Dorothy Fuldheim, News Commentator and Author, 1893–1989
1983 SPECIAL CITATION FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO THE ARTS
It’s unlikely that Dorothy Fuldheim’s career as
a broadcast journalist will ever be matched for longevity. By the time
of her retirement in 1984 at the age of 91, she had been a nightly
presence on television screen—and before that a respected radio commentator—for
an unbroken span of 47 years. As WEWS-TV Channel 5’s resident news
analyst (and top guest interviewer on the Cleveland station’s noontime
news program), she offered a thoughtful nightly commentary on life,
death and every aspect of human endeavor in between.
put that accomplishment in clearer perspective, consider this: Fuldheim
(born Dorothy Violet Schnell in 1893 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—Fuldheim
was her first husband’s name*) got her first job in television at the
age of 54 after careers as a country school teacher; a little-theater
actress whose finest hour came as Juliet in an outdoor production
in Milwaukee; a book reviewer; an immensely successful lecturer (who,
even in her 80s, proudly asserted that she could still have audiences
“eating out of my hand within five minutes”); and a radio commentator.
In her Biography series, which ran for two years on ABC's
radio network, she used her dramatic training to recreate the thoughts
and voices of more than 100 headline-makers of yore, including Marie
Antoinette, Rasputin, Cleopatra, George Washington and Lenin.
1947, Fuldheim was hired away from radio by WEWS to do news
commentary. More than three-and-a- half decades later, she was still
the only female TV news analyst in the country. A press release the
station used in her later years to promote their premier ratings
booster only hints at the breadth of her journalistic experiences,
which included a prescient 1937 interview with Adolf Hitler. (“He
carried a riding whip and every so often struck it against his boots."
“He was the circus trainer and the world was to jump through the hoops
at his command.”) The enterprising and intrepid “redhead” also went
one-on-one with the Duke of Windsor; Beatrice Lilly; John, Robert and
Ted Kennedy; James Hoffa; historian Arnold Toynbee; Madame Chiang
Kai-shek; Willy Brandt; Helen Keller; and Muhammad Ali.
landed an exclusive interview with the first brainwashed American
prisoners released by Red China. She dodged bullets in Israel at the
outbreak of the Sinai campaign and tore her suit on barbed wire in
Cyprus. But then, Fuldheim had survived the riots of the Nazi Brown
Shirts and been shot at during Palestine’s war of independence. (In
1981, at the age of 87, she went overseas on assignment three times.)
between her world travels, Fuldheim found time to write four books;
marry twice; raise a daughter (Dorothy Fuldheim Jr., a distinguished
professor at Case Western Reserve University whose death in 1980 came
as a crushing blow to her mother) and a granddaughter; produce her
commentaries; and work the after-dinner lecture circuit, where
Fuldheim, working sans note cards, remained a popular and sought-after
speaker. After her first appearance on the Tonight Show,
Johnny Carson sent her flowers and immediately invited her back.
Barbara Walters called Fuldheim “the first woman to be taken seriously
doing the news.”
however, she was best known as the woman who within one month in 1970
threw Yippie Jerry Rubin off her show (“He was vulgar; I have an
elegance of spirit. I don’t want any vulgarity on my show”) and
denounced the Kent State shootings as “murder.” (“I find myself always
seeing the underdog’s agony," she later reflected, in a 1982 Northern Ohio Live
magazine interview with editor Diana Tittle, “I see the other side’s
reason, but I guess the agony distresses me more.”) The first action
brought her candy, flowers and wine; the second, a pile of outraged
Given her national
stature (she told Larry King in 1982 that she had turned down offers
from the national networks out of loyalty to WEWS station manager Don
Perris) and the flamboyance of her on-air personality, fans were often
surprised to discover that she was a diminutive woman. However, dressed
in a simple coral sheath with “good shoulders,” one of her trademark
jeweled rings bedecking her hand, said Tittle, Fuldheim was a
commanding presence. She could knock you for a loop with a bold
declaration: “I think some of the stuff that’s broadcast is rubbish.
Why do you have to see every fire? Why do you have to see a dead body?”
her indignation was kindled to white heat when members of the Ohio
National Guard shot four students in 1970 during an anti-war protest at
nearby Kent State University. “And who gave the National Guard the
bullets? Who ordered the use of them? Since when do we shoot our own
children?,” she raged, unable to hold back the tears. The
station’s switchboard lit up with hundreds of phone calls, followed by
thousands of letters, from irate viewers who thought the governor and
Guard had been in the right. Shaken, Fuldheim offered to resign; but
Perris stood by her.
was still doing commentaries and interviews when she turned 91 and the
first of two strokes ended her career in broadcasting, but she would
live another five years with the tender ministrations of her legal
guardian, Sam Miller, and other friends. (“Why didn’t God take me?” she
had anguished, after the death of her beloved daughter a decade
earlier. “Dorothy,” said her long-time director and friend Yvonne
Breslin, attempting to comfort her, “God isn’t ready for you yet.” “No
one is ready for me,” said Dorothy Fuldheim.) A sampling of her
feistiness and her passion about many issues is preserved in her books:
I Laughed, I Cried, I Loved: A News Analyst’s Love Affair with the World (World Publishing, 1966), Where Were the Arabs?, a snapshot of Israel at the end of the Six-Day War in the form of 17 vignettes (World, 1967), A Thousand Friends (Doubleday, 1974) and Three and a Half Husbands (Simon & Schuster, 1976). Her commentaries are preserved in Kent State University’s Special Collections.
For more on Fuldheim, see Patricia M. Mote’s 1997 biography, Dorothy Fuldheim: The FIRST First Lady of Television News (Quixote Publications) and Dorothy Fuldheim’s Activist Journalism and the Kent State Shootings by Russell J. Cook (1992).
Milton H. Fuldheim, whom she met and married in Milwaukee in 1918, was
also the reason she relocated to Cleveland, where he had grown up and
intended to practice law. After his death in 1952, she married
Cleveland businessman and civic leader William L. Ulmer, who died in
How We Become Complicit in Evil
“Tell me,” I asked him, “why did you plead guilty?”
I was guilty,” he answered. “I closed my eyes to what was happening
because my ambition was so great. Hitler gave me the fulfillment of an
architect’s dream, carte blanche to rebuild Berlin as I desired. Who
would not have paid almost any price for such an opportunity? Then the
war came and my dream for a new Berlin was shoved aside and Hitler
appointed me czar of all German industries to produce armaments. By
then I was too involved to withdraw.”
Herr Speer,” I asked, “couldn’t you smell the dead flesh in the gas
chamber, couldn’t you hear the cry of little children, didn’t you know
that behind the trim landscaped concentration camps children were being
held naked in their mothers’ arms, their clothes neatly piled in great
stacks, and shoved into gas chambers? Didn’t you realize that you were
using slave labor in your factories pouring out instruments of
“No,” he said.
“I closed my eyes to all of what was happening because it was too late.
I had no choice or I would have also been a victim, too, for Hitler was
—From Fuldheim’s prison interview with Hitler’s architect and later munitions czar Albert Speer, excerpted from A Thousand Friends.
(“Hitler would have hung me like a carcass on the wall,” she recalled
Speer’s telling her, as a guest on the Phil Donahue show in 1984. “And
I told him, ‘It would have been a worthy and noble death.’”)
On Being the First Woman in TV News
was the first woman to do news on television— certainly the first woman
who had a news show of her own. And when [Duquesne Beer] became the
sponsor, they didn’t want me—they thought, “Oh my God, a woman.” Matter
of fact when they got the show ready they forgot to call me in until
somebody asked: “Where’s the talent?” They called me in, and this guy—I
can’t remember his name, tall guy from the advertisers—said, “What do
you do?” I said, “I analyze news.” He said, “Well, we’ve never had
anyone do that.” I said, “Well, you’ve probably never had anyone
competent!” But the man who ran this station, a man whom I admired very
much, was a stubborn guy, and he said, “If you want the time, you’ll
have to take her,” so they said, “For God’s sake, let’s take her, we
don’t need to keep her.” They kept me eighteen years. And there’s no
other woman yet  who does an analysis of the news.
On Soap Operas
hear a lot of criticism about soap operas. I don’t concur in that at
all. You know, one of the reasons for their popularity is that there’s
no front porch anymore. When you had a porch, you sat on the porch and
you visited with the neighbors. Well, old people no longer live with
their families as they used to; they go off into an apartment, and
they’re very lonely. They live an isolated life, with the exception of
a few friends that they may have, so the soap opera becomes their
friend. I see nothing wrong with that.
—“Fuldheim on Fuldheim,” Northern Ohio Live, January 1982
has been tested for many centuries, and it has stood firm like the Rock
of Gibraltar until this generation. It is being chipped away,
assaulted, ridiculed, ignored, cheapened, but it still stands as the
one great moral shelter in our lives.
is true that bearing a child outside of marriage is no longer the
disgrace it used to be. No longer would a famous actress be publicly
insulted as was Sarah Bernhardt who was announced by the butler at a
reception as Mademoiselle and son.
the Ms. does away with the Miss or Mrs. No longer is a family disgraced
by a daughter who though not married is having a baby. In the past it
may have been annoying to have a son father a child outside of
marriage, but it never the disgrace as when such a thing happened to a
daughter. And it’s about time. Just as it is unreasonable to arrest a
prostitute who is selling her wares, but not the male who is the buyer.
Injustices are being wiped out.
. . Life is a lonely business at best. We are each imprisoned by our
own natures. In marriage, there is a touching of heart and of soul. In
marriage the husband knows that his happiness, his strength, is guarded
by the woman who is his wife, while she knows that he is her security,
her strength, that their fates are intertwined and that she is first in
his concern and he is in hers.
is an intertwining of destinies. If there are children, it is the fruit
of some sweet and sublime hour. A child is (or should be) the blossom
of a moment of exquisite tenderness. . . .
—From a May 27, 1979, commentary dated May 27, 1979, reprinted in its entirety in Dorothy Fuldheim: The FIRST First Lady of Television News
Cleveland Arts Prize
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