Ever Wonder About Andy Rooney?
Recalling the man who brought a sense of wonder to life's smallest details
By Rob Edelstein -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/5/2011 1:25:03 PM
In a July 21, 1980 profile, Time called Andy Rooney "the Boswell of stuff." Describing himself for the story, Rooney said, among other things, "I have an unpleasant voice." But his musings are the raw material of 60 Minutes legend. "Save $1,253 on a Saab," he once began in a report. "I mean, if you bought eight or ten Saabs a year, you can save enough to buy a Mercedes."
Mr. Rooney passed away Nov. 4 at age 92 due to complications from minor surgery. Since Rooney was all about "stuff" and finding unexpected kernels in places you don't always give enough attention to, we've compiled a short group of Rooney fun facts, both about the man and some of the ideas his reports have inspired.
In 1962, Rooney began teaming with Harry Reasoner at CBS, writing essays Reasoner delivered, covering the mundane wonders for which he's now well known. The first was called "An Essay on Doors."
In order to sell the idea to Jack Kiermaier, head of the CBS News documentary unit, he wrote a lengthy memo detailing some of his thoughts. Rooney reprinted the contents of the memo in Sincerely, Andy Rooney, one of his 15 books.
His listing of proposals for the report included the following:
"There will be fourteen working doors set up for the cameras in the studio by CBS set designers. [A] Hospital door with two small, oval glass windows. They lend drama to a door. [B] French doors. We will try to determine why they are called French. . . [H] Revolving door. (Women never take the first one available.)"
"[We'll have] a pantomime study of door manners, mannerisms and problems. Franz Reynders, the pantomimist, will perform in the frame of a suggested door."
"My intention is to make it apparent that the most ordinary objects around us-doors in this case-hold extraordinary interest when viewed from a good angle or from a sufficient number of different angles. There are a great many things to be said about doors. . . There is something basically dramatic about a door because our attitude toward one is markedly different if we are outside, wanting to get in, than it is if we are inside, wanting to get out."
"This isn't very convincing, is it? Find it in your heart to trust me."
As Rooney remembers in the book, his "Essay" was produced and broadcast, the first of many such essays that made it to the airways, including "An Essay on Chairs" and "An Essay on Bridges." His "An Essay on War," the first one he delivered himself, aired on public television, after a conflict with CBS. The essay won Rooney a Writer's Guild Award.
A Master of His Crafts
Rooney was very familiar with that desk we always found him behind, in part because he built it himself, according to CBS News. The topics he covered ranged from the contents of that desk's drawers to whether God exists. The "everything in between" included cotton in pill bottles, motor scooters, faucets, the reduction in size of household cleaning products, presidential campaigns and presidential vacations. In a segment that won him the third of his four Emmys, he suggested a compromise to the then-grain embargo against the Soviet Union: Selling them cereal. "Are they going to take us seriously as an enemy if they think we eat Cap'n Crunch for breakfast?" he asked.
Did You Ever Notice?
There have been many parodies of Rooney, and many other video tributes or attempts at humor regarding his signature voice and style. For a time, the most viewed YouTube video when searching "Andy Rooney" was Ali G.'s infamous interview, which Rooney ended a minute and a half in. Among other things, a clearly rattled Rooney asked the faux newsman-played by Borat star Sasha Baron Cohen-"Have you ever done this before?" and "What is your basic language?" before informing Ali G. that one can't actually report the news before it happens. Another somewhat less viewed video promised "Andy Rooney in 60 Seconds," and pieced together tangential lines from many reports. "What I always want to read is stories about lottery losers," it began. It ended, "Sometimes when I get up in the morning, I can't even remember where my socks are." And Joe Piscopo famously parodied Rooney in several segments on Saturday Night Live, his reports frequently beginning with the phrase, "Did you ever notice . . ." Perhaps Piscopo never noticed that Rooney never once used that phrase in any of his reports.
The Game's the Thing
Comedian Joe Mande created his own unique, somewhat existential view of the man at the desk. "The Andy Rooney Game" removed all but the first and last sentence of Rooney's segments. One segment on junk mail has Andy saying, "A lot of friendly people send me things. It's nice of them I guess, but most of it's junk that I don't want. . . so keep the stuff coming," without including the explanation of why they should "keep it coming." Other abbreviated reports concern the Pope's visit, Mike Wallace's birthday and trying to get folks to agree not to go anywhere on vacation. When Rooney retired from 60 Minutes last month, a sad Mande retired the game, but left his top five segments posted on his Website.
The Wrong Number, but the Right Party
In trying to accrue more facts for this story when first filed in 2008, I called the direct dial of a CBS News publicist who worked closely with Rooney. When I called, a heard a throat-clearing on the other end and a muffled "Hello?" "Hello," I said, momentarily confused. "Is this Susie?" "No," the suddenly very clear-and curmudgeonly-male voice on the other end announced. "This is not Susie." The voice was strong, curt, and equal parts angry and quizzical.
We were sorry to disturb, Mr. Rooney. And thanks once again. We're sure going to miss the way you made the most out of everything.
Mark Ginsberg - 11/5/2011 7:00:28 PM EDT
Laurence Helner - 11/5/2011 4:01:26 PM EDT
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