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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 816

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This is the grave of Frank McGee.

Born in 1921 in Monroe, Louisiana, McGee grew up in Oklahoma as his dad worked in the oil fields. He wasn’t necessarily headed for a fancy career, but he fought in World War II and then went to college after that thanks to the GI Bill. When he returned from the war, he attended college at the University of California and then the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, he started working as a broadcaster on a local radio station. He did pretty well and that station moved to TV in 1949. In 1955, the owners of that station bought a station in Montgomery, Alabama. They then sent McGee to work there at the same time that the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He did a great job covering that very important story and really impressed the NBC executives, who then brought him to New York.

McGee soon rocketed to the top of the NBC news empire. He was known for his vivid verbal descriptions of what he covered, the key to his success. He became the network’s go to guy for political coverage, working the big political conventions in 1960, 1964, and the crazy 1968. His work in the aftermath of the JFK assassination also brought him a lot of respect. When he interviewed Martin Luther King for an NBC radio show, McGee asked King whether he thought about assassination. King admitted that he did. He spent a month of 1967 embedded with troops in Vietnam to create an hour-long special on Black soldiers specifically called Same Mud, Same Blood. He won the Peabody Award in 1966 for his coverage of Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York.

McGee really was on the fast track to be the top NBC anchor. When Chet Huntley retired, McGee was part of the team that switched off to host the NBC Nightly News. This was a try-out basically and NBC went with John Chancellor as the sole anchor in 1971, but as a consolation prize they gave McGee The Today Show to replace Hugh Downs. He was a real jerk to Barbara Walters, clearly sexist and not thinking her a serious news person. That was not entirely untrue in that her career was very much about interviewing celebrities, but of course there was a huge market in it and she is one of the most famous television journalists in history. In any case, McGee insisted he interview all the real guests instead of her.

That sexism was certainly not going to hurt McGee in the news world. He would have been around for a very long time, well into the 1980s no doubt. But he came down with multiple myeloma, a nasty cancer. It killed him in 1974. Well, technically it was pneumonia that killed him while his immune system was shot from the chemo, but same thing, basically. He was 52 years old.

Let’s watch a bit of McGee’s work:

Frank McGee is buried in Saint Paul’s Episcopal Churchyard, Woodville, Virginia.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader contributions. Thanks! If you would like this series to visit other TV news broadcasters, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Walter Cronkite is in Kansas City and Hugh Downs is in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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