Morrie Gelman Dies: Former Variety Scribe Was 90

Morrie Gelman, historian and former Daily Variety reporter, died of heart failure August 26 in Palm Desert, CA with his family at his side. He was 90.

Gelman, who covered the TV business, started his 50-year career as a journalist in 1948 in the New York City mailroom of the Mutual Broadcasting System. After serving two years in the Army, he worked for five years at the New York Post as an assistant to famed nationally syndicated columnist Earl Wilson, and later as a police reporter there. After a stint at the Brooklyn Eagle, he continued his career as features editor at Theater Magazine, a national monthly, and was a member of the Drama Critics Circle. Later, he was editorial director at United Business Publications and at the Japanese Dempa Publications.

He spent 12 years as senior correspondent for Broadcasting Magazine (now Broadcasting & Cable), and was the West Coast bureau chief for Advertising Age, where he helped establish its print weekly trade magazine Electronic Media (later known as TV Week).

During his career, he covered television and other media in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. In the early 1970s, he was assigned to interview radio pioneers and traveled the country taping interviews with such luminaries as Edgar Bergen, Frank Stanton and William Paley of CBS, and NBC Radio Network’s Niles Trammel, and John Royal. As a historian, he was one of the chief interviewers for the Television Academy Foundation’s “The Interviews” series in the late 1990s including sit-downs with Jack Lemmon, Angela Lansbury, Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, Grant Tinker, James Garner and David L. Wolper. In 1998 he co-authored with Gene Accas The Best of Television: 50 Years of Emmys.

Gelman, who spent much of the 1980s at Variety and Daily Variety breaking news and mentoring the younger members of the staff, including this reporter, was one of the last of his generation of Variety “muggs” who predeceased him, including such notable and esteemed chroniclers of the industry as columnist Army Archerd, Hy Hollinger, Will Tusher, Dave Kaufman, Art Murphy, Ray Lloynd and the trade paper’s legendary editor Tom Pryor.

“Morrie and I shared an office at Daily Variety for several years with Army Archerd,” said Marie Silverman Marich, a former reporter there and the great-granddaughter of Sime Silverman, the founder of Variety. “My father [the late Variety publisher Syd Silverman] told me that he greatly admired Morrie as a reporter and as a man. Morrie was multidimensional. He loved being a reporter; he loved history. He worked at a lot of newspapers and saw the changes in the business and in the news industry. Being a student of history, he took a long-range view of things. He had a very quick sense of humor. He was a truly warm person, a lovely man; compassionate and understanding.”

“He was a calm, steadying influence,” she said, recalling the time she got an angry call from someone she’d reviewed who didn’t like what she’d written. The caller went on and on about it, until Gelman, who was sitting nearby, listening to her end of the conversation, finally spoke up and said: “Tell him to take it up with management. You’ll never change his mind, and he won’t change yours.”

“He was such a great guy,” she said. “We were very simpatico. He was very much a newspaperman; a man of great curiosity, and he was fun. He was a man of integrity – he was just Morrie. He had such a lovely way about him. Even when he was occasionally exasperated, he kept his cool. I miss him. He was very proud of his sons, Adam and Daniel, and his wife Marisa. And he loved my husband Bob, who he worked with at Ad Age and Electronic Media.”

“Morrie was a steady hand; very even-tempered in an industry of newsmen who could be quite mercurial,” said Bob Marich. “He was a warm though quiet person, and a good friend of our family. He will be missed.”

Gelman, who is survived by his sons, and by his wife of 65 years.

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