Thank You, Mr. Schieffer

The Fort Worth Star Telegram issued four “Extras” on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy died. The driving force was a 26 year-old cub reporter by the name of Bob Schieffer.

nschiefferhat[I am personally grateful to Mr. Schieffer for another reason—but I’ll get to that in a bit.]

Bob Schieffer happened to answer the phone in the busy Star-Telegram newsroom about an hour after the news broke about the assassination. The caller—a woman—asked if anyone at the paper could give her a ride to Dallas. The young reporter was about to hang up, telling the caller that the newspaper wasn’t a taxi service, when the woman said that she was the mother of the man who had just been arrested in Dallas.

Bob Schieffer drove over to the home of Marguerite Oswald—mother of Lee Harvey Oswald—and gave her that ride to Dallas. Over the next few hours he was with her and able to phone in regular updates to his paper from the Dallas Police Station.  

It was what they call a big scoop for the young reporter.

These days, Mr. Schieffer is one of the elder statesmen of the news business, close CBS heir to Murrow and Cronkite.  Recently, his alma mater, Texas Christian University, in his beloved hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, renamed their excellent journalism school after him.

It was that love of Fort Worth that led Bob Schieffer to take an interest in a book I was writing a few years ago. It was about that town and one of its more “colorful” citizens—a famous preacher. And I’m deeply grateful to Mr. Schieffer for agreeing to write the Foreword to that book, The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America.

TheShootingSalvationistHere’s part of what he said about the book:

“For all the colorful characters who became part of Fort Worth’s history, surely none surpassed J. Frank Norris, the fiery fundamentalist preacher at Fort Worth’s First Baptist Church in pure outlandishness. His oratory and penchant for publicity brought thousands into his congregation and at one point First Baptist was among the largest churches in the world, a mega church before the phrase was coined. Unfortunately, for all his oratorical skills, Norris’ horizons were limited by several criminal indictments brought on by his tendency for violence.

In this book David Stokes tells the J. Frank Norris story.

If I hadn’t grown up in Fort Worth, I would have thought someone made all this up but no one did.

It really happened.”

Thank you, Bob Schieffer!


Tell Me A Story

Part of my recent Father’s Day experience was the chance to watch one of my favorite movies from decades ago on the big screen. I’ve had the movie’s theme song as my cellphone ringtone for quite a while and, admittedly, I have seen the film so many times that I can quote much of the dialogue verbatim. My wife particularly enjoyed periodic demonstrations of this skill and knowledge last Sunday. Sure she did.

The film is the 1963 classic, The Great Escape—the sort of true story of an epic attempt at mass escape from a heavily guarded German prison camp during World War II. I was seven years old when it came out, so I never got to see it in all its full screen glory. I was first introduced to the story when one of the networks—this was way back when there were just three—aired the movie over two nights in 1967.


That was a big event in our house. My parents let me stay up late on two consecutive school nights to watch it. It is actually one of my fondest “warm fuzzy” family memories from my childhood. Mom made popcorn, and Dad did color commentary about what World War II was like. I pointed out that his war was Korea—but he held court nonetheless.

What makes a movie endure and remain popular half a century later? Well, certainly the cast is a factor. I mean, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, David “Ducky” McCallum (how old is that guy?), and the ultimate Mr. “Cool”—Steve McQueen—they surely played a role (pun intended) in the film’s contemporary and legacy success. But there must be more. I once saw a film that had Gregory Peck and Michael Caine in it, and it was a bomb.

It’s got to be the story itself.

The late Don Hewitt, long time producer of CBS’s staple 60 Minutes, was once asked about the secret of the news magazine’s staying power. He replied that the key was as old as the Bible and as simple as four words—“tell me a story.”

It is my experience—as a writer and speaker—that good stories begin with questions—Why? Why not? How? What if?

I am often asked how I came up with the story I tell in Camelot’s Cousin. Well, it began with a question. In September 2011, I was invited to speak about my previous book, The Shooting Salvationist, to a forum at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. In the audience that evening was a writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism in the early 1970s. His area of expertise was intelligence and the CIA.

My host that evening invited this journalist to join us for a late dinner. It turned out to be quite an evening. Having always been fascinated by the world of intrigue during the Cold War, I picked this man’s brain. We talked much about the infamous spy, Kim Philby, who had been abruptly asked to leave the U.S. in 1951, under a cloud of suspicion. During our conversation that night the subject of materials he left behind was discussed. Philby had—according to his own memoir published in 1967—buried them in Virginia.


So, I asked the question—what if someone found what he buried? And what if something Mr. Philby planted beneath the Virginia soil pointed to other nefarious people and things?

That was all it took—I was hooked on a story.

[I wrote this blog for VENTURE GALLERIES, a great site about books and authors. — DRS]