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Alice WestonMythbuster: Alice Weston

veteran reporter

Interview Date: April 1999

If you ever have the opportunity to hear Alice Weston speak, you most certainly must attend. An afternoon with her is not only a delight, but also an education on the history of broadcasting from the eyes of a female pioneer. She diligently navigated the waters of a male-dominated industry at a time when women were not necessarily welcomed with open arms.

The consummate professional, she conveys the deepest understanding of broadcast journalism and entertains with enthusiasm. Upholding her stellar reputation for working without any notes, Ms. Weston recalls every experience, every personal interview, every working moment, with astonishing detail and emotion. In our star-struck society, she feeds our hunger for first-hand experiences with people such as Princess Grace of Monaco, songwriter Johnny Greene and comedienne Phyllis Diller, among others.

In addition to hearing her speak at Kethley House this past June, we were fortunate to sit down and talk one on one with Ms. Weston and review with her fifty-plus years of broadcasting coverage. We even discussed her perspectives on getting older!

Would you walk us through your career in broadcasting?
I was born in Holland, Michigan. To start, as a child, I had a small speech impediment. My father told me "Alice, you already have one challenge, don't have a second. Don't ever have notes." So I didn't. I never used notes interviewing or broadcasting. At [the University of] Michigan they didn't allow it. I trained myself to do it that way.

I am really a journalist by training. I started in radio with the Detroit Free Press. They didn't want a woman who smoked or drank, which I didn't do, because it affected her voice. Radio was so new that they sent me back to [the University of] Michigan for radio training. One time, they asked the University for a gal from the college to cover a fashion show in the afternoon and evening. The producers said they'd buy her a new outfit and send a limousine for her. When they asked me to go I said, "absolutely." Afterwards, the Promotions Director asked me to see him after I graduated. I thought he was full of bologna and didn't think anymore of it at the time. Then, I was in competition for Michigan and he wired me and said that if I placed in the competition then I had a job with him. So that's how I got a job.

I started working again when my children were 8 years old. I did eight years of cooking shows, which was not my cup of tea, but that was really the only way women got into television. Shortly after, I started to do features. I went to Pittsburgh and did an audience show for nine years. I liked that best. They used a woman [Alice Weston] as the lead personality. I did all the interviews, the news at the opening and everything. Because I didn't use notes, I had an edge. I interviewed two celebrities every week. Then I left Pittsburgh and went to New York. I worked in public relations. I also did all the writing. I came back to Cleveland to get my Master's at Kent. I was asked to help start Channel 43 and it eventually became full-time. I started senior news at Channel 43 and did it for 2 years. We were the first to do that sort of thing. I retired at 86.

I wish I had been born later because I would have loved to do all news. I did the news in Pittsburgh one night because my boss thought it would be interesting. The news director came in the next day and said, "if she ever does the news again, I'm leaving." I did a good job and I didn't need any notes. People put me down as a woman. Television wasn't ready for a female broadcaster then.

Do you have a favorite moment from your years of interviewing people?
My favorite moment was when I was in Israel. Justice Michael Musmanno was presiding over the Nuremberg trial; he was a good friend of mine. When he heard I was going to Israel he gave me a letter to David Bengurion. I had heard so much about this "father of Israel." Everybody revered him so greatly that when I went up the steps to interview him, I was nervous. Usually I was calm for interviews. He got up from his desk and walked over to me and said "what brings you to Israel, Alice?" I told him and we talked for about 15 minutes about education issues and such. At the end of the interview he asked if I believed in blessings. I said, "I do." Then he put his arms around me and said "may God bless you and keep you well." That was a highlight for me. Another time, Ilea Kazan came to do the television show. After an enjoyable interview, he sat beside me and said I made him look good. This was at a time when people were skeptical of his intentions in Hollywood. He said he would do anything for me because I treated him so kindly. He left a note for me saying "ask anything." Later, I sent him a play written by one of our producers and within two weeks we got a commentary on it. I thought that was the end of it. Later I got a telephone call from him. I thought someone was pulling my leg! He believed we had such nice rapport that he asked if I would be a writer for him in Hollywood. I was thrilled and honored but declined because I had my family here. That was exciting.

I had a chance to interview so many people over the years that are now my friends. I always kept in touch with most people I had a chance to interview. After interviewing Johnny Green I wrote a thank you note to him and he sent me an autographed copy of Body and Soul!

I've traveled to the Dominican, Hollywood, France, Corsica, Israel, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Scotland and Ireland, among others for assignments. It's been a ball.

What did you enjoy about talking with seniors?
Mainly getting their opinions on things. I like when seniors want to do more than just sit.

How would you like to see seniors viewed by our culture?
I think most people forget how slow we become. I want more gentleness toward seniors. It must get across to children that in taking care of their parents they are giving back to them. I think negative attitudes toward seniors have crucified them, more than any other group.

What is successful aging about to you?
I turned 88 in April. To me it's all about keeping your mind going and staying in shape physically. I think some people get slow because they don't use their mind. Also, to me, there is little excuse for not knowing what is going on in the world regardless of how old you get. I want a challenge. I don't want to sit. I want to exercise my mind. You can't live your life through someone else. You have to live it on your own.

What are the things you enjoy doing with your time?
I spend time with friends. I love to travel. I'm an avid reader, finishing two books a week. There's a challenge in reading with a varied diet of materials. Because I was so used to working that I feel funny when I read for long periods of time. I enjoy classical music and ballads. I want to get back to writing. I've taken computer classes and others. I enjoy swimming.

What issues are of importance to seniors? What can help seniors age successfully?
I think intergenerational programs are vital. They give adults a new life. I think seniors and teenagers are a good match. Seniors can tutor kids. I tutored some children at my church. They got in the habit of seeing me and one day, came up and hugged me at church in front of their friends. I knew it was worth my time.

I think the most important lesson you learn is acceptance. For someone like me who has been so active, I've had to accept that I slow down. Until that, you will run into trouble doing things that you can't do. Be grateful for everyday.

What advice would you give to women who want to get into broadcast journalism?
Don't use notes. Do your homework. The less you say as the interviewer, the better you will be.

What's your favorite interviewing story?
I'd gone to Monaco to interview Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Grace. When I got there Lady Churchill called and said, "Sir Winston is ill would you excuse him?" I said, "yes." Later that day, I got a call and was told that the Princess was in labor with her first child and asked, "would I interview the Prince instead?" I said, "yes". So I arrived at the Palace and waited and waited and waited. Then, they sent word to me that Princess Grace was about to have the baby and the Prince couldn't see me either and sent down passes for four people to the Café de Paris and the casino as their guests.

Five years later the Princess' brother called me and said "you were denied an interview with Princess Grace. There will be a party for her in Philadelphia would you come?" At the time, I was in Pittsburgh and grabbed the opportunity to do it. At the party, Princess Grace came down the staircase on the arm of the Prince. She looked more beautiful than ever. While we were waiting for protocol a man approached me and asked if he could introduce himself. He said I looked like his cousin. His name was Paul Weston. I told him my name was Alice Weston. We talked for a while. He said, "my wife and I have known Grace since she was four years old. I would like to introduce you to her." I was thrilled. On our way up to her I kept repeating in my mind "how do you do your highness? How do you do your highness?" When it was our turn to greet the Princess Paul Weston said, "Hi Grace this is my kissin' cousin Alice from Pittsburgh." I was shocked but she howled about it. She was just charming. It was fun. I went back to Pittsburgh and reported it all.

Alice died January 9, 2007 at age 95.

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