David Susskind circa 1980
|Born||David Howard Susskind
December 19, 1920
New York City
|Died||February 22, 1987
New York City
|Alma mater||Harvard University (B.A., honors, 1942)|
|Known for||producer, TV personality|
David Susskind (December 19, 1920 – February 22, 1987) was an American producer of TV, movies, and stage plays and also a pioneer TV talk show host.
Early life and career
Susskind was born in Manhattan. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison and then Harvard University, graduating with honors in 1942, and then served during World War II. A communications officer on an attack transport, USS Mellette, he saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
His first job after the war was as a press agent for Warner Brothers. Next he was a talent agent for Century Artists, ultimately ending up in the powerhouse Music Corporation of America's newly minted television programming department, managing Dinah Shore, Jerry Lewis, and others. In New York, Susskind formed Talent Associates, representing creators of material rather than performers. Ultimately, Susskind produced movies, stage plays and television programs.
His program, Open End, began in 1958 on WNTA-TV, the predecessor to WNET, in New York City, and was appropriately titled: the program continued until Susskind or his guests were too tired to continue. In 1961, Open End was constrained to two hours and went into national syndication. The show was retitled The David Susskind Show for its telecast on Sunday night, October 2, 1966. In the 1960s it was the first nationally broadcast television talk show to feature people speaking out against American involvement in the Vietnam War. (Nevertheless, on the British TV program The Eamonn Andrews Show on 7 January 1968 Susskind denounced Muhammad Ali for his refusal to fight in Vietnam, calling him "a disgrace to his country".) In the 1970s it was the first nationally broadcast television talk show to feature people speaking out for gay rights. The show continued until its New York outlet cancelled it in 1986, approximately six months before Susskind died.
During his almost 30-year run as a talk show host, Susskind covered many controversial topics of the day, such as race relations, transexualism and the Vietnam War. Susskind's interview of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, which aired in October 1960, during the height of the Cold War, generated national attention. It is one of the very few talk show telecasts from the era that was preserved and can be viewed today.
In 1961, Susskind conducted a series of interviews with former Pres. Harry Truman in Truman's hometown of Independence, Missouri. After picking Truman up at his home to take him to the Truman Presidential Library for the interviews over a number of days, Susskind asked Truman why he hadn't been invited into the home. According to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, Truman flatly told Susskind, "This is Bess's house" and that there had never been nor would there ever be a Jewish guest in there. Beschloss on NY Public Radio further stated that Bess Truman's anti-Semitism was a carry-over from her mother who had never allowed a Jew in the house.
Joyce Davidson, with whom Susskind was in a relationship, began working as a co-producer of a television talk show Susskind hosted locally in New York called Hot Line in June 1964. It was a different show from the Open End talk show. Hot Line was the first television show to use the recently invented ten-second broadcast delay to amplify viewer phone calls on the air. Davidson screened viewer phone calls. She also made the first approach to some of the people who appeared as guests on Hot Line, including Malcolm X, whom she invited for Hot Line immediately after he gave a speech at The Town Hall.
Producer and legacy
Susskind was also a noted producer, with scores of movies, plays, and TV programs to his credit. His legacy is that of a producer of intelligent material at a time when TV had left its golden years behind and had firmly planted its feet in programming which had wide appeal, whether or not it was worth watching. Among other projects, he produced television adaptations of Beyond This Place (1957), The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1958), The Moon and Sixpence (1960), Ages of Man (1966), Death of a Salesman (also 1966), Look Homeward, Angel (1972), The Glass Menagerie (1973), and Caesar and Cleopatra (1976); the television films Truman at Potsdam (1976), Eleanor and Franklin (1976), and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (1977); and the feature films A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Loving Couples (1980). In 1964, he produced Craig Stevens's acclaimed CBS drama Mr. Broadway, which left the air after thirteen episodes. He also produced and owned all the rights to the 1961 fourteen-episode macabre CBS TV series – Way Out. His production company, Talent Associates, also produced Get Smart.
He married twice, first to Phyllis Briskin, in 1939, and then Canadian-American television personality Joyce Davidson, in 1966.
At the time of his death he was engaged to model Carmen Dell'Orefice.
David Susskind was instrumental in the launching of internet viral superstar Shaye Saint John. Susskind once told Shaye to "come down to Hollywood and I'll give you a role". The internet sensation accepted the offer and traveled to Hollywood. Upon her arrival she said "love that little Susskind", so Susskind made good on his promise by giving her two little roles. Shaye became popular amongst a sub culture of fans of absurdist comedy and online abstract performance art. 
- Robert D. McFadden (February 23, 1987). "David Susskind, Talk-show Host, Dies at 66". New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
David Susskind, the television producer and one of the country's earliest and best-known television talk-show hosts, was found dead, apparently of natural causes, yesterday afternoon in his hotel suite in midtown Manhattan. He was 66 years old. ... According to the police, Mr. Susskind had been under a doctor's care for a heart ailment and had been scheduled to enter Lenox Hill Hospital today.
- Gould, Jack (October 3, 1966). "TV: Return of Susskind; He Shows Up Again on Channel 5 With New Format, Kennedy and Seeger". New York Times. p. 80.
- Stephen Battaglio (2010). David Susskind: A Televised Life. St. Martin's Press.
- Michael Beschloss (2007). Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789–1989 (PDF). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 210. ISBN 0-684-85705-7.
- "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List".
- Museum of Broadcast Communications entry on David Susskind
- David Susskind at the Internet Movie Database
- David Susskind Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
- Speech by David Susskind given on February 15, 1970. Audio recording. From the University of Alabama's Emphasis Symposium on Contemporary Issues.