|Born||Jessica Beth Savitch
February 1, 1947
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
|Died||October 23, 1983
New Hope, Pennsylvania
|Spouse(s)||Mel Korn (m. 1980–81)
Donald Payne (m. 1981)
Jessica Beth Savitch (February 1, 1947 – October 23, 1983) was an American television broadcaster and news reporter, host of PBS' Frontline and New York weekend anchor of NBC Nightly News during the short-lived Roger Mudd/Tom Brokaw era.
Life and career
Savitch was born in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia. She was the eldest daughter of Florence (née Goldberger), a navy nurse, and David Savitch, who ran a clothing store. Her father and maternal grandfather were Jewish, and her maternal grandmother was Italian American and Catholic. After her father died in 1959, her family moved to Margate, New Jersey (a suburb of Atlantic City). She attended Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, where she worked at the campus radio and TV stations and at WOND1400 a newstalk station in Linwood, NJ, WROC (AM) and as a top 40 disk jockey at WBBF, an AM outlet in Rochester. After graduating in the spring of 1968, Savitch worked at various radio and TV stations, including WCBS in New York and KHOU-TV in Houston. She then became a popular local television newscaster at KYW-TV, the former NBC affiliate (now CBS) in Philadelphia, and a Washington correspondent for NBC News. She also anchored Frontline on PBS. Her autobiography, Anchorwoman, was published in 1982.
On October 23, 1983, Savitch had dinner with Martin Fischbein, vice-president of the New York Post, in New Hope, Pennsylvania. After the meal at Odette's Restaurant, they began to drive home about 7:15 pm, with Fischbein behind the wheel and Savitch in the back seat with her dog, Chewy. Fischbein may have missed posted warning signs in a heavy rainfall, and he drove out of the wrong exit from the restaurant and up the towpath of the old Pennsylvania Canal's Delaware Division on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. The car veered too far to the left and went over the edge into the shallow water of the canal. After falling approximately 15 feet and landing upside down, the station wagon sank into deep mud that sealed the doors shut. Savitch and Fischbein were trapped inside as water poured in. A local resident found the wreck at about 11:30 that night. Fischbein's body was still strapped behind the wheel, with Savitch and her dog in the rear. After the autopsies, the Bucks County coroner ruled that both had died from asphyxiation by drowning. He noted that Fischbein was apparently knocked unconscious in the wreck but Savitch had struggled to escape. There was no finding that drugs or alcohol had played any part in the crash.
Her life was the subject of a Lifetime Television made-for-TV movie, starring Sela Ward called Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story. A theatrical movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Up Close & Personal, was originally intended as a biographical film about Savitch. However, the movie became a Star Is Born-style entertainment instead, possibly because of a belief that Savitch's life was too downbeat to be popular at the box office.
The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia posthumously inducted Savitch into their Hall of Fame in 2006.
- Blair, Gwenda. Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News, Avon Books, 1988. ISBN 0-380-70752-7
- Google Books
- "Jessica Savitch". Internet Accuracy Project. Retrieved 2007-03-27. Also see Almost Golden by Gwenda Blair, listed as a reference, for extensive biographical details on Savitch.
- Almost Golden (p.343-47) thoroughly discusses the accident and subsequent events.
- Ebert, Roger (1996-03-01). "Up Close And Personal". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 2007-03-27. Many other reviews of the movie at TopTenReviews.com discuss how the film departed, probably for commercial reasons, from Savitch's actual biography.
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- Jessica Savitch at the Internet Movie Database
- Jessica Savitch at Find a Grave
- Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia website