CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
Cherry Convicted of First Degree Murder; Ed McMahon Speaks Out About Carson
Aired May 22, 2002 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, NEWSNIGHT ANCHOR: Larry, thank you very much, and good evening again, everyone. The word "closure" was batted around more than a few times today and in truth we hate that word. To us it is presumptuous and empty, especially when you talk about the death of a child and the death of a child, several children, was on our minds today, all of it under the banner of "Breaking News" that seemed to be everywhere we looked.
Can there ever be closure for a parent whose child has died, much less a child who was murdered? Will Chandra Levy's parents ever be able to look at that video that we've seen for more than a year, pictures of a young, happy woman, happy to be around her family on a holiday and think this chapter in her life is closed.
Or will the parents of four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, will they have closure? These girls were murdered in a bombing in 1963 for no other reason it seems than they were Black.
They would be around my age now. You'll hear their names, see their faces in a little bit, and once again you have to ask yourselves whether their parents, the ones still alive, could ever look at the pictures and not think about the lives that might have been.
Four little girls, not as symbols of the civil rights movement, but as real live children, watch and grow up to marry, to have children and hopes and dreams of their own.
So we won't talk about closure here tonight. We'll talk about justice instead, and these two stories are at very different points on that score. For the parents of the Birmingham girls, there was some justice today, some peace in that perhaps.
The parents of Chandra Levy got something today, but justice it was not. It seems the quest for that, even a year or more later, has only begun. So the whip begins with the news on Chandra Levy. Bob Franken has been reporting the story for us all day. Bob, the headline tonight from you please.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well it is the outcome that many investigators considered the most likely and an outcome that they were hoping would make them say that they were wrong. Regrettably, they were right. The remains of Chandra Levy were found here in Rock Creek Park, an urban park I Washington. The question now becomes where do the investigators go from here. We'll report all that in a moment.
BROWN: Bob, thank you. The latest now on the terror threats directed at New York City, Maria Hinojosa following that for us, Maria your headline please.
MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the news that New York City might once again be a target for terrorists has many here concerned and confused. The information coming just as the city is going to welcome 6,000 sailors and over a dozen warships, but the mayor and the police commissioner are downplaying the threats, saying New York's state of alert remains as it has been since September 11, high -- Aaron.
BROWN: Maria, thank you. On to the Middle East, more violence today in the form of a human bomb, Martin Savidge tonight is in Rishon Letzion, Marty the headline from you please.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the peacefulness of an Israeli park was shattered by another suicide bombing. There have been deaths. There have been injuries and there has been a claim of responsibility. The question now is, what comes next. Aaron.
BROWN: Martin, thank you and our last stop in the whip, Birmingham, Alabama a verdict in a crime that shocked the country almost four decades ago. Gary Tuchman has been covering the trial, Gary the headline please.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, Bobby Cherry never denied he was a racist. He never denied he was in the Ku Klux Klan. But he did deny he was a killer. Today a jury said he's been lying for 39 years -- Aaron.
BROWN: Gary, thank you very much, back with all of you shortly. Not the easiest day to be on either side of the news business, yours or ours, so for both of us, the relief tonight will come at the end.
It has been a decade, ten years since Johnny Carson left "The Tonight Show" after one of the most remarkable runs in television history, by one of the most talented and in many ways elusive characters the business has ever produced. Tonight, Johnny. We'll talk with Ed McMahon and former Carson writer Dick Cavett, all of that in the hour ahead.
But there is a fair amount of heartbreak between now and then. We begin with Chandra Levy. It often seemed to us that the one thing most often forgotten in the year of Chandra was Chandra herself.
The story was often about adultery and power, about a Congressman and the media, about whether he did or didn't, about whether his wife knew or cared, about everything but a young woman who was missing.
We are way beyond that tonight. Now there are a different set of players, scientists to analyze DNA, cops to search for clues, most certainly a killer out there somewhere. There is no glamour now. Now there is just sorrow and a search for justice. Once again, CNN's Bob Franken.
FRANKEN (voice-over): From the moment that the police arrived at the scene shortly before ten o'clock in the morning Eastern time, police officials thought this was the chance that after more than a year they would have a break in the Chandra Levy case. A tragic break as it turned out.
The news came about 6:00 p.m. from the police chief who had the sad news that Chandra Levy was the victim who had been discovered here at Rock Creek Park.
CHIEF CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. CHIEF OF POLICE: We have received word from Doctor Arden (ph) over at the D.C. Medical Examiner's Office that the remains found earlier today are in fact Chandra Levy. The identification was made through dental records. We have notified the family.
BILLY MARTIN, LEVY FAMILY ATTORNEY: Although the discovery of Chandra's body closes one chapter and brings some resolution to this ordeal, it does not and I repeat it does not solve the mystery of what happened to Chandra.
FRANKEN: Ever since her disappearance about a year ago, Chandra Levy's case had been one that had demanded worldwide attention. She was a 24-year-old former intern. It turned out that she had a romantic relationship with Congressman Gary Condit, the Democrat from California. It is a relationship he admitted to investigators, according to law enforcement sources, in his third interview.
It was a relationship that ultimately resulted in the defeat of Congressman Condit at the polls. But in spite of all the interest that only stopped after September 11, in spite of all that interest, nobody had been able to find Chandra Levy, the whereabouts of Chandra Levy in spite of all the speculation, speculation that she had been killed, speculation that she had not.
But now, the sad news today, her body was found, confirmed by police officials, using their dental records. Now the next question is, not whether she died but how she died.
LOU HENNESSY, FORMER D.C. HOMICIDE COMMANDER: If there's obvious trauma to the skeletal remains that are consistent with her being killed in one manner or another that could be helpful. It would also be helpful to be able to determine from looking at the crime scene, whether or not she was dumped there or whether or not she was actually victimized at that location.
FRANKEN: From Congressman Condit, a statement released by his attorney: "Congressman Gary Condit and family want to express their heartfelt sorrow and condolences to the Levy family. The Levy family will remain in our prayers," that the statement from Congressman Gary Condit. It is important to point out that police have repeatedly said the Congressman was not a suspect in the disappearance, but somebody who could provide important information. Now the investigation appears now to be heading toward a homicide investigation.
FRANKEN (on camera): The investigators tell CNN that there is no evidence from their cursory look at the remains that suggests any clues. But now, the police are going to begin a new facet of this, a new phase of this investigation, no longer missing persons, now they want to find out how Chandra Levy came to the point where her body was found here in Rock Creek Park -- Aaron.
BROWN: There are so many and in some ways they all seem a little silly. Let me just ask one. Was the Congressman polygraphed in his series of interviews with D.C. police?
FRANKEN: He was polygraphed, but not by D.C. police. One of the complaints that the police had is that although the Congressman's lawyer said that yes he would take a lie detector test, it was a lie detector test that was administered by someone who was hired by the Condit defense team.
His lawyer, Abby Lowell (ph) at the time said this was a reputable person who administered test but the police said it would have been more effective had they administered the test.
BROWN: Bob, thank you, Bob Franken who has been working the Chandra Levy story. I saw in the computer when I was coming up that the D.C. Chief of Police will be among Paula Zahn's guest on "AMERICAN MORNING" tomorrow. You might check that out tomorrow morning.
One of the reasons the Chandra Levy story looked so different today is because most everything looks different to us in this post- September 11 era. In New York today it was the start of Fleet Week and it looked very different.
The sun was shining. The Navy ships sailed in but given the news of yesterday, it was hard not to think out there in the Hudson or in the harbor there were 20 new targets should a terrorist be so bold, and of course, these terrorists have been so bold. Remember the USS Cole.
The fleet is in and to protect the Navy, and just think about that for a second, security has hardly ever been higher here; so now, CNN's Maria Hinojosa.
HINOJOSA (voice-over): New York's annual Fleet Week, seven days of impressive warships descending on the city's harbors, the pomp and gala of water boats, a cause for pure celebration and now grave concern.
This Fleet Week begins with FBI revelations that the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge might be targets, reminding New Yorkers that their home is still vulnerable to terrorists, so police boats are under the Brooklyn Bridge and police officers are back to checking traffic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole thing of this constant reiteration of, you know, there's danger, we might be attacked, it doesn't seem to serve any constructive purpose whatsoever and you know all it does is get people panicked.
HINOJOSA: New York City remains on Code Orange alert for Fleet Week, one step down from Code Red, no different than since September 11. It's all very confusing. Does Fleet Week make the city more of a target? Do you stay off the bridges or stay on them, not giving in to the terrorists? And are they or the government leading us all in a dance of fear?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This continual news about these threats, and because they apparently are so vague, enough already.
HINOJOSA: Perhaps, but today there was a simulation of how New York would handle a bioterrorist attack and the Statue of Liberty itself remains closed.
JAMES KALLSTROM, NEW YORK STATE SECURITY ADVISER: Obviously, we're at a high state of alert in the United States. We have terrorists here living among us. We don't know who they are, but the landmarks are something we've always considered as potential targets, so yesterday's information doesn't change any of that.
HINOJOSA: But then more changes. The mayor and police commissioner announcing a major new initiative against, of all things -
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR, NEW YORK: The subject today is driving while intoxicated.
HINOJOSA: What? Then a clarification to reporters, pressing the mayor about terrorists.
BLOOMBERG: When you're looking for one type of criminal activity, it's obvious that the officers can also spot other types.
HINOJOSA (on camera): And that's what many New Yorkers are hoping for, Aaron, this news coming, of course, just before the beginning of a holiday weekend when many here wanted to get away from it all.
But now having to learn again that delicate balance between living with fear and living normally, perhaps one person I spoke to summed up what many thought. New Yorkers in this time to survive emotionally may just learn how - have to live with a little bit of denial. Aaron.
BROWN: Just a little bit, Maria, thank you, Maria Hinojosa tonight. So many images of 9/11 seem tough for us to shake, some because they're so terribly graphic, others for how outwardly normal they seem.
One of them, the picture of Mohammed Atta at an ATM machine in Portland, Maine falls into that second category. It is sort of creepy to us because we know what happens next and it's frustrating because we don't yet know all that happened before.
One answer we learned today may be that Mohammed Atta visited New York City perhaps as late as the 10th of September. Nailing that down and the rest of his travels matters a lot to investigators and, of course, to prosecutors who are trying to make a case against the so- called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui. Both threads of the story are on Susan Candiotti's plate, and so we turn to her; Susan, nice to see you tonight.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron. We've learned a lot about the 19 hijackers in the eight months since the September 11th attacks. Well tonight, one more clue about their travels, thanks largely to an electronic paper trail and to a credit card receipt. That's right, a credit card receipt.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Tonight we learn, according to sources, that that receipt puts hijacker Mohammed Atta in New York City the day before the September 11 attacks, the day before he commandeered a plane into the World Trade Center towers.
Investigators suggest that he may have been there to scope out his target, one day before September 11, in other words on September the 10th before he and a traveling companion, they suspect, Abdul Aziz al-Amari (ph) one of the other hijackers, boarded a plane in Portland, Maine and then to head on to Boston. You'll remember that image you referred to, shot by an ATM camera, as well as a security camera that captured the two of them boarding that plane in Portland, Maine.
Now why would he have been in New York on September the 10th to scout out the Twin Towers? Well investigators suggest as one of the theories they're examining that he was there to program a GPS. A GPS, that's a global positioning satellite and it's a high tech gizmo in which you can position a target where you're heading.
These things are sold and cost anywhere from $200 up to about $2,000. One model we looked at today cost around $500, and this if you position it correctly, can get you to within 50 feet of just about anywhere on the face of the earth.
JERRY CARBONE, OWNER, TROPIC AERO: If you wanted to be able to assure yourself of absolute accuracy, you could go there first of all and stand on a building or near a building or a checkpoint or whatever and store those coordinates and then when you flew your plane or car or came back to that spot, you'd come back within 50 feet.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): The gentleman you just heard from, Jerry Carbone, it just so happens sold a headset to one of the 19 hijackers. The reason he figured this out is that because within a few days after the attacks, he thought that they recognized one of the names of the hijackers from news reports.
Mr. Carbone contacted the FBI. They came to his store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, went over all of his records, seized a lot of them, and it's probable you'll be seeing a lot of that in the upcoming trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
Also, according to the indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker, we also know that Moussaoui, Mohammed Atta and one of the other hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi, purchased flight deck videos from a store in Columbus, Ohio, a pilot store there.
In all, investigators say they have traced 27 credit cards to the 19 hijackers and you'll be hearing more about their trail during the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui later this year. Aaron.
BROWN: Susan, it's awful out there. Let me - this is very nuts and bolts. Is this something that we are just learning but investigators have known for a long time, or are we both learning it right around the same time?
CANDIOTTI: Evidently, investigators have known this for quite some time, but we found out the information this day, according to our sources, from our sources.
BROWN: Susan thank you very much, Susan Candiotti in Florida working the story. Later on NEWSNIGHT a verdict in the Birmingham bombing case, 39 years later. And up next a bombing of a different source, a suicide bombing again in Israel. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.
BROWN: And so again today there was another, a suicide bombing, a homicide bombing, a terrorist attack, a sick act of desperation, whatever you want to call it you can choose. It doesn't really matter. It's the effect of towns. The lives and piece of mind shattered, which of course is the purpose.
Tonight, Israelis mourn and worry and all the rest of us can wonder if and how they will respond and what that response, whatever it is, will bring. Here again, CNN's Martin Savidge.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): In the seaside town of Rishon Letzion, the serenity of a city park was shattered by the blast of a suicide bomber. The force of the explosion could be felt blocks away, tearing through a steel awning, shattering windows, killing and wounding in less than a second. Witnesses and police both claim the bomber tried to disguise himself, a tactic authorities say they've seen before.
GIL KLEIMAN, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN: It was an attempt made to get in as close as possible to the people, in other words not to arouse suspicion, to walk in, get as close as possible and then blow themselves up.
SAVIDGE: Even as emergency crews were still dealing with the scene, the Palestinian Authority was condemning the attack.
SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN SPOKESMAN: The Palestinian Authority (UNINTELLIGIBLE) condemning this latest attack and repeating our position that we don't condone the killing of civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians.
SAVIDGE: This is the second time in as many weeks that Rishon Letzion has been the target of a suicide bomber. May 7, a blast at a pool hall killed 17 people. For the Israeli government, Palestinian condemnation is not enough.
GIDEON MEIR, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER SPOKESMAN: Condemnations are only words. We must see action and we don't see any Palestinian action, quite the contrary. In the past 20 months, it was the Palestinian Authority who encouraged this kind of terror and they must understand the terror will lead the Palestinian people only from one tragedy to another.
SAVIDGE: Back at the scene, tempers flared in the crowd of onlookers, occasional chants of death to Arabs could be heard. Many say that they are tired of what they claim is the world's perception that Israel is at fault.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole world thinks that we are blame for this situation, but I want to see someone from New York, I want to see them try to live in Israel for a month, two months, I don't know, and then maybe then they will understand.
SAVIDGE: Ironically, many of those gathered in the park may have done just that. It was a favorite place of Russian immigrants, who came to Israel believing it offered new hope and a new life.
SAVIDGE (on camera): As you look at the scene now, Aaron, you may find it almost impossible to believe that this was the site of Israel's latest suicide bombing attack. Unfortunately the Israelis have become very good, sadly, at cleaning up after them.
And there has been a claim of responsibility. The Al Aqsa Brigade, which is said to be associated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah Movement has issued a statement, actually it was faxed to Reuters in Beirut.
Now what remains to be seen if what, if anything, the Israeli government will do in response. This is the fourth suicide bombing attack in Israel this month and there are very few people here who believe it will be the last -- Aaron.
BROWN: Well it is almost now as if whoever is doing this is daring the Israelis to go into Gaza.
SAVIDGE: It would seem to be that case. If you remember back on May 7, the attack that took place in this very same town, there was a buildup of Israeli forces outside of Gaza and there was speculation that there was going to be a military incursion. That did not happen at that time. Israel has always said it could do so in the future. It could be that time -- Aaron.
BROWN: Marty, thank you. We'll see what tomorrow brings. One other note here, a late story out of France, not unrelated. A large fire broke out at the Israeli Embassy in Paris. Police say it happened in a wing of the embassy that was being renovated. About 50 people in a nearby building were evacuated. There are no reports yet of anyone being hurt and there is no word yet on what might have caused the fire, also for tomorrow we guess. Next on NEWSNIGHT the Birmingham bombing trial 39 years in the waiting.
BROWN: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King wrote the line in his letter from a Birmingham jail. He said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Months after that, four little girls were dead. Now 39 years later, there is justice for them somewhere, the somewhere being a courtroom in Birmingham, Alabama where it most certainly could not, never would have been found, 39 years ago. Here again, CNN's Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bobby Frank Cherry, the back of his head barely visible in the front of the courtroom had no noticeable reaction when he was declared guilty of four counts of First Degree Murder. Outside his family members consoled each other. His attorneys were not shocked with the outcome.
MICKEY JOHNSON, CHERRY'S ATTORNEY: I mean I think we presented the case that we intended the jury to hear and I think that's what they heard. They considered it and that was the outcome.
TUCHMAN: Cherry was asked by the judge if he wanted to say anything about his bombing conviction. News media members were not allowed to record sound during the trial, but the former Ku Klux Klan member turned to prosecutors and said: "The whole bunch has lied all the way through this thing. I told the truth. I don't know why I'm going to jail for nothing. I haven't done anything."
Prosecutors were pleased that the nine Whites and three African- Americans on the jury felt differently.
DOUG JONES, PROSECUTOR: This verdict today doesn't have just the historical significance of 1963. This verdict today sends a message that's important today, that the people that bomb and kill our innocent citizens and children, we will never give up. It doesn't matter how long it takes. We will never give up.
TUCHMAN: The 1963 bombing which killed four young African- American girls happened just days after Birmingham began integrating its public schools. The 16th Street Baptist Church was a center for the civil rights movement. Fourteen-year-old Addie Mae Collins was one of the girls killed. Her sister Sara was seriously wounded, temporarily blinded in both eyes. She now has sight in one eye and attended the trial.
SARA COLLINS RANDOLPH: I just thank God for one thing, that justice has prevailed.
TUCHMAN: Just minutes after the verdict, this picture was taken, Bobby Frank Cherry's mug shot as a convicted murderer.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Cherry is now in the Jefferson County Jail right behind me. He will soon be transferred to a maximum security state prison. It will likely be the same prison where Tommy Blanton is. Tommy Blanton was convicted in the same case just last year. Aaron, back to you.
BROWN: Did they even mention the possibility of appeal here?
TUCHMAN: Yes, what the defense attorneys say they will definitely appeal this case. What's interesting, Aaron, is that it's a very complicated set of laws. Because this crime happened in 1963, the prosecution is operating under 1940 laws in the State of Alabama, so there's a possibility that with this life prison sentence he'd get paroled within ten years, and prosecutors are looking into that possibility. They say because he's 71 years old, they're not so worried that he will eventually get out.
BROWN: Gary, thank you, a chapter of American history. Next on NEWSNIGHT, a man who fought Bobby Frank Cherry during that difficult era in Birmingham, Alabama. We'll take a break and be right back.
BROWN: Thirty-nine years ago is a long time, but what happened in Birmingham, Alabama that Sunday is not something one forgets. The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was a young man on a mission, a civil rights leader in Alabama when that title could easily get you killed, and sometimes did. Reverend Shuttlesworth is an older man now in a city that is different. So the battles are different, if not the cause. And the reverend joins us tonight from Birmingham, Alabama.
Sir, it's nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.
FRED SHUTTLESWORTH, BIRMINGHAM CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Thank you.
BROWN: Mr. Cherry is an old man, not apparently of sound mind. Why does it matter that he spends the rest of his life in prison?
SHUTTLESWORTH: It matters more that justice is to be done. That's the important thing. If laws and the stress in the country is to mean anything. And people who violate the laws are supposed to be convicted and sent to jail, whether they're old or young.
BROWN: You know, these Klan guys were certainly part of a huge part of the problem. But do you ever think that a lot of people who should have gone to jail in that time, the corrupt police departments, the corrupt newspaper editors, corrupt white business establishment, people who allowed this stuff to happen, got off scott-free?
SHUTTLESWORTH: Yes. Well, if all the people who went to jail who were supposed to have been in jail, you'd have a third of the people who lived in Birmingham at that time, who as you say, officials of government, court officials, sheriff, policemen,lawyers and the other Klan people. But this man was a part of the core Klan of bombing, murder, beating, all sorts of things.
And I think this is about the last of that core group. Now they had some leaders also, who didn't do the dirty work, but had it done. And so that they, too, should be there. And maybe somebody ought to do some investigative type reporting, so that -- that record can get on docket in a jury also. And I am sure they would go to jail also.
BROWN: Did you ever have a run-in with Mr. Cherry in your time, in leading civil rights movement and marches there?
SHUTTLESWORTH: Would you ask that again?
BROWN: Yes. Did you ever have a run-in with Bobby Cherry way back in the '50s and '60s?
SHUTTLESWORTH: I never -- they asked me that question today. I didn't know Mr. Cherry from any other white man. I didn't have any Klan friends. But Mr. Cherry was one of those, I understand, who struck me several times in 1957. And he confronted with a newsman in Mississippi. He would have said to him, something like, "I knocked the hell out of that nigger. I beat him," or something.
And I knew that no white man had hit me, except in the beating in '57. So I recall the beating. And I guess from what I heard when they were trying to kill me, makes it sure that Mr. Cherry was there. You know, you must remember that the Klan first tried to kill me in 1956, December, Christmas night, when they blew the corner of my house down. They blew the corner of the house off. Before I was going to bed, the springs on which I was lying, we didn't find any large pieces, as large as my fist.
And yet I survived. So that when I tried to enroll my children, two of my children and another one, in the Phillips High School to test the law that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) made, people segregation law, the Klan was there. And so, while they were beating, I remember they pulled my coat up over my head so I couldn't have fought if I had wanted to. I didn't want to fight, however. And they were kicking, stomping, knocking me down continuously.
SHUTTLESWORTH: And they were almost running into each other. And I could hear them say, "Let's kill this SOB." Now you know I don't mean "sweet old boy."
BROWN: Yes, I know exactly what you mean.
SHUTTLESWORTH: "Let's kill this SOB today." He said this all over. And they said these words, "We missed him last time," which would have been December. So if we kill him today, it'll all be over. So I guess today is a significant day.
BROWN: It is a significant day indeed. And the fact that just in the telling of the story, sir, we could smile a little, says a lot about the importance of the day. Nice to meet you. Thanks for joining us tonight. Thank you very much.
SHUTTLESWORTH: Thank you.
BROWN: It occurred to us, last night, that we knew and remembered lots of important names from the civil rights era of the '60s. Medger Evers and Rosa Parks, and James Meredith, and Bull Conner. But we did not know the names of those four young children, who died in that church in '63. Somehow, their individuality got lost in the cause they came to represent.
So here, too late, perhaps, is who they were. Denise McNair, she was 11 at the time. She'd be 50 now. Maybe she'd have children in all probability, grandchildren possibly. So might Carole Robertson have had children and grandchildren. She would be 53 this year. She was 14 that day in '63. Cynthia Wesley would be 53 as well. And so would Addie Mae Collins. Addie Mae and Cynthia walked to church together that Sunday. It was their last walk of the last day of their lives.
Some weeks later, the young president of the united states was shot and killed. They weren't around for the turmoil of that, or for the victory of the passage of the civil rights act of 1964. They weren't around for any of the rest of the century, not for the young president of the United States was shot and killed. They weren't around for the turmoil of that, or for the victory, the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, which came in 1964. They weren't around for any of the rest of the century, not for the amazements, or the shocks, the progress, the setbacks of all those years. And surely, they would have been around.
They were, after all, just kids. We'll be right back.
BROWN: It's been said the secret to success for any performer is knowing when to leave the stage, or as they used to say in vaudeville, always leave them wanting more. It is advise often given, but rarely taken. Consider Elvis or Pavarotti, or Joe Namath, for that matter, or any other great performer who stayed, perhaps because we wanted them to so much, just a little bit past their prime.
Then there is Johnny Carson. 10 years ago today, after three decades hosting "THE TONIGHT SHOW," he said good-bye and left the stage for good. And in Carson's case, he really left the stage. No "Tonight Show" reunion specials. No Barbara Walters interviews. He just went home to his tennis courts and his boat and his circle of friends, among them, Ed McMahon, about whom it can be said he is the greatest sidekick in the history of television.
Ed McMahon joins us from Los Angeles tonight.
You're looking well and it's nice to see you.
ED MCMAHON, TV PERSONALITY: Thank you, Aaron, I feel well. I am in good shape. And I saw Mr. Carson about two weeks ago just before he started on his high trek around most of the world. He left on May 1 and may be in the Panama Canal right now or he may be in the Gulf of Mexico, but he is on his way east on the boat. So we had nice reunion early because he was leaving on May 1.
BROWN: I gather he's well and happy?
MCMAHON: He's great. He's very happy, very content and has no regrets, no attitude about it. His total appraisal of the whole situation is in just a few words. He said, "Ed, I did it."
MCMAHON: And that's pretty much how it lays in there. It's wonderful to be with him because it's great to be with somebody that's fully content with what they're doing.
BROWN: Does it surprise you at all that he did just kind of walk away?
MCMAHON: Yes. Yes. And I think for a while. I'm sorry to interrupt you.
BROWN: I'm sorry, no...
MCMAHON: I think for a while. Here's what I want to answer to that. What happened was, I think for a while, he wanted to do something. Because when I would meet him in the early years of his departure, he would say to me, "I didn't find anything yet, Ed. I haven't found it." And I thought sure he would keep doing the Oscars. It would have been perfect. He would have had his ultimate dream. Work one day a year. That's where he was headed, you know.
MCMAHON: You know, Monday off, Tuesday off. They'd have given him Wednesday off. And he finally works one day a year, but he didn't do it. He turned Gill Cates (ph) down every year for five years. And I thought he might do something on astronomy, because he really understands the stars. You know, he has telescopes all over his house. And he knows the heavens. And I figured he'd do like a Walter Cronkite kind of thing, where he'd do a couple things on PBS.
So I really think he intended to do something when he first left. But then he liked doing nothing so much. As I tell people, they say, what's he doing? I said he's doing nothing. And he's doing very, well.
BROWN: Do you remember the last show, what he said before he went on, and what he said as he walked off?
MCMAHON: Yes. Absolutely. He made that great speech you've seen so many times. If I find something that you'll welcome me with into your homes. And I'd like to do that again. And I hope it'd be as comfortable for me. Something -- words to that effect. And he said, but I bid you now a fond farewell.
And he walked right off. He didn't even look at me. I was standing in my usual spot. Alex was right there, his wife. And he picked her up and off he went and went to the party. We had a great party out at his house that night. And everybody was invited. Everybody was brought out to the house. Everybody that worked on the show, all the cameramen, everybody that was connected to the show came out to a great party.
BROWN: And did he ever after -- as I remember this, he announced a year in advance that he's going to stop doing the program.
BROWN: In that year, did he ever have second thoughts?
MCMAHON: No, no, no. It was a countdown. It was just an automatic thing. He knew we were leaving May 22, 1992. And he announced it in Carnegie Hall, what a better arena to announce something like that at the Affiliates meeting. And it was a surprise to everyone. All the executives, nobody knew it. The only person that knew it in the audience of the executives that night, when he announced it, was Brandon, the late wonderful Brandon Tartikoff. He knew it. He and Johnny were great friends. So he knew it. I didn't know it. Fred, the producer didn't know. Nobody on the staff knew it. It was a well kept secret.
BROWN: Man, that must have hit you like a punch in the stomach, though, didn't it?
MCMAHON: Well, I knew it was coming. You know, every -- he'd look at me in a commercial, right. We'd be in a commercial break, and he'd say, "Should we do another year?" I said, "Yes, we might as well." I mean, that's it was toward the last several years. He was renewing on a yearly basis. But it would be like a decision he'd make -- in a commercial break he'd say, "What do you think?" I say, "Yes, I think we should." "OK." But I didn't know anything about the farewell, whether he was going to really do it.
BROWN: We've got about a minute left. Let me ask you a question about you. I hope you don't consider this impertinent.
BROWN: Did you -- I assume at various points in your life you've considered this. How different your life would be, if back in what, the late '50s, you had not met and gone to work with Johnny Carson?
MCMAHON: Well, I would have been a broadcaster. I was a broadcaster. I was destined to this when I was very young. I knew when I was 10 years old, I was going to be in what was then radio. There wasn't any television around, but I knew I was going to be in radio. And I practiced it with a flashlight in my hand reading "Time" magazine aloud. I was a little broadcaster. That's what I did every afternoon. And I couldn't wait.
I got my first radio job when I was 17. So I've been doing this business, if you could believe it, for 60-something years. And I just love it. I don't want to do anything else but this. I want to leave the stage -- he left his way, I want to leave like this. I want to be on a show and say, oh, by the way, I won't be right back.
BROWN: Yes. Well, don't do it too soon. It's wonderful to see you.
MCMAHON: OK. Thank you.
BROWN: You look terrific. It obviously agrees with you. Thanks for joining us.
MCMAHON: All right. Good show you do, thank you.
BROWN: Thank you, sir, very much.
One more segment on Carson when we come back. Dick Cavett remembers. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.
BROWN: For 30 years, something wasn't funny until it was in the monologue. And a comedian hadn't made it until she was waved over to the couch. And a star hadn't really arrived until he sat in for Johnny. Recently, we talked with Dick Cavett, who's written jokes, done standup, and sat in for Mr. Carson. Cavett did all that and more.
BROWN: Does it surprise you in 10 years, Mr. Carson has hardly ever been seen and hardly spoken publicly at all, and not given interviews, and that he just walked off?
DICK CAVETT, COMEDIAN: I tend to think I could have predicted it. But because I've known him for a long time. And also his very wonderful instinct for doing the right thing in terms of his professional life and his personal life. And it doesn't surprise me.
If he had come out and emceed a special on dog breeding or something like that, some interest of his, that wouldn't have startled me totally. But he really seemed to make a total exit. Now in fact, archaeology will bear us out, but he did make one or two brief surprise appearances here and there with tremendous payoff, as they say.
But no, he's a private man. And that sounds silly to say to people, who say, wait a minute, a private man doesn't go on television five nights a week for 30 years. And don't tell me he's private. Well, you can be private and you can be alone on the stage.
BROWN: If he started "The Tonight Show" now, would he work? Would he still be Johnny Carson? CAVETT: Well, let's see. Everything has changed. Before there's Carson, born now, changed. I don't know, I entertain myself with that question.
BROWN: Don't over-intellectualize that question.
BROWN: It's not that complicated.
CAVETT: Oh, OK, then the answer is hell no.
BROWN: OK, because?
CAVETT: Oh, no. I don't know. I am not very good at those, because so much has changed and that it couldn't possibly happen. But on the other -- I don't know why. He would still be an attractive, funny, excellent editor of humor. Excellent...
BROWN: Yes. That was part of it, wasn't it? That he really -- that he could pick out the good joke?
CAVETT: Yes. One day I came in, and I usually made the other writers crazy by writing too fast.
CAVETT: And I could fill a page at about the time it took to type it. And this day, I couldn't. It took forever. And somehow, I cranked out a second one. Thought you know, tomorrow is another day. Handed it in. And the phone rang. And the familiar voice said Richard, I think you're capable of a little better monologue.
CAVETT: Harsh. No -- sat there to absorb the arrow, as painfully as -- and later, I thought it was brilliant of him, because it played on, not just my being insulted by my boss, what it did was said I thought you were better than this. And I think he did. And I think he meant it. And that way, it almost makes me tear up slightly, because I felt I had failed to please a favorite teacher, the way you would in school if you said, God, what was wrong with you when you wrote this? You're better than this.
BROWN: What is it like working opposite him?
CAVETT: Oh, strangely enough, I never thought of it as that.
BROWN: You didn't?
CAVETT: No. And I know that's almost impossible to believe. When you're doing the show, it's this show. And it seems like it's the only show that's on in one way. But that still doesn't account for all of it. And then the other thing was if I ever did think of it, I thought, this is a lark if this last a month, month and a half, whatever, I will come out fine. I used to call Johnny up and say, "What in the hell do we do today? Bobby Kennedy was shot."
CAVETT: How do you go on and do the show? And he would tell me how tough it was, how you hope that you would strike the right tone. And try to put it out of your mind as much as -- but not ignore the subject, but not be obsessed with I'm doing this wrong and in poor taste.
BROWN: He didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
CAVETT: I don't think he did at all.
CAVETT: It's amazing. One night, I stood backstage, behind -- well a comic stands and dies of nerves. And I was on his show. This was in California. And he did the introduction. And then he said, we always had a kind of avuncular feeling about Dick. No, I take it back, Aaron. He said a fatherly feeling.
CAVETT: About Dick. And I thought he teared a bit. And I did and walked out. And when we were on together, the two of us had something going that people, even the Guinness people noticed.
CAVETT: They'd say, well, Johnny seems like a different man with you. And you seem -- and so on. Avuncular comes in when later, I was on the host on the show of another talk host. And he asked me about Carson. And I said, "I think he has a kind of avuncular feeling about me." He then went on to say how people should be praising Carson, rather than saying horrible things about him. Some people wonder how much talent it takes to go for 30 years on television.
And it is amazing. He -- with nothing to offer but intelligence and charm and wit and splendid personality, he managed to get 30 years. How'd he do it?
BROWN: It's unbelievable that he had 30 years and...
CAVETT: It's all he had.
BROWN: It's nice to meet you. Thanks again.
CAVETT: You too, man.
BROWN: Thank you, sir.
CAVETT: Thank you.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: Dick Cavett in on a day when the news was pretty grim. For about 45 minutes, it was a nice way to end the program tonight. We'll be back tomorrow at 10:00. We hope you are, too. Good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.
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