Broadcast Pioneers member Harry Harris

They say that no one knows you better than yourself. Broadcast Pioneers member Harry Harris was basically known as a writer so it's not unusual that Harry would have written his own obituary. Harry wrote:

Born June 18, 1918. Son of Abraham and Esther Harris.

Graduated from Temple University June 1939, B.S. in Commerce (Journalism). Same week went to work at the Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, as $15-per-week copyboy. Had previously sold Bulletin several editorial page articles at $15 per. Wasn't paid for the last one published because by then I was "on staff." Augmented my income by editing U.S. Table Tennis Topics (no pay, but percentage of ad revenue).

Had become an $18-per-week features writer when drafted in October 1941. Attended OCS after Pearl Harbor. Served as S2 (staff Intelligence officer) with the 165th Antiaircraft Battalion in the Southwest Pacific (D-day landings in Hollandia and Biak). Ended Army service with rank of major.

Rejoined Bulletin as features writer; subsequently second-string drama critic plus weekly theater and, concurrently, daily TV columnist. Salary rose to $60. Earlier Philly TV columnist, Inquirer's Merrill Panitt, became editor of TV Guide and offered me a $40 increase, a considerable lure for a father of two infants. (Bulletin countered by offering a $5 raise.) Joined TV Guide in 1954 as one of three national editors (with Panitt and Alexander Joseph). Preferring newspaper work, switched to Triangle's Inquirer in 1956 as TV critic. Even under Knight-Ridder management, continued to write a daily TV column and weekly TV magazine "cover" interviews until retirement in February 1982.

During my Inquirer tenure I established the national Critics' Consensus, composed of 18 TV critics, which made widely-publicized annual awards for 10 years. CC ended when my Inquirer assignment was changed from criticism to TV news.

For about 20 years before and after I left the Inquirer I was a stringer for Variety, often -- as "Hari" -- reviewing local productions of new plays, TV programs, and night club acts. My association with Variety ended in February 1991.

For two years after my retirement from the Inquirer I free-lanced travel articles for the Courier-Post (my wife Jean provided accompanying photographs). I've sold occasional pieces to the Inquirer, the Daily News, Welcomat, City Paper, the Jewish Exponent's Inside Magazine and the University of Pennsylvania's Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1991 I began writing a monthly "Funtime" column for Vintage Philadelphia which appeared in every issue of that publication except for a two-year hiatus while I was tending to my ailing wife. (After Vintage folded, Harry wrote for Milestones.)

Two of a half-dozen completed books have been published: an unauthorized paperback biography of Mike Douglas in 1976 and -- simultaneously in hard cover and paperback -- "Good Old-Fashioned Yankee Ingenuity" in 1990.

Two of a half-dozen plays -- "And Still the Albatross" and "The Virgin, the Lecher, and the Whore" -- were accorded public readings by the West Coast branch of the National Theater and Academy, but a promised Equity "waiver" production of "Virgin" was canceled (reportedly because of its title) when Lorne Greene became ANTA president. A half-hour drama, "Corridor," was telecast by WCAU-TV and four other CBS-owned stations.

Earlier, while still at the Bulletin, I was host -- twice weekly -- of a five-minute 11:30 p.m. (actually 11:25) WCAU program, "Columnists' Corner." The time slot later went to Ed McMahon.

Married on December 7, 1951 (10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor), to Jean Bram, an artist, actress, and poet who taught English and Art at Cheltenham High School. She died, a victim of Alzheimer's Disease, on November 7, 1994.

Daughter Terri, who lives in Chestnut Ridge, NY is associate editor of Fellowship, magazine of the international peace-promoting Fellowship of Reconciliation. (She has published several Muslim works translated from medieval Arabic.) Son Bram, an aspiring novelist who lives with his wife, my daughter-in-law Angela, in Manhattan, is a TV tape editor for the American Broadcasting Co.

A 16-years-younger brother, Murray, a retired salesman, lives in St. Petersburg, FL, and dear friend Genecy Meltzer lives in Rydal, PA.

Harry Harris passed away at the age of 87 on Thursday, January 26, 2006. In 1935, he became a graduate of Overbrook High School. Harry's daughter, Terri, informs us that Angela (Harry's daughter-in-law) is a staffer on the "Live with Regis and Kelly" program, produced by Broadcast Pioneers member Art Moore (Moore was our "Person of the Year" in 1998). She also says that her brother Bram is a video editor on ABC-TV's "Primetime" show.

Harry Harris had interviewed a thousand different celebrities over the years. While still a student at Temple, Harry told us that he was doing some freebie work at WCAU Radio in the mid to late thirties. Harry wrote for the ol' nightowl, Powers Gouraud, a knowledgable man but one whom liked everything prepared and Harry wrote his scripts.

Harry also told us that he worked with the legendary Alan Scott at WCAU Radio while he (Harry) was attending Temple University in the late thirties. Neither the station nor Scott paid Harris. He was sort of a pioneer for today's "interns." Harry and Alan co-wrote a script or two for Horace Heidt's radio programs carried over the CBS Radio Network, said Harris.

In December of 1951, Harry reported in the Evening Bulletin (a local Philadelphia daily) that WPTZ would not carry "The Today Show" (which was starting the next month) in our market. Harry said that a Channel 3 spokesman said that it was the station's policy to foster local shows as much as possible. Dave Garroway (host of "The Today Show") was "due back as star of a mammoth 7 to 9 am NBC show," but WPTZ people said that it would not be shown here in Philadelphia. That time belonged to WPTZ's own Ernie Kovacs. By the way, Harris and the Bulletin selected Ernie as the "Best Local Comedian" for 1951. But the story continues. One day Cal Jones, director for Kovacs (later an executive for Westinghouse Broadcasting) went over to the Architects' Building. Pat Weaver of NBC was sitting there and read the riot act to Cal and the station manager of WPTZ. Get Kovacs off the air and start carrying the Today show. The future of the program rides on clearing the Philadelphia station. Cal was sure that NBC threatened to pull the station's affiliation if they didn't. And it was Harry Harris who broke the story. (By the way, within months, "The Today Show" was on Channel 3 and Kovacs was on his way to New York City.

On Friday evening, November 22, 2013, Harry Harris was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame."

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