenBasil Heatter
Maida Heatter
FamilyMerrill Heatter (nephew)

Gabriel Heatter (September 17, 1890 – March 30, 1972) was an American radio commentator whose World War II-era sign-on, "There's good news tonight," became both his catchphrase and his caricature.[1]

Early life

The son of Jewish immigrants from Austria, Heatter was born and raised in Brooklyn. Young Heatter, who found school difficult but had a passion for reading, became a sidewalk-campaigner for William Randolph Hearst during Hearst's 1906 mayoral campaign. After his high school graduation, Heatter became a society reporter for the tiny weekly, The East New York Record before joining the Brooklyn Daily Times, which led to his being offered a job with Hearst's New York Journal.

To the air

In December 1932, he was invited by Donald Flamm, the owner of New York's WMCA, to debate a Socialist on radio, and when the Socialist was unable to make the date, Heatter had the program almost to himself. His performance impressed both Flamm and listeners. A few months later, he went to work for WOR, as a reporter and commentator. His audience expanded when in 1934, WOR became the flagship station of the newest network, Mutual Broadcasting.

Heatter covered the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the man accused of kidnapping the infant son of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. In 1936, he had to report on Hauptmann's execution. It was delayed, which forced Heatter to continue ad-libbing while he awaited word of when it would occur. His professionalism under pressure and his ability to keep the audience informed without resorting to sensationalism earned him critical praise.

On January 11, 1948, Heatter's Sunday night program changed format and title. As Brighter Tomorrow, the show had focused on "typical American success stories." In Behind the Front Page (the new title), a dramatic format was used to portray "current human interest stories."[2] The weekly program was in addition to Heatter's 15 min nightly newscast, both on Mutual.[2]

"There's good news tonight!"

During World War II, American forces sank a Japanese destroyer. Heatter opened his nightly commentary accordingly, "Good evening, everyone—there is good news tonight." The phrase sparked a small flurry of letters and calls, almost all in his favor.

Heatter was already well known for trying to find uplifting but true stories to feed his commentaries (he was especially known for a fondness for stories about heroic dogs). In April 1939, he gave the first national broadcast exposure to the burgeoning self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous. Reflecting that reputation, the critic and sometime rival Alexander Woollcott composed the doggerel couplet: "Disaster has no cheerier greeter/than gleeful, gloating Gabriel Heatter."

Later life

Heatter remained with Mutual until, like many of the Depression and wartime broadcasters and commentators, his influence gave way to a newer generation of broadcasters, who made the transition to television or started in television and bypassed radio entirely. Heatter retired in 1961.[3]

In 1915, he married Sadie Hermalin, who died in 1966.[4] After his wife's death, Heatter lived in retirement in Miami, Florida with his daughter until he died of pneumonia in 1972.

His daughter is the cookbook writer Maida Heatter. His granddaughter was the artist Toni Evans. His son is the novelist Basil Heatter. His nephew Merrill Heatter is a television writer and producer (Heatter-Quigley Productions).

In popular culture

In 1944, Heatter appeared as himself uncredited in the wartime Cary Grant film Once Upon a Time. In 1950, he appeared as himself in the Ronald Colman comedy movie Champagne for Caesar. Heatter was also heard but not seen as one of four broadcast journalists portraying themselves in the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Heatter is referred to in the recited portion of Yogi Yorgesson's 1949 comedy song "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas." Jean Arthur's character in the 1948 film A Foreign Affair mentions Heatter by saying, "I will [go to the General], and to the War Department and to the President. And if that doesn't do it, I'll see Gabriel Heatter." Toni Morrison includes a reference to Gabriel Heatter in her novel Sula — Heatter’s program is one Jude Greene (Nel’s husband) listens to (Sula, p. 105, 2004 publication edition). In 1948, Daffy Duck used Heatter's catchphrase "There's good news tonight!" in the cartoon short "The Stupor Salesman".

References

  1. ^ "Gabriel Heatter, Newscaster, Dies". Los Angeles Times. March 30, 1972. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Heatter Frames New Air Format" (PDF). Billboard. January 3, 1948. p. 9. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  3. ^ 1960 - 1966: Call it 3MBS
  4. ^ "Gabriel Heatter,Radio Newsman,Dies". New York Times. March 31, 1972.