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Legendary CBS News Producer/Mentor Bernie Birnbaum Passes Away

CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus sent a note to staff today about the death of award winning producer Bernie Birnbaum who passed away Thanksgiving Day at the age of 89.

Birnbaum joined CBS in 1951. He worked on a number of programs and in special events. He was an associate producer on “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” and later was senior producer of “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.”

Birnbaum was the father of New York bureau producer Amy Birnbaum.

McManus’ note, and a press release, after the jump…
CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus sent a note to staff today about the death of award winning producer Bernie Birnbaum who passed away Thanksgiving Day at the age of 89.

Birnbaum joined CBS in 1951. He worked on a number of programs and in special events. He was an associate producer on “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” and later was senior producer of “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.”

Birnbaum was the father of New York bureau producer Amy Birnbaum.

McManus’ note, and a press release, after the jump…


—- Original Message —-
From: McManus, Sean
To: @CND News
Sent: Sat Nov 28 13:09:45 2009
Subject: Message from Sean McManus

I have some sad news to share with you all.

Bernie Birnbaum, a legend at CBS News from his arrival in 1951, died on Thanksgiving at the age of 89. He was the father of New York Bureau Producer Amy Birnbaum and her sister, Deborah Birnbaum. He is also survived by two sons-in-law and four grandchildren.

An award winning producer, Bernie worked on a long list of CBS programs from Adventure, Eyewitness to History and American Parade. He was an associate producer on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, when it became the first half hour daily TV news broadcast. Subsequently, he became a producer on that program. For years, home was the Special Events Unit where Bernie was a producer of specials on the Kennedy assassination including the 4-part CBS News Inquiry: The Warren Report. He also did numerous reports on the war in Vietnam visiting the war zone seven times to produce special segments and documentaries. And he produced many documentaries here at home. One of his hallmarks was that people who were in his films, remained in touch with Bernie for a lifetime.

Bernie also spent many years working with Charles Kuralt and was the senior producer for On the Road with Charles Kuralt. Together they produced a special broadcast: Christmas in Appalachia, an award-winning half hour documentary on the plight of unemployed miners in eastern Kentucky. Following that broadcast, viewers sent $70,000 to help the families profiled in the special. Some observers have suggested this program and the response to it may have helped shape President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty program.

But more than his award winning work, Bernie was a mentor to generations of CBS News producers and Correspondents. He always had an encouraging word and was always available to help with a problem. No one who had contact with Bernie can forget his enthusiasm as he would present some little known or forgotten treasure from the CBS News Archives — many of which he had been responsible for filming or taping.

Few of his colleagues realized he had been in the first class of Fulbright Scholars, studying cinema in Rome. He then served in Italy during World War II as a corporal in the 1st Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Corps. Prior to joining CBS News, Bernie was a still photographer for MGM in Italy and worked as well with independent filmmakers including Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Luciano Emmer and Guiseppe DeSantis. Bernie continued to speak Italian, read the Italian newspapers and follow Italian politics throughout his life.

His funeral will be held Tuesday, December 1 at 1 pm at the Larchmont Temple, 75 Larchmont Ave., Larchmont, NY.

Please join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to the entire Birnbaum family.

————–
CONVERT BREAKS: __default__

—- Original Message —-
From: McManus, Sean
To: @CND News
Sent: Sat Nov 28 13:09:45 2009
Subject: Message from Sean McManus

I have some sad news to share with you all.

Bernie Birnbaum, a legend at CBS News from his arrival in 1951, died on Thanksgiving at the age of 89. He was the father of New York Bureau Producer Amy Birnbaum and her sister, Deborah Birnbaum. He is also survived by two sons-in-law and four grandchildren.

An award winning producer, Bernie worked on a long list of CBS programs from Adventure, Eyewitness to History and American Parade. He was an associate producer on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, when it became the first half hour daily TV news broadcast. Subsequently, he became a producer on that program. For years, home was the Special Events Unit where Bernie was a producer of specials on the Kennedy assassination including the 4-part CBS News Inquiry: The Warren Report. He also did numerous reports on the war in Vietnam visiting the war zone seven times to produce special segments and documentaries. And he produced many documentaries here at home. One of his hallmarks was that people who were in his films, remained in touch with Bernie for a lifetime.

Bernie also spent many years working with Charles Kuralt and was the senior producer for On the Road with Charles Kuralt. Together they produced a special broadcast: Christmas in Appalachia, an award-winning half hour documentary on the plight of unemployed miners in eastern Kentucky. Following that broadcast, viewers sent $70,000 to help the families profiled in the special. Some observers have suggested this program and the response to it may have helped shape President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty program.

But more than his award winning work, Bernie was a mentor to generations of CBS News producers and Correspondents. He always had an encouraging word and was always available to help with a problem. No one who had contact with Bernie can forget his enthusiasm as he would present some little known or forgotten treasure from the CBS News Archives — many of which he had been responsible for filming or taping.

Few of his colleagues realized he had been in the first class of Fulbright Scholars, studying cinema in Rome. He then served in Italy during World War II as a corporal in the 1st Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Corps. Prior to joining CBS News, Bernie was a still photographer for MGM in Italy and worked as well with independent filmmakers including Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Luciano Emmer and Guiseppe DeSantis. Bernie continued to speak Italian, read the Italian newspapers and follow Italian politics throughout his life.

His funeral will be held Tuesday, December 1 at 1 pm at the Larchmont Temple, 75 Larchmont Ave., Larchmont, NY.

Please join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to the entire Birnbaum family.

————–

CBS NEWS’ BERNARD BIRNBAUM, AWARD-WINNING PRODUCER WITH CHARLES KURALT ON THE SEMINAL DOCUMENTARY “CHRISTMAS IN APPALACHIA,” DIES AT 89

Bernard Birnbaum, an award-winning CBS News producer for legends like Walter Cronkite and Charles Kuralt and who was the senior producer for Kuralt’s landmark 1964 documentary on poverty “Christmas in Appalachia,” died Thursday (26) at the age of 89. He suffered a heart attack while visiting family on Long Island and died at Stonybrook University Medical Center. Birnbaum had lived in Larchmont, N.Y. since 1956.

Birnbaum’s half a century at CBS News was marked by his prolific documentary work on subjects ranging from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to Watergate, and included a rich body of work on the Vietnam War, for which he traveled to the war zone seven times between 1962 and 1973. His earliest days as a WWII combat cameraman and stints in the European film industry augmented a gift for storytelling which earned him seven Emmys. His last position at CBS News was as producer for the inventive, ground-breaking SUNDAY MORNING news broadcast, a perfect fit for Birnbaum, who also had a degree in motion pictures and served as assistant director for filmmakers such as Roberto Rossellini and Federico Fellini.

Much of that talent went into his long and fruitful relationship with Kuralt, for whose acclaimed “On the Road with Charles Kuralt” series he was the senior producer for many years. The two came together in 1964 on one of the first documentaries to put a face on poverty in America. Viewers of “Christmas in Appalachia,” a half-hour special on the plight of unemployed miners in eastern Kentucky, sent $70,000 to CBS for the families featured. The broadcast won journalism’s coveted Sigma Delta Chi award and came out at the same time President Lyndon Johnson began his much vaunted “War on Poverty.” Some observers have suggested this program and the response to it may have helped shape Johnson’s actions.

In 1963, Birnbaum was named an associate producer for the first 30-minute network newscast, “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” just in time to produce coverage of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. He would return to the topic several times in his role as a producer for Special Reports, the core unit for CBS News documentaries and “instant specials” on breaking news. It was for this unit he visited Vietnam war zones to produce much of the war documentaries CBS became known for, culminating in his integral work on the special “Vietnam: A War that is Finished.” (April 1975).

Birnbaum’s most notable work includes: the Emmy-winning “The Senate and the Watergate Affair,” (May 1973); CBS REPORTS: “The American Assassins,” (Nov. 1975); “CBS News Inquiry: The Warren Report,” (June 1967); and another Emmy-winner, “The Italians,” a 1966 look at the nation and its people based on the book by Luigi Barzini.

Bernard Birnbaum was born on Oct. 18, 1920 in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Russian immigrants. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Motion Picture Unit — an outfit commanded by Capt. Ronald Reagan –and was a combat cameraman stationed in Italy. He returned to New York after the war, where he was graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Arts in motion pictures in 1949. He was then awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, the first year such scholarships were available, to study cinema in Rome. That led to his work as an assistant director for European film producers and as a still photographer working for the MGM Studio film “Quo Vadis.”

He took this film experience to CBS in 1951, becoming a lighting director at first, but taking on the gamut of roles in early television, serving variously as film editor, associate producer and director on such 1950s series as “Adventure” and “Odyssey,” both hosted by Charles Collingwood. He also was an associate producer on the Cronkite-anchored historical program “Eyewitness to History” from 1960 to ’62.

Birnbaum joined SUNDAY MORNING in 1990, producing short documentaries for the weekly broadcast and mentoring young people all over CBS News on the art of filmmaking and storytelling. He was known to virtually everyone at CBS News in his later years, coming in to the office regularly into his eighties until his wife, Ronnie, became ill and needed him at home. She died in 2005.

He is survived by two daughters: Amy Birnbaum, a producer at CBS News, and Deborah Birnbaum-Kocay, an opera voice coach; sons-in-law Bernard Furnival and John Kocay; and four grandchildren. The funeral will be held Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 1:00 P.M. at Larchmont Temple, 75 Larchmont Avenue, Larchmont, N.Y.

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