Friday, August 22, 2008

Celebrity Cess

The Defendant and Alycia Lane, on set.

PHILLY FILLY. So today, Philadelphia anchorman Larry Mendte pleaded guilty to, well: count of illegally accessing a computer.

Larry Mendte admitted that he viewed hundreds of Alycia Lane's e-mails from March 2006 to May 2008, including ones from her agent, her then-husband and lawyers representing her after she was arrested in New York last year and fired from the station.

"There is no question he wrecked her career," said lawyer Paul Rosen, who represents Lane in her wrongful-termination suit against KYW-TV. [emphases added]

Of course, it's all great gossip. Larry Mendte's wife is also a Philadelphia anchor, at rival Fox 29. Who isn't comparing the two women and developing their own storylines?

Dawn Stensland (Channel 29) and Alycia Lane (Channel 3)

Yes, Larry is a Ted Baxter figure, a stereotype of the local anchor who adds brightly colored lead weights to his voice when there's a sad story without ever actually seeming to feel it. And the women involved are much the same. Every line on the teleprompter is/was freighted with a "look at me doing the news" sensibility that makes murders, arsons, and rapes into cheesy show business.

Why mention all this? Because it's simply not true that all local news people are shallow, two-dimensional narcissists. I can't remember all their names, but most of the local Philly newspeople aren't celebrities. They're devoted residents of their city doing a job. Many of them have aged from new college grads to late middle age on camera, growing grayer and heavier through the decades as they reported live from sordid murder scenes, awful weather emergencies, concerts, elections, and occasional sports triumphs to people whom they regard principally as their neighbors. I'll try to come back to this list and add to it, but at the moment I remember Robin Mackintosh, Don Polec, Edie Huggins, Carol Erickson, Terry Ruggles, Orien Reid, Jennaphr Frederick, Lisa Thomas-Laurie, Dave Roberts, Beverly Williams, Rob Jennings, Vernon Odom, and Cherie Bank, all faithful foot soldiers in a vocation that makes them subject to ridicule as we speak.

And being older than most, I remember the real anchors of Philadelphia local news, the men who became the hometown Cronkites and Brinkleys at the beginning of local TV news, always there, always dignified, always more cognizant of the news itself than their Q-Ratings. There was John Facenda on Channel 10, Vince Leonard on Channel 3, and Larry Kane on Channel 6. Not one of them a matinee idol in terms of physical appearance. Not one of them a star in his own mind. They were just responsible for reporting the news. What troubles me is how hard it is to find, in these internet days, pictures of men who were on our televisons every night for decades. Is it really so easy to disappear people who were so much a part of everyone's lives?

Here's what I've been able to find from their anchor days. I don't even recognize the picture of Vince Leonard because it's so very old.

Vince Leonard, John Facenda, and Larry Kane

Why are they slipping down the memory hole? John Facenda, in particular, is embedded in the brain of every single professional football fan over the age of 40. He was the voice of NFL Films (go here and listen to the audio file -- that's John Facenda) until he died.

Oh well. Fame is fleeting. That's our real message here. Celebrity comes and then it goes. What matters is not how pretty or popular you were, but whether you did anything for anyone else. Most of the local news professionals in Philly are engaged in discharging exactly that pursuit, serving their community for years at all hours and in every kind of weather. It's a pure shame they're being judged by the shallowest, callowest members of their business. But that won't last either. People always remember the good ones in the end -- and forget the fakers.

Besides, Philadelphia still has one anchor in the mold of Vince and John and Larry. How many other cities can say that? Maybe it's time we appreciated him a little more.

Jim Gardner, the Last Lion

Yeah, he's gotten gray. But we all believe he still cares about what happens in Philly. That's a lot better than a network contract in our book.

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