Picks and Pans Review: Events Leading Up to My Death
by Howard K. Smith
The most compelling events in Smith's life—and the most readable in this richly anecdotal, 65-year memoir—occurred in World War II, when the 81-year-old former broadcaster toiled first for United Press, then for CBS Radio, outwitting Nazi censors in Berlin, witnessing the carnage at the Battle of the Bulge and covering the Nuremberg war-criminal trials. His most harrowing adventure, though, took place in liberated Annecy, France, in 1944, when the Louisiana-born Smith and his Danish war bride, journalist Benedicte Traberg, were mistaken for collaborators and escorted at gunpoint by French Resistance fighters through a cursing mob. He likens the chaotic scene to "the French Revolution, lacking only tumbrils and guillotine."
Two decades later, Smith, then a CBS TV-network correspondent, got caught up in a different revolution. After seeing black Freedom Riders beaten senseless by white bigots in a Birmingham, Ala., bus depot, he refused to mute his outrage on-camera—despite the urging of bosses who feared alienating southern viewers. Smith quit, but ABC hired him, and he rose to nightly news anchor and later to commentator. He became a crony of LBJ's and a critic of antiwar protesters—America's "most self-centered and indulgent generation," he still insists. He may sound like a Grumpy Old Man at book's end, but his earlier adventures as a (literally) dashing young foreign correspondent are well worth your indulgence. (St Martin's, $24.95)
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