Andy Rooney has been the voice of America for thirty-three years. He once described himself as, "a dead center normal average American." But the always modest Rooney is so much more.
Rooney seemed to epitomize a curmudgeon -- however, he really just played one on television. And he willingly accepted this role, "I don't like to complain all the time, but that's what I do for a living, and I am lucky because there is so much to complain about." And complain he did, about everything from the way shoes are made to the way mixed nuts are packed. That is why his weekly 60 Minutes commentaries connected with viewers. He spoke for them.
Born in Albany, New York, in 1919, Rooney experienced the Great Depression as a young boy. He attended Colgate University until he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Rooney began writing for the Army publication Stars and Stripes in London and found himself on the frontlines of history. He reported and wrote about the allied entry into German occupied Paris and the concentration camps. He also was one of six correspondents who flew on the first U.S. bombing raid over Germany in 1943. These experiences had an important impact on his career.
Following the war Rooney joined CBS in 1949 as a writer for Arthur Godfrey, whose shows were hits on television and radio. He later moved on to the Garry Moore Show, which also was a hit program. And, at the same time, he began writing for CBS News public affairs programs, including The 20th Century. Subsequently he collaborated with the late CBS News correspondent Harry Reasoner on many critically acclaimed specials. In 1968, he wrote two CBS News specials in the series Of Black America, and he won his first Emmy for his script for Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed.
In 1978, 60 Minutes creator and executive producer Don Hewitt began including Andy Rooney's essays at the end of the program as a summer replacement for its "Point/Counterpoint" segments, with Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick. Rooney's commentaries were so popular by the fall that Hewitt alternated Rooney with "Point/Counterpoint". By the end of the season Kilpatrick and Alexander were dropped in favor of "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney".
For nearly fifty years Rooney wrote his essays and scripts on a 1920 Underwood typewriter. His transition to computers was not smooth and the experience resulted in a commentary directed at Microsoft founder Bill Gates. "Someone screwed up the way computers work and I blame it on him," Rooney opined. "I had one typewriter for fifty years, but I bought seven computers in six years," he observed, "I suppose that is why Bill Gates in rich and Underwood is out of business." Rooney said the reason is, "They make computers so you have to buy a new one when there is a full moon."
Rooney came up with the ideas for all his 60 Minutes commentaries. He would write them in a modest office in the CBS Broadcast Center on New York City's Westside. He would then record them there, at his desk, at the end of the week. It was all very low-tech. Yet the commentaries almost always had an impact on millions of viewers.
At 92 years of age Andy Rooney has decided to cut back on his work schedule. His final regular appearance Sunday will be his 1097th commentary for 60 Minutes. "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" was a unique fixture on American television that will never be replaced but will always be remembered. Thank you, Andy.
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