If Only I Had Known!: Another Path
06/01/10 5:55PM By Cyndy Bittinger
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(HOST) For an annual brunch this year, VPR commentators wrote on the theme, "If Only I Had Known." We're hearing excerpts from those essays this week. Today, Cyndy Bittinger talks about a career deferred..
(BITTINGER) When I was a child, I dreamed that I would grow up to be a television commentator, similar to Pauline Frederick, who covered the United Nations for NBC. So after going to college in the 1960's where I majored in government and wrote for the college newspaper, I learned shorthand at Katherine Gibbs since I had been told that being a secretary was the only way to break into these fields. When I was hired by NBC news, I thought it was my lucky break. When I took the elevator up to the 11th floor of the Rockefeller Center building that overlooks the ice skating rink and magnificent Christmas tree, I thought I had arrived!
On the job, I took pleasure in working for Herb Kaplow and Elie Able, NBC correspondents of impeccable integrity. Yet I also had to put up with writers who mainly did their research by reading The New York Times and producers who issued orders from palatial offices.
Yet, my story is similar to that of Nora Ephron who was an intern in the John F. Kennedy White House in the 1960s. In her memoir, she tells us that she was capable of typing at record speed, but never was even given a desk or chair to prove it. She just hung around as part of the young women contingent. I at least had part of an office and typed the scripts for the news staff. We didn't realize it at the time, but Nora and I were mostly just there to be decorative women in a play dominated by an all male cast. In the 60s, delivering script changes to the editing room was like entering a male bastion, walls plastered with pin-up posters.
Once I started working at NBC, I realized there was no promotion from the secretarial pool. Even Barbara Walters had come to the network as a "Today girl" to present weather reports. Back then, no one would have taken her seriously as someone to give the "hard news." The day I met her, she looked pencil thin in a black leather form fitting suit. With a condescending air, she asked me, the lowly secretary, to place the folders I was delivering on her desk. She barely looked up. That did it. I didn't find any women to admire at NBC in the 1960s nor did I find a mentor, male or female. I never even met Pauline Frederick, but was disappointed to learn that she once said, "I think with the kind of career I had, something would have to be sacrificed." Evidently her heavy schedule made her feel guilty; her house was not clean enough and children were out of the picture.
Well, my dream was set aside for many years until the opportunity to create commentaries for Vermont Public Radio came along, and my dream was revived. If only I had known that there was a wonderful radio station up in the woods of Vermont, I would have made tracks up here earlier.