Most obituaries are tough to write. But talking about the death of journalist Howard K. Smith is difficult. I'm not saying I was his biggest fan, but from my childhood I was fascinated with his voice, his smooth-as-silk delivery, the lilt of his Louisiana accent, the power of his words. He was one of the last of Edward R. Murrow's cadre of reporters. I guess NPR's Daniel Schorr is the only remaining one now. He worked on many documentaries during his years at CBS. One got him into trouble with network executives. During the early days of the push for civil rights he put together a program called "Who Speaks for Birmingham?" In it he quoted Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." CBS told him he was not being a reporter but was editorializing. A "son of the South" leading the charge? He quit Columbia. ABC quickly snapped him up. He remained with that network until his retirement, two decades ago. Funny about Howard K. Smith, his voice is so easy to hear in our minds. This is not to say that he was an example of Marshal McLuhan's admonition that the "medium can become the message." But, much like Paul Harvey -- but on the opposite end of the vocal scale -- I remember Howard K. Smith for his measured tones in reporting some of the last century's most controversial events. Maybe it was his calm demeanor that resulted in his being chosen to moderate the first-ever TV presidential debate, the 1960 encounter between JFK and Nixon. His style set the tone for all future debates. He kept his head on the air, calmly reporting while the earth shook. Maybe it was his rural Louisiana upbringing that taught him to "wait." (He was born in Ferriday, La., a sleepy river town on a wide bend in the Mississippi, recently chosen as the home for the Delta Music Hall of Fame.) In a few years all the giants from early TV will be gone. Monday we lost one of them. Howard K. Smith was 87.
COLLINS VS. COLLINS? NOT ANY MORE
For decades it's been a pretty poorly kept secret that best-selling author Jackie Collins and her firebrand author-actress sister Joan never really got along. Now, Jackie tells gossip columnist Liz Smith that the sibling rivalry is over. The two have buried the hatchet. But, why didn't Jackie attend the weekend London wedding of sister Joan and her fifth husband, the much-younger Percy Gibson? The answer, according to Jackie, is that "she's on deadline" and could not leave her typewriter. She's currently putting the finishing touches on "Deadly Embrace," earmarked to be published by Simon & Schuster. Anyway, she tells Smith that she attended a big bash in Los Angeles several weeks ago, honoring the soon-to-be-married couple. By the way, because of the age difference between Collins and Gibson (she's 68, he's 36) a quip going around London reads something like this: "It's surprising that Collins and Gibson were married in a night-time ceremony. The groom might not be able to stay out that late."
COUNTRY STARS CONTINUE TO MOURN JENNINGS
Even though country rebel Waylon Jennings was buried several days ago, stars of the country world continue to talk about his career and the kind of friend he was to many of them. Johnny Cash remembers that he and Jennings met in the 1960s and shared a room in Madison, Tenn., for a while. Later they formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Cash called Jennings "my dear friend -- one of the very best of 35 years ... I will miss him immensely." Hank Williams Jr. could not hold back the tears when he talked to the media about Jennings' death. He noted that he held the late singer-songwriter "in awe." Williams even wrote a song about Jennings, including it in a 1995 album. In part, the lyrics of "Eyes of Waylon" read: "Yes, I've looked in the eyes of Waylon/There I learned things I'd better know/And if I doubted there is a hillbilly heaven/The eyes of Waylon just told me so."
MICHAEL'S LONDON MANSION ROBBED
Police in London confirm that singer-songwriter George Michael's home was recently burglarized. Published reports show that thieves copped $140,000 in paintings, clothing and jewelry. Additionally, his Aston Martin sports car (valued at about $114,000) turned up missing. Michael's digs themselves are priced at more than $4 million and are in the Hampstead enclave of the British capital. The entertainer was in Los Angeles at the time. One report notes that in spite of the lavishness of the mansion, Michael seldom uses the home.
JOHN WATERS IS AT IT AGAIN!
It's difficult to look at filmmaker John Waters without either laughing at his impish, smug sneer or wondering what's up his sleeve. Well, during a recent performance in Los Angeles of his one-man show "Shock Value" Waters reportedly told the audience that his next movie project will be called "Holy Anorexia," a movie -- maybe you better sit down for this -- about the eating disorders of saints. He also noted that he'd love to produce any movie that would star Don Knotts. Over the years the Baltimore-based creator of movies has come out with some of the oddest (and most interesting) films of recent decades, including "Pink Flamingos," "Hairspray," "Cry-Baby," "Serial Mom" and "Cecil B. Demented."
BIG APPLE PRIEST REMEMBERED AS 'GOOD GUY'
The Cardinal Archbishop of New York City, Edward Egan, surprised attendees at a funeral mass recently by speaking in what the New York Post calls "flawless Italian." The occasion was a requiem for Monsignor Anthony Dala Villa, in his declining years the pastor of a church in the Grand Central neighborhood of the Big Apple. Many charge that when Egan replaced John O'Connor as head of the New York City Diocese he "exiled" Dala Villa to the pastorate. But, at the funeral, the cardinal was more than gracious in his remarks. The humble priest was at one time rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral and a close friend of O'Connor. Over the years Dala Villa had made lots of other friends too. Proof of this was that 11 bishops were at the service. Dala Villa died while delivering a sermon during mass. He was 63.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 272
Here's today's question: "On a daily basis, every 24 hours, how many pills do you take? Count both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Send your reply (and any comments you wish) to email@example.com with PILLS in the subject line.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 267 (ODOR)
Close friends know that, outgoing and talkative as I am, I really only have one "soapbox" ... smoking. I can safely say that I'm a "violent non-smoker." But, when I asked last week other peoples' feelings about cigarette smoke and other stenches, I did not realize what a flood of replies I would get and how many of you wish all smokers would move to another country; then we could take about a year to clean out the odor. There were so many replies, let me give you the gist. First, nearly 90 percent noted that they LOATHE cigarette smoke. Many noted how happy they are that there are more and more non-smoking areas in restaurants. But, and I agree with this, if it's a restaurant that is not TOTALLY non-smoking, having a no-smoking area is a joke. After all the smoke finds its way there and the waiters go into the smoking section then go to no-smoking, bringing the odor with them. The majority of respondents said that even though they were worried about the effects of "second-hand smoke" on their health, nearly all simply said SMOKE STINKS. The bottom line is that there is no way that non-smokers can do much about it. We are stuck in a society that doesn't see or smell smoke. Additionally, many spoke about colognes and other "body odors." Having to put up with an over-saturated person in the next seat on an airplane or in an elevator can be maddening. And, sadly, in many cases, if you mention that you are bothered they look at you as if you're a wimp. This question evoked the largest response ever. If only smokers knew how much we hate the stench. Maybe it's time that all we "formerly rural" guys start carrying around a bag of cow manure. After all, it reminds me of my childhood and I can quit anytime I want. TOMORROW: Comments on people who ignore waiting lines and "crash the party," and Wednesday a look at the new Alzheimer's test. GBA.