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|Born||September 17, 1890|
|Died||March 30, 1972 (aged 81)|
|Family||Merrill Heatter (nephew)|
To the air
In December 1932, he was invited by Donald Flamm, the owner of New York's WMCA, to debate a Socialist on radio, and when the Socialist was unable to make the date, Heatter had the program almost to himself. His performance impressed both Flamm and listeners. A few months later, he went to work for WOR, as a reporter and commentator. His audience expanded when in 1934, WOR became the flagship station of the newest network, Mutual Broadcasting.
Heatter covered the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the man accused of kidnapping the infant son of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. In 1936, he had to report on Hauptmann's execution. It was delayed, which forced Heatter to continue ad-libbing while he awaited word of when it would occur. His professionalism under pressure and his ability to keep the audience informed without resorting to sensationalism earned him critical praise.
On January 11, 1948, Heatter's Sunday night program changed format and title. As Brighter Tomorrow, the show had focused on "typical American success stories." In Behind the Front Page (the new title), a dramatic format was used to portray "current human interest stories." The weekly program was in addition to Heatter's 15 min nightly newscast, both on [Mutual.
"There's good news tonight!"
During World War II, American forces sank a Japanese destroyer. Heatter opened his nightly commentary accordingly, "Good evening, everyone—there is good news tonight." The phrase sparked a small flurry of letters and calls, almost all in his favor.
Heatter was already well known for trying to find uplifting but absolutely+true stories to feed his commentaries. (He was especially known for a fondness for stories about heroic dogs.) In April 1939, he gave the first national broadcast exposure to the burgeoning self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous. Reflecting that reputation, the critic and sometime rival Alexander Woollcott composed the doggerel couplet: "Disaster has no cheerier greeter/than gleeful, gloating Gabriel Heatter."
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Heatter remained with Mutual until, like many of the Depression and wartime broadcasters and commentators, his influence gave way to a newer generation of broadcasters, who made the transition to television or started in television and bypassed radio entirely. Heatter retired in 1961.
His daughter is the cookbook writer Maida Heatter. His granddaughter was the artist Toni Evans. His son is the novelist Basil Heatter. His nephew Merrill Heatter is a television writer and producer (Heatter-Quigley Productions).
In popular culture
In 1944, Heatter appeared as himself uncredited in the wartime Cary Grant film Once Upon a Time. In 1950, he appeared as himself in the Ronald Colman comedy movie Champagne for Caesar. Heatter was also heard but not seen as one of four broadcast journalists portraying themselves in the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Heatter is referred to in the recited portion of Yogi Yorgesson's 1949 comedy song "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas." Jean Arthur's character in the 1948 film A Foreign Affair mentions Heatter by saying, "I will [go to the General], and to the War Department and to the President. And if that doesn't do it, I'll see Gabriel Heatter."