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Bill Lawrence (news personality)

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Bill Lawrence (news personality)

William H. "Bill" Lawrence (January 29, 1916 – March 2, 1972) was an American journalist and television news analyst whose 40-year career as a reporter began in 1932 and included a 20-year stint with The New York Times (1941–61), for which he reported from major fronts of World War II and, subsequently, as the newspaper's White House correspondent. In 1961 he joined ABC News where, for nearly 11 years, he served as the network's national affairs editor and, during his first two years, as an evening news anchorman. The recipient of a 1965 Peabody Award, he was posthumously honored with the Trustees Award at the 1972 Emmy Awards.

Newspaper career

A native Nebraskan, William H. Lawrence was born in the state capital, Lincoln, and briefly attended the city's University of Nebraska before joining the hometown newspaper, Lincoln Star as a 17-year-old cub reporter. In 1935, at the age of 20, he moved to the Associated Press and, two years later, to the United Press. The first major assignment he covered for UP was the 1936–37 Flint Sit-Down Strike against General Motors and, having won plaudits for his reporting, was reassigned to Washington where, at the beginning of 1941, Arthur Krock, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, was impressed by his assertiveness in ferreting out news and offered him a position as one of the bureau's reporters.[1]

In his twenty years with The Times, the 1940s byline, "By William H. Lawrence" and, in the 1950s and 1960–61, "By W. H. Lawrence" appeared over coverage from World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War. His battlefront reporting took him to Okinawa, Guam, Japan and Moscow, where he was assigned as a war correspondent in 1943 and, during the immediate postwar period, he filed stories from Poland, the Balkans and South America.[2] In 1959 he served as president of the National Press Club and, during the 1950s, most of his efforts were spent on the Washington political scene, with almost all of the stories appearing on the front page, including the final one he wrote for The Times, datelined May 26, 1961.[3]

Anchorman and political analyst for ABC News

In May 1961, James Hagerty, who served as President Dwight Eisenhower's Press Secretary and, immediately upon the end of the Eisenhower administration, filled John Daly's vacated position as vice-president in charge of ABC's low-rated news operation, offered Lawrence, whom he knew well from his days as White House correspondent, a top-level position at the news department. His first assignment as ABC's chief news analyst was to accompany Hagerty to Europe to cover President John F. Kennedy's first overseas trip as Chief Executive. Within the course of his first months with the network, since Hagerty would not take over Daly's other position, that of anchorman for ABC Evening News, Lawrence, on September 25, joined newscaster Al Mann and former NBC anchorman John Cameron Swayze in a new three-anchor team to replace Bill Shadel who had been serving as the ABC Evening Report anchorman since Daly's last broadcast and resignation on December 16, 1960 after seven years in the post. The anchor team, however, proved unsuccessful, and, following their final broadcast six months later, on March 22, 1962, ABC returned to the single-anchorman concept with Ron Cochran at the helm of ABC Evening Report until his replacement by 26-year-old Canadian Peter Jennings on February 1, 1965. In the aftermath of his brief stint as co-anchor, Bill Lawrence, as he was exclusively known at ABC, became preoccupied with his duties as the news department's national affairs editor. The face of the network's political coverage, he frequently hosted or appeared on the Sunday morning interview program, Issues and Answers and was continually visible during primaries, conventions and elections to the extent that his coverage of the 1964 Presidential election, won him the Peabody Award for "Outstanding Reportorial Work". In 1966, almost two years before President Lyndon B. Johnson made his "I shall not seek and will not accept my party's nomination" speech of March 31, 1968, he was the sole major news analyst to predict that the president would not run.[4]

In 1968 Bill Lawrence was diagnosed with pulmonary edema, which caused his lungs to fill with fluid and put a strain on his heart. His colleagues became aware of the condition when he collapsed at his desk immediately following one of the broadcasts from the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. Quickly recovering, Lawrence was able to continue working for his remaining three-and-a-half years and, as a sports fan, also began covering some athletic events and even personally served as the commentator for ABC's coverage of the 1969 World Series.

Final work and death at age 56

In March 1971, with the following year's presidential elections looming on the horizon, Lawrence requested a leave of absence to finish his autobiography. Returning in October, he continued his busy schedule into February 1972 and traveled to New Hampshire as ABC's reporter from the crucial presidential primary race between early favorite, Senator Edmund Muskie and his strong challenger, Senator George McGovern. On March 2, five days before the vote, he suffered a heart attack at the Wayfarer Motor Inn in Bedford, a suburb of the state's largest city, Manchester, and was dead on arrival at Manchester's Notre Dame Hospital.

Five weeks earlier, he and ABC Evening News co-anchor, Howard K. Smith, filmed a few scenes for The Man, the made-for-TV-but-released-to-theaters feature-film version of Irving Wallace's bestselling 1964 eponymous novel, The Man. In this multi-plot story of an African-American political figure who, while serving as President pro tempore of the Senate, suddenly succeeds to the Presidency, the two top national newscasters play fictional versions of themselves in brief segments which show them delivering the news of and discussing the world-shaking event. The film ultimately opened in July, four-and-a-half months after Lawrence's death.

Bill Lawrence and his first wife, Elizabeth Currie, were the parents of two children, William and Ann. Following divorce, he married Constance MacGregor, with that marriage also ending in divorce. The autobiography, Six Presidents, Too Many Wars, which recounted his coverage of the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon as well as of the combat in World War II, Korea and Vietnam in addition to myriad other international conflicts, was published shortly before the presidential election. In his October 1 review for The New York Times Sunday Book Section, critic Gerald W. Johnson, noted that "Bill was recalcitrant. Popular idols were not his dish. His book, in fact, is tonic at a moment when the impression is widespread that conformity is the curse of the writing classes."[5]




  • )
  • reporter William H. Lawrence's expulsion from Bulgaria for describing the country as "a one-party state today, her internal and foreign policies openly modeled on and wedded to the Soviet Union")
  • )
  • (May 30, 1961)
  • (March 16, 1964). President Lyndon Johnson interviewed by CBS' Eric Sevareid, NBC's David Brinkley and ABC's Bill Lawrence
  • magazine, November 21, 1969)
  • (May 26, 1971)
  • (March 3, 1972)
  • (October 1, 1972)
  • Lawrence, Bill (1972). Six Presidents, Too Many Wars. New York: Saturday Review Press. ISBN 0-8415-0143-2 / ISBN 978-0-8415-0143-0
  • Brooks, Tim (1987). The Complete Directory to Prime Time TV Stars 1946–Present, page 497. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-32681-4

External links

  • for Wednesday, August 21, 1968
  • for Wednesday, March 5, 1969
  • for Monday, November 23, 1970
  • for Wednesday, December 29, 1971
  • for Friday, March 3, 1972
  • for Friday, March 3, 1972
  • columnist remembers William H. Lawrence
  • Internet Movie Database
  • The short film ]
Preceded by
Bill Shadel
ABC Evening News anchor with Al Mann and John Cameron Swayze
Succeeded by
Ron Cochran
Media offices
Preceded by
John Edwards
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Succeeded by
Frank Reynolds

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