Covering the News From a Zany Angle of Her Own
At this week's reunions, many alumni will be talking about their careers. Alice Nelson Furlaud '51 will be demonstrating hers, by carrying around a microphone and tape recorder and reporting on the reunion for National Public Radio (NPR).
The radio reporter, who offers self-described "ranting and raving" to her audience on a New York radio show titled "Don't Get Me Started," began her journalism career at age 51. Since then, she has reported on such varied subjects as birth control techniques to reduce Paris pigeons and to the retirement of guard dogs from the Berlin Wall. She has served as a free-lance correspondent for both NPR and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in Paris, and now from her Cape Cod home after returning to the United States.
But preparing to interview others about their post-Harvard experiences, Furlaud says she remains far more interested by her classmates' experiences than her own.
"A lot of these people [in the Radcliffe Class of 1951 reunion book] are fabulous people," Furlaud says. "I feel as if I have done nothing."
On January 8, 1951 the Crimson published a picture titled "First Snow Stirs Snowballing," showing Alice Nelson `51 hurling a snowball with an expression of rage on her face.
Furlaud calls this picture her one brush with the media while at Radcliffe.
Instead of reporting, Furlaud turned to the stage at the College, where she achieved what the frequently-heard journalist says is her "one claim to fame" in life.
She played the lead role in "Skin of Our Teeth," written by then-Harvard professor Thornton Wilder, who would later go on to write such famous plays as "Our Town."
But Furlaud came to Radcliffe from a background that foretold much of her eventual career path.
She was born in Baltimore, Md. to Frederic Nelson '16, who worked for the Baltimore Sun and then moved to Philadelphia when he became editorial page editor of the Saturday Evening Post.
And on her mother's side, Furlaud says she came from a long line of "francophiles"--an inheritance that led her first to a year abroad in France and eventually to a career shaped around her time in France.
At Radcliffe, Furlaud spent her junior year in Paris on a self-created study abroad program. She shunned the traditional classes taken by American students studying in Paris and tried to avoid associating with Americans.
Instead she enrolled in a French acting school, where all the other students were native Parisians. The school provided a total immersion into both French language and culture.
Furlaud also gained a first-hand knowledge of radical French politics while in Paris. She was assaulted by a pair of anti-American French communists, and saved from violence only by the unexpected arrival of one of the criminals' girlfriends.
After France, Furlaud had to attend summer school classes to graduate with her class. And in 1951, she graduated planning to continue acting as a career.
But marriage interfered, when she met Max Furlaud at an audition for a Broadway play.
"I got married and went to sleep for 150 years," Furlaud says.
Max was a movie writer, who ignored a producer's advice to avoid romantic involvement with "the talent" and married Alice Furlaud in 1952.
Furlaud's love of France was present even in her taste in men, and twenty years after the marriage, Furlaud accompanied her half-French husband to Paris.
But after their marriage, the couple lived in New York City for the next 16 years, with Alice working various odd jobs--including as a movie theater cashier and running an animal model agency--to keep up the family's income while Max worked in the fickle movie and drama industries.
The Furlauds left the movies behind in 1968 when they moved to Big Sur, California to join the Esalen Institute for the practice of Gestalt therapy. In this Institute, which Furlaud describes as a "have-a-heart trap" where leaving is almost impossible, Max Furlaud received training in therapy based on the entire set of feelings a person experiences at any one moment.
Three years later, the Furlauds left Big Sur for Switzerland and then Paris, where Furlaud became NPR's first Paris correspondent.
On The Air
In Paris, Furlaud would rarely report breaking news stories for NPR or the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), which also aired her pieces. Instead she mainly reported feature-type stories--a staple of NPR in what Furlaud calls its former "eccentric days".
One of Furlaud's first stories was an interview with an author of a book about a red-light district of Paris. Furlaud taped the author describing the sights and highlights of the district as they drove through the neighborhood.
The piece disgusted some listeners enough to send letters refusing to ever contribute to NPR again--a source of pride for Furlaud.
However, Furlaud had one favorite day to report for NPR: April Fools Day. She was a regular contributor to All Things Considered's April 1 feature of running an invented story. One year she suggested apiece about how Sadam Hussein's son was vacationing on Cape Cod, while on spring break from his New England boarding school--an idea rejected for even being over the top for an April Fool's story.
She also contributed piece of a similar genre to the BBC program "The Unreliable Narrator." For that show she did a series of stories with her husband on that show where he pretended to be the French Minister of Love--who supposedly hired people to fill the streets of Paris kissing and pretending to be lovers.
Plympton and Bow Street
Max and Alice Furlaud moved back to the United States in 1997, after the Parisian government took control of the couple's apartment, and settled in the Cape Cod cottage that Alice's mother had bought in 1933 and where the couple had gotten engaged in 1952.
Max died in 1999 from Parkinson's disease. Alice says she is now mainly kept company by her cat--to whom she feels a great deal of devotion.
Furlaud says that she terribly misses living in France.
While she may have left France, she has not left her radio career behind. She continues to contribute stories for NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday on subjects ranging from the Big Dig to etiquette for the Presidential Inaugural Ball.
In February, Furlaud returned to Cambridge to report on Harvard's now-completed search for a new president.
Furlaud is also a regular contributor to "The Next Big Thing," a relatively new Sunday show on New York City's NPR affiliate WNYC.
A particular favorite of Furlaud's is her feature on the show entitled "Don't Get Me Started"--which she describes as her "ranting and raving" over some issue. In the past she has complained over the growing number of SUVs on the roads and the decision of Al Gore '69 to close to the press a lecture he gave at Columbia's journalism school.
She is currently working on a rant over the explosion of email--Furlaud does not own a computer. She particularly takes offense to the fact many consider those without an email address a "lower order of humanity."
"She has a real zaniness that underlies her surface propriety," says Dean A. Olsher, the producer of "The Next Big Thing." "It's like she's The Harvard Crimson on the surface and the Harvard Lampoon underneath."