|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's 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).
Savitch attended Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, where she worked at the campus radio and TV stations, and at WOND 1400, 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.
In 1977, Savitch joined NBC News, becoming the network’s first woman to anchor a weekend national newscast. She was also the first woman to anchor the flagship NBC Nightly News, periodically filling in for John Chancellor and David Brinkley. She did not fare as well in some of the ill-fitting reporter roles given to her, but a 1982 TV Guide poll named her one of the most trusted news anchors in the country, above many of the most established male anchors of the era.
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 p.m., 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. 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. There was no finding that drugs or alcohol had played any part in the crash. News of their deaths were somewhat overshadowed by the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which had occurred only hours earlier.
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 plot of the movie was substantially changed to become a love story quite different from Savitch's life, possibly because the true story of her life was considered too downbeat to be popular at the box office.
- Google Books
- "Jessica Savitch Official Biography". Retrieved 10 December 2013.
- "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.
- Blair, Gwenda (1988). Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News. Avon Books. pp. 343–47. ISBN 0-380-70752-7. 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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- "The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia: Jessica Beth Savitch"
- Jessica Savitch at the Internet Movie Database
- Jessica Savitch at Find a Grave
- Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia website