September 24, 2013

1970. The War of Attrition Ceasefire

Downs Interviews Yitzhak Rabin


This August 18, 1970 interview took place eleven days after the ceasefire between Israel and Egypt over the War of Attrition that began after the decisive Six-Day War. In this segment Yitzhak Rabin expresses to Downs Israel's concerns about Egypt's trustworthiness. John Scali also reports.

1970. Bill Downs Reports from Havre de Grace, Maryland

ABC's Bill Downs in Havre de Grace


From ABC World News Tonight, December 4, 1970.

September 8, 2013

1943. Nazi Rockets Provide the Lighting for Soviet Entertainment

Entertainment on the Eastern Front
Soviet troops in trenches during the siege on Leningrad, 1942 (source)

Lighting for Soviet Troop Shows Furnished by Nazi Rockets—That's How Close They Are to the Front

By Bill Downs
Moscow, June 1, 1943

Entertainment has really gone to war in the Soviet Union. There is no government-organized or sponsored entertainment for troops such as Britain's ENSA or America's USO-Camp Shows. Russia's theaters at the front are made up mostly of volunteer groups of six or ten actors, singers, and general entertainers who form brigades from the country's most famous theaters such as the Maly and Bolshoi.

Since the beginning of the war over 900 of these brigades have given more than 270,000 performances and concerts for the men in the firing lines, hospitals, and rear units. This includes some 45,000 front performances, 124,000 in hospitals, 124,000 in hospitals, and 100,000 in camps and military institutions. Of Russia top-flight actors and entertainers who have gone to the front, over 60 actors, musicians, and other performances have been decorated by the government for work in the war zones.

Alexander Pokrovsky, president of the Art Workers Union, for one, has indicated that small vaudeville turns are preferable front entertainment. When a troupe arrives, the men usually pitch in and improvise a theater in any convenient field on a truck platform, or often in a large dugout. On some occasions, shows are given one or two hundred yards from enemy trenches.

Lighting Furnished by the Nazis

Recently one group performed for a tank unit assigned to crack a river fortification. The artists reached the front late in the evening. They were held up picking their way through narrow trails in minefields. When they arrived, the soldiers insisted on seeing the entire program. The troupe performed in the open air; the illumination was furnished free by German rockets. The concert really got a big windup with artillery barrage. Before the troupers had packed, the first tanks had crossed the river.

Pokrovsky said that several regular frontline theaters have been founded for the Army and Navy. These companies make regular tours, with costumes, through zones immediately behind the front. Repetoires included both modern and classic plays. Incidentally, one of the most popular groups of the Red Army is the Soviet Beethoven Quartet.

Here is a typical experience at a front theater as told by B.M. Friedkov, Stalin prizewinner as well as an Honored Artist of the government. Friedkov is a leading member of the Leningrad theater, of the opera and ballet. He was a member of the brigade which recently returned from his home city. Friedkov says, "We gave a total of 41 performances on land and sea, visiting bases and units of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Programs included selections from operas, folk songs, and dances as well as hits from classical ballets.

"The reception everywhere was touchingly warm. Our first performance for the land forces was given in exactly the spot where the Leningrad blockage was breached. Often our programs were accompanied by fierce cannonades with shells and mines bursting nearby. Once we were performing near the front when, in the middle of the concert, enemy shells began raising geysers of earth in our vicinity. However, the audiences insisted that we continue. A few men left for our guns to return the enemy fire. We really gave them a show."

1943. American Films in Moscow During WWII

Hollywood in the USSR
Deanna Durbin

CBS' Moscow Rep Details How U.S. Pix Click in USSR
By BILL DOWNS
April 21, 1943
(Following comments on the current tastes of Moscow film-goers, transmitted in advance by cable to CBS' N.Y. headquarters, was to have been broadcast from Moscow as part of the network's 'World News Today' program Sunday matinee (18), but reception trouble intervened).
Moscow theater-goers like American films. Any kind. There's an old Lawrence Tibbett film whose American title I've forgotten, but in Russian called "Thrilled by You." And suburban theaters for the past two years have been showing Deanna Durban's 100 Men and a Girl. People get up at six o'clock in the morning and stand in front of box-offices to get a seat to see a Walt Disney reel.

These American films are the closest link people in the United States have with Russian people. I was talking to the old Soviet film commission the other day. He said his department had been buying American films, "but prices [are] so high we can't get [as] many as we want—we need money for the war." Then he said he thought it important that the two nations exchange films to let each see how the other is fighting and living in this was against the common enemy.

One of the best known women in Moscow today is "Lady Hamilton." She's a favorite topic of conversation...subway, street corners; anywhere you find a group of Russians. It took me several days to discover that when Moscow speaks about the the lady friend of Britain's famous Lord Nelson—"Lady Hamilton," it's a film. Last week the British-produced motion picture Lady Hamilton opened in Moscow theaters and immediately set record[s]. It's now playing in one theater and seems set for [a] permanent run. I have known dozens of Russians who have seen the picture three four times—and Russians never go to the theater alone. They go in groups.

It's a mystery to foreigners here why Russians take such an avid interest in last century doings [of] a man and woman they never saw or heard of before. But this, in many ways, is a mysterious country.

For example, no one ever figured out why a not-too-good Hollywood comedy, The Three Musketeers starring the Ritz Bros., has been running steadily somewhere in Moscow for over six months. When a Russian likes something, he really likes it, and he doesn't consider he knows anything about a motion picture or play unless he sees it three or four times. That tradition extends even to film and theater critics. They don't write anything about a production until they see it a half dozen times or more.

September 5, 2013

1978. Walter Cronkite Announces the Death of Bill Downs

May 3, 1978


Walter Cronkite announces the death of Bill Downs on the May 3, 1978 broadcast of CBS Evening News.

September 3, 2013

1963. The Man in the Piazza

Review of Main Street, Italy by Irving Levine
Rome in the 1960s. Photo by Bruno Barbey (source)

From The Saturday Review, December 28, 1963, p. 36:

The Man in the Piazza
By BILL DOWNS

Main Street, Italy, by Irving R. Levine (Doubleday. 542 pp. $6.50) examines the well-stuffed hut down-at-heel Mediterranean hoot-land of the 1960s and its reluctance to enter the age of the Sputnik, the graduated income tax, and canned pasta. Bill Downs has spent the last twenty-five years as a newspaper, magazine, and radio-TV reporter, mostly for CBS News overseas. His last foreign assignment was in Rome. 

THE CRAFT of today's foreign correspondent demands that he become an instant historian. If this is a rather dismaying concept, then brace yourself: the advent of Telstar and other communications techniques are putting new pressures on the world's news media and their reporters overseas. History is getting more "instant" every day.

In the process of their reporting, the foreign correspondents have produced their own journalistic library—most of it pretty perishable stuff—in which newsmen and women seek to freeze a few days or decades between a book's title and its conclusion, trying to tell how it was and why.

Irving R. Levine of NBC News writes about his Mediterranean assignment in this genre. His Main Street, Italy is a compendium of what every well-informed correspondent should know if he is suddenly called upon to "wing" a bit of instant history, whether it be the fall of a coalition government, a policy change in the Vatican, or a juicy international tax scandal. What the book lacks in organization of subject matter it makes up for in the proliferous facts that crowd its pages.

In his opening chapters, Mr. Levine announces his intention to write "a kind of primer" of everyday life in Italy. He fails in this because he never makes up his mind whose everyday life—the native's or the expatriate's. He warns that it's "imprudent to generalize about Italians," and then proceeds to do so with annoying frequency; e.g., "Italians are mercenary, they can be extremely contentious and seldom are greatly dedicated to keeping their word." "One explanation of overdeveloped Italian pride is that Italians really suffer from a national inferiority complex."

The author makes it clear that he is no sentimental sucker for the historic beauty left by the Romans (although, he admits, "the only complaint that one who lives in Piazza Navona can have is that he can never again experience the thrill of seeing it for the first time."). Neither will he be taken in by the irresponsible charm of the indolent natives (a donkey-riding farmer once demanded 1,000 here for the taking of his photograph but accepted half that amount, thus saving NBC News about eighty cents in production expenses).

Levine generally tries to maintain an impersonal "objectivity" about the passionate peninsula; but occasionally he sounds like a nagging housewife when he discusses Italian shopping habits, espresso coffee, or the touchy matter of bribery at the Vatican (the customary payoff to set up a television camera in St. Peter's Square is "transparent financial corruption...of a petty nature and is probably unknown to the Pope and other high dignitaries.").

Both the strength and weakness of Main Street, Italy is the deluge of statistics and percentages. Levine's prodigious research serves him well when he discards his primer approach and does a hard-hitting, scholarly job on the confusing history of postwar Italian politics and the even more confusing economy. He sorts out the spectrum of the nation's multiple party system lucidly, and provides a masterful explanation of the opportunities and dangers of l'apertura a sinistra—the controversial "opening to the left" that is still under assessment and dispute. His penetrating surveys of Italian commerce, labor, banking, and the private and government monopolies that control the bulk of the national economy will produce ideological shudders in both the NAM and the Politburo. And any American planning on an extended sabbatical in sunny Italy should read Levine on taxes, housing, leases, and apartments, and hire a good lawyer immediately on arrival.

The major contradictions of postwar Italian society-the paradox of burgeoning Communism in a Catholic state and the anticlerical political paganism that flourishes in the shadows of the Cathedrals of the Mother Church-are here exhumed and exposed as ably as has been done by the scores of other experts and scholars who have attempted to solve the puzzle. But, like the mysteries of Rome's apartment portieri and the Etruscans, they remain generally incomprehensible. Perhaps the answers lie buried in the unpredictable Italian anima, which, as any old Moscow hand like Levine knows, is brother to the impenetrable Russian soul.

Main Street, Italy is at its best when the author allows his sense of humor to come through or when he gets down to on-the-spot reporting. His question-and-answer record of an interview with a middle-aged ex-Fascist army veteran reveals more about Italy than most of the authorities quoted elsewhere, beginning with the Caesars.