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Arnold Eric Sevareid (November 26, 1912July 9, 1992) was a CBS news journalist from 1939 to 1977. He was one of a group of elite war correspondents—dubbed "Murrow's Boys"—because they were hired by pioneering CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow.

Sevareid was a child of the American Plains, born in Velva, North Dakotamarker to Alfred E. and Clara H. Sevareid. He graduated from the University of Minnesotamarker in 1935. Of Norwegianmarker ancestry, he preserved a strong bond with Norway throughout his life.

Early life

Eric Sevareid had an adventuresome spirit from a young age. When he was just 17 years old, beginning several days after he graduated from high school he and his friend Walter Port embarked on an expedition sponsored by the Minneapolis Star, from Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker to York Factorymarker on Hudson Baymarker. They canoed up the Minnesota River and its tributary, the Little Minnesota Rivermarker to Browns Valley, Minnesotamarker, portaged to Lake Traversemarker and descended the Bois des Sioux River to the Red River of the Northmarker which led to Lake Winnipegmarker, then went down the Nelson Rivermarker, Gods River, and Hayes River to Hudson Baymarker, a trip of 2,250 miles.[80372] Sevareid's book, Canoeing with the Cree, was the result of this canoe trip. The book is still in print.[80373],[80374]

Early career

Prior to joining CBS, Sevareid worked for the Minneapolis Journal and the Paris Herald Tribune (later name International Herald Tribune). During World War II, he broadcast the fall of Parismarker to the Germanmarker, moving to Londonmarker thereafter. In 1943, Sevareid was on board a C-46 that crashed in Burma on August 2, 1943, while on a Hump airlift mission. He and the other 20 passengers and crew were rescued when the search-and-rescue organization created to support the airlift located the party and sent a rescue party in on foot.

He would write about the Plains influence on him in his early memoir Not So Wild A Dream (1946), which covers life in Velva, his family, the Hudson Bay trip, hitchhiking around the USA, mining in the Sierra Nevada, the Great Depression years, his early journalism and especially his experiences in World War II. This book remains in print.

Just one of the boys

Sevareid's work during World War II, with Edward R. Murrow as one of the original Murrow's Boys, was at the forefront of broadcasting. He was the first to report on the fall of France and the French surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940. Shortly after, he joined Murrow to report on the Battle of Britain. Later Sevareid would refer to the early years, working with Murrow, in fond terms. "We were like a young band of brothers in those early radio days with Murrow", he said. Later, in his final broadcast with CBS, in 1977 he would call Murrow the man who "invented me."

Covering the Burmese-China theater during the war a plane Sevareid was on developed engine trouble and he was briefly lost after parachuting to safety. Sevareid grabbed a bottle of Carew's gin before jumping from the plane. Later he reported on Tito's partisans from Yugoslavia.

After the war, Sevareid's work with CBS continued. In 1946 he reported on the founding of the UN and then penned Not So Wild a Dream. The book, whose title comes from part of the closing passage of Norman Corwin's radio play "On a Note of Triumph," appeared in eleven printings and became one of the primary sources on the lives of the generation of Americans who had lived through the Great Depression only to confront the horrors of World War II. In the 1976 edition of the book Sevareid wrote, "It was a lucky stroke of timing to have been born and lived as an American in this last generation. It was good fortune to be a journalist in Washington, now the single news headquarters in the world since ancient Rome. But we are not Rome; the world is too big, too varied."

Post-war career and the 1950s

Sevareid always considered himself a writer first and often felt uneasy behind a microphone, even less comfortable on television. Nonetheless, he worked extensively for CBS News on television in the years following the war and the decades after. During the mid to late 1950s Sevareid found himself on television as the host and science reporter of CBS' Conquest. He also served as the head of the CBS Washington bureau from 1946–1954 and became one of the early critics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communism tactics. It was during the early 1950s that Sevareid caught the attention of the FBI in their ongoing attempts to identify and root out American Communists.

Sevareid and the Feds

Internal FBImarker documents, declassified in 1996, show that the bureau took an active interest in Eric Sevareid's reporting as well as his activities during the early 1950s. A March 1953 document, titled "Security Information", is one of several FBI documents that chronicle Sevareid's activities during the 1940s. In particular the document mentions that in 1941 Sevareid was alleged to have been a Communist while at the University of Minnesota and goes on to note his involvement in an awards banquet held by the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee(JAFRC) in 1945. JAFRC is noted as being a Communist organization pursuant to Executive Order 9835. Much of the knowledge the FBI had of Sevareid's purported Communist activity came through "a representative of another governmental agency" and remained unconfirmed by investigation.

The information contained in the bureau's files was being circulated during March 1953 as Sevareid anchored a new program on CBS called A Report to the Nation. Specifically, the bureau's interest revolved around the March 8, 1953 broadcast of the program in which Sevareid interviewed Harold Stassen, then Director for Mutual Security. Internal documents reveal, time and again, that the FBI did have information on Sevareid's alleged "disloyal" activities, as well as active suspicion that he was a "disloyal" American.

Among Sevareid's activities to which the FBI refers multiple times were:

  • A May 17, 1945 report in the Daily People's World which stated Sevareid was a scheduled speaker at the above mentioned JAFRC banquet. The FBI called the Daily People's World the West Coast communist newspaper and said that Sevareid was identified as a radio commentator in its reports
  • A May 19, 1945 "newspapermen's forum" titled "The Free Press" held at the California Labor School in which Sevareid was a participant. In two separate 1948 reports Attorney General Tom Clark called the California Labor School "a subversive and Communist organization."
  • That the name Eric Sevareid was included on a list of people to contact in connection to raise funds for Hollywood celebrities appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947.
  • Unsubstantiated reports that while at the University of Minnesota Sevareid associated mostly with Communists.
  • That while working for the school newspaper at the University of Minnesota Sevareid was a participant in an active campaign against the ROTC.

By April 1953 internal FBI documents show that the bureau saw no real reason to begin investigation into Sevareid's activities.

The 50s after the FBI

Sevareid wound up the 1950s as CBS' roving European Correspondent from 1959–1961. He contributed stories to CBS Reports during this time and served as moderator on a number of CBS series. Those include, Town Meeting of the World, The Great Challenge, Where We Stand and Years of Crisis. Sevareid also appeared in or on CBS coverage of every presidential election from 1948 until 1976, the year before his retirement.

Career from 1961–1977

One of Sevareid's biggest scoops from this time period was his 1965 exclusive interview with Adlai Stevenson, shortly before Stevenson's death. Oddly enough, the interview was not broadcast over CBS but instead appeared in Look magazine. However it was Sevareid's familiar "think-pieces" which familiarized him with viewers worldwide.

From 1964 until he retired from CBS in 1977 Sevareid's two-minute segments on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite inspired those who endeared him to dub him "The Grey Eminence." During his run of commentary his segments garnered the attention of both the Emmy Awards and the Peabody Awards. Of course not everybody loved Sevareid's analysis and those who were irked by his commentary nicknamed him "Eric Severalsides." Indeed, Sevareid recognized his own biases that were responsible for some disagreeing so vehemently with his stances. He said himself that as he had grown older his tendency was toward conservatism in foreign policy and liberalism in domestic policy.

His commentary touched on many of the day's important issues. Following a 1966 trip to South Vietnam he commented that prolonging the war would be unwise and that the United States would be better off pursuing a negotiated settlement. He also helped keep alive another Murrow tradition at CBS that began with the interview show Person to Person. On Conversations with Eric Sevareid he interviewed such famous newsmakers as West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, novelist Leo Rosten and others. In somewhat of a spoof of this tradition he also had a conversation with King George III, portrayed by Peter Ustinov, titled The Last King in America.

On his last appearance on the CBS Evening News in 1977 his emotional state was obvious; he was shedding tears.


Eric Sevareid died of stomach cancer on July 9, 1992, aged 79. Dan Rather gave a eulogy at his funeral.

He was survived by two sons from his first marriage, and a daughter from his second marriage.

Sevareid in popular culture

Sevareid portrayed himself in the movie The Right Stuff.

Sevareid also portrayed himself in the 1984 movie Countdown to Looking Glass.

Sevareid appears in Philip Roth's novel Our Gang as "Erect Severehead."

He also appeared in an episode of Taxi as himself, in Tony Danza's character's fantasy.

The bumbling local-market newscaster Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) frequently compared himself to Sevareid on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

A spoof of Eric Sevareid named "Eric Clarified" appeared in the "Laugh-In Looks at the News" skits of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In which ran from 1968–1974.



References and further reading

  1. Canoeing with the Cree, 1935, reprinted 1968 ISBN 0-87351-152-2
  2. Not So Wild a Dream (autobiography), 1946, reissued 1976 ISBN 0-8262-1014-7
  3. In One Ear: 107 Snapshots of Men and Events which Make a Far-Reaching Panorama of the American Situation at Mid-Century (essays), Knopf, 1952.
  4. Small Sounds in the Night: A Collection of Capsule Commentaries on the American Scene, Knopf, 1956.
  5. This is Eric Sevareid (essays), McGraw, 1964.
  6. (With Robert A. Smith) Washington: Magnificent Capital, Doubleday, 1965.
  7. (With John Case) Enterprise: The Making of Business in America, McGraw-Hill, 1983.

External links

  • Yesterday's News Excerpt from "Canoeing with the Cree" series, Minneapolis Star, September 6, 1930

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