RIP Sidney Harman, David Broder, Sydney Lumet
Legacy, like passion and professional, is an overused word today. Lives lived in full to the end let us see the real meaning of legacies—passion in action and professionalism as a matter of course and duty. Herewith, we celebrate the lives of three men who embodied those qualities.
Only last year, Sidney Harman, past ninety, bought the national news magazine Newsweek for a dollar, picking up its considerable debt. Harman, who loved news and newspapers and magazines, was thinking about how he could turn around the venerable and respected magazine in an age where publications of any sort are in decline and at risk.
This is a little like the story about the 100-year-old man who married a young girl and drew up plans for a nursery. Harman, as you may know from his history, was an optimist, a forward-looking-guy with a boundless curiosity about his fellow man.
In the course of a lifetime that was rich in achievement and experience, Harman, who passed away from complications from acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 92, April 12, managed to create a legacy of family and community, as an enterprising and empathic businessman and employer, and a philanthropic citizen with a keen love of culture which benefited and enriched everyone.
Hearing of the death of a 92-year-old man shouldn’t be a shock, but Harman’s death seemed like a surprise. The man exuded energy; he had a look-you-in-the-eye way about him and a pretty strong handshake. There wasn’t much he hadn’t done and there wasn’t much he didn’t know about, and if by chance he was in the dark, it’s certain that he would correct that situation.
Today’s billionaire tycoons might take note of the model Harman presented as a businessman and employer. His company, which specialized in sound systems, was famous for initiating quality of life programs for its employees.
Among many things, he was trustee on many boards, including policy institutes and symphony orchestras. He served as Undersecretary of Commerce under President Jimmy Carter, wrote books, golfed into his 90s, was a higher education leader and left a good chunk of his own money in a way that will outlive him far into the future.
The most visible legacy is Sidney Harman Hall, the downtown state-of-the-art theater, which houses Shakespeare Theatre Company productions, visiting performance arts institutions and the Washington Ballet at times.
“Sidney Harman enjoyed an extraordinary life, characterized by great passion for his wife, for the performing arts, for ideas and for life itself, said Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. “All of us, privileged to know him, enjoyed our own lives more because of him.”
He loved music. He was the co-inventor of the high-fidelity stereo back in the 1950s. He loved the arts and he always looked for new challenges. He was married to Jane Harman, a Democratic Congresswoman from California. He is survived by his wife, six children and ten grandchildren.
Also surviving is his reputation as a modern Renaissance man, a historical description that moves far into the future. He was a man who lived a life in full.
The Washington Post, the newspaper for which he worked most of life and won a Pulitzer Prize for, described him in its headline for his obituary and appreciation as the “Dean of Washington Press Corps.”
He was 81. He was a man passionate about politics, the subject he wrote about all of his life. He was a professional in the entirely true sense of the word. He made you proud to be a part of the profession he practiced just by reading his work, because he brought honor to it all of the time, with his judicious care for the truth, with a keen passion to get it right, with a curiosity that died only when he did.
Covering politics, being a part of it that way or any way, isn’t always considered a noble profession. Hackery lives here, as does the indelicate art of brown-nosing, affliction from the kind of pollen that fills the air in the spaces occupied by proximity to power, or worse, the desire for power. Broder more often than not ennobled the profession; he took it seriously enough not to let his biases get in the way of accuracy and completeness.
They say he loved politicians as types perhaps a bit too much, an experience that can be a little like being in love with the girl that you know will always have other boyfriends. He didn’t wear his heart too much on his sleeve, and he took little that politicians or elected officials said for granted. What got into his columns was the process, and he was astute in its observance, and what he got from it came from regular people, who talked to him about the issues they cared about, what mattered in their towns and workplaces. He got that right almost all of the time. The love was in going on the road to see campaigns in action. What got into his columns were such qualities as accurate information, hard-nosed intelligence and insights fed by years and every minute of his experience.
He got it right and gave his readers and his peers respect and the right stuff.
Few like Broder remain.
No one every accused Sidney Lumet of being a fancy-pants artist. This prolific film director, who died at the age of 86, came to the movies by way of the theater and live television from “You Are There” to the estimable Playhouse 90. Faces and words, words and faces were the cornerstone of his work, not fancy, haunting camera work.
Maybe that’s why a good chunk of his movies are classics, along with the words and faces: Picture Peter Finch yelling out the window “I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore” in the classic and prophetic “Network.”
Picture Henry Fonda browbeating bigots Lee J Cobb and Ed Begley in the claustrophobic jury movie “Twelve Angry Men.”
Picture Al Pacino as “Serpico” and Treat Williams as “The Prince of the City,” two classic New York cop movies, and Paul Newman in his best-ever performance as the lawyer-as-drunk in ‘The Verdict.” (For the record, my favorite line is when Newman asked about his adversary James Mason. “Is he any good?” “Good?” says gruff Jack Warden. “He’s the f-----g prince of darkness.”)
He was a pro. He left a huge film legacy underwritten by a social conscience, an eye for urban landscapes and a love of the human species. “Every picture I did was an active, believable, passionate wish,” he said. “Every picture I wanted to do…I’m having a good time.” Plus he spent married time with remarkable women, like the actress Rita Gam, the socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, Lena Horne’s daughter Gail Jones and Mary Gimble, who was with him at the time of his death on April 9 from lymphoma.