It was at a very private, very exclusive, by invitation only, club in midtown Manhattan where once, not that long ago, no African-American or Jew could be a member. In fact it was during that time that I had lunch with them. But back in the early 60’s few people thought about things like that. At least not publicly. And Arthur and Walter were both very public figures. In fact, it was just a few years before that day, that Arthur held the #1 AND #2 positioned programs in Television – at the same time! And Walter held the undisputed #1 position in his particular field of Television as well – not counting Arthur’s preemptive dominance in all of Broadcasting.
Arthur had since fallen from grace because he had chastised one of the members of his TV family, on the air . The reason for the chastisement was because that member of his TV family was dating another member of his TV family, or so Arthur thought. And people didn’t do that to Arthur - until that one unfortunate on-the-air occurrence when he fired a kid singer from Brooklyn named Julius for his supposed extra-curricular activities, and that changed everything, for Arthur. For it was, after all, "the people’s airwaves" upon which Arthur chose to show his true colors. And, from then on, the people let him know how they felt about those colors in no uncertain terms by switching channels whenever he showed his once almost godlike presence on their TV screens.
But until that moment, Presidents of the United States, Captains of Industry and mere mortals like you and I, all clamored for his favor. I actually watched him put then President Lyndon B. Johnson on hold –- and keep him there! - while he took a call from a flying buddy of his on another phone and schmoozed with him about, I don’t know, “cloud cover” or something. The flying buddy happened to be General Curtis LeMay, Supreme Commander of the Strategic Air Command during the period when that particular military unit held the fate of the world in its – and therefore LeMay’s – hands. For there was always at least one SAC bomber in the air 24/7, as we say today, that carried nuclear weapons on board, just in case them pesky Ruskies got any funny ideas.
Walter on the other hand was a man whom the citizens of this country apparently trusted more than any other single human being on the planet at the time, and went on record, more than once, to say so.
I was working for Arthur back then, as his speech writer. One day, he called me on the phone and told me to meet him in front of his office at the CBS Radio Studios . When I got there, his chauffeur-driven Bentley was already parked out front waiting for him. Loved that car. He came through the revolving door walking briskly in spite of the fact that he’d already lost a hip years before, which made him list like a torpedoed but unsinkable battleship when he moved from any Point A to any Point B – even if they were just a few feet or so apart. He wordlessly gestured for me to get into the back seat of that lovely auto, while he climbed into the driver's seat and motioned for the chauffeur to ride shotgun.
As we drove over to our destination – which it turned out was just a few blocks away, he asked me if I’d ever been to the New York Athletic Club. I jokingly replied that I wasn’t sure that they let Greeks in. Arthur knew my parents had been born in that country and, without missing a beat, said he wouldn’t mention anything about my ethnic roots, if I didn’t .
We got out of the Bentley, walked under that famous New York City landmark consisting of a green awning marked simply with the initials N.Y.A.C. that leads into an environment that we’ve all seen before in old movies and immediately recognized it as the inner sanctum of one of those stodgy old style Gentlemen's Clubs that we assumed only existed in 19th Century England, through a beautifully appointed dining room and into a smaller but even more beautifully appointed private dining room, quietly tucked away in a very private area of that exclusively private club.
I spotted that famous face immediately, but still had no idea that the table at which he was sitting quite alone, would also be our final destination. Not until he actually got up to greet us with an extended hand that was aimed at me, and which I clasped, after Arthur said, “Hi Walter, this is Bill Angelos”. “Hi Arthur... Bill...” said Walter, “Let’s have some lunch”.
I have no recollection of what happened after that. All I know is I once sat in the New York Athletic Club in midtown Manhattan and had lunch with Arthur Godfrey and Walter Cronkite. But I do know, that as of yesterday’s announcement that he had passed at the age of 92, I’ll never get another chance to say to Mr. Cronkite what I should have said that day.
“Love your work, sir. “