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David Susskind


By Frederick H. Gardner

Although he expects to be fired today as moderator of Open End, David H. Susskind '42 will not need unemployment compensation. A "professional wheeler-and-dealer," he is currently producing his fourth major film and transporting a London hit to Broadway.

The man whom Susskind thinks will dismiss him is Bennett Korn, owner and manager of WNEW in New York. "He is an ugly meddler," Susskind said of his present employer, and fearing a misquote, he repeated, "an ugly meddler in the process of free speech."

As Susskind tells the story, Korn began taking credit for all of Open End when, in fact, he only controlled its finances. Then he sought to encroach upon the choice of personnel and subject matter. According to the embittered moderator, Korn has "reverted to censorship at a time when broadcasting is showing new freedom and responsibility. It is particularly witless since Korn has an application pending before the F.C.C. to take over a station in Los Angeles."

Programs devoted to smoking and cancer, birth control, Norman Mailer, Sol Hurok and student political activity have been arbitrarily canceled; now Korn insists that James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte will not suffice for a show on the American Negro. Since Susskind refuses to enlarge the panel, Korn has called a press conference at which their association will probably be "severed with deep regret."

Susskind is no shy credit-taker himself. He speaks of the three movies produced with his money--Edge of the City, Raisin in the Sun, and Requiem for a Heavyweight-- as "my pictures." And he regards the art of television as something akin to artistic portraiture. "That Brando interview," he said of an Open End show which will soon run in Boston, "was a really masterful portrait of a human being."

Susskind is proud that he "created the atmosphere of candor" in this show. The first hour of the interview is devoted to Brando's interests, particularly the Far East. "If I had come right out and asked him, 'Why are you suing the Saturday Evening Post?' he would have thought of me as some kind of gossip and wouldn't have talked. But after an hour he felt comfortable. He regarded me as his friend. And he said, 'Of course I'll tell you why I'm suing them, David....'" As an afterthought Susskind added; "It's like the seduction of a woman."

Along with the successes, he acknowledges a number of defeats. "I lost with Nikita Khrushchev, but there was so much hysteria attendant on his appearance that it was hopeless. My office was picketed, my children were threatened with reprisals...." He feels he also lost with V. Krishna Menon ("so disrespectful, so rude") and Adlai Stevenson ("he had been my political hero, and then, after the interview, well...").

Susskind treats politicians more deferentially than other public figures, but the portraiture he seeks in all cases is both personal and professional. "More than anything," he reiterates when discussing his interviewing style, "I want a sense of the man. I know I say things that anger people, but I'll use any style: Harvard charm, overstatement, little-boy charm, direct confrontation.... I know my job is not to win friends and influence people."

The wheeler-and-dealer, a solidly built man of average height, is obviously proud of a thick, curly head of charcoal gray hair. His eyes, at a certain angle, seem also to be charcoal gray, but then they shift and become pale blue. Although he himself has become the subject of interviews and is increasingly sought as a speaker (not an expert) on a wide variety of topics, Susskind spends most of his time in New York with his wife, two daughters, and son. He hopes the boy will go to Exeter and then to you know where.

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