Edward Murrow was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow at Polecat Creek, near Greensboro, in Guilford County, North Carolina, the son of Roscoe C. Murrow and Ethel F. (née Lamb) Murrow. His parents were Quakers. He was the youngest of three brothers and was a "mixture of English, Scots, Irish, and German" descent. His home was a log cabin without electricity or plumbing, on a farm bringing in only a few hundred dollars a year from corn and hay.
When Murrow was six years old, his family moved across the country to Skagit County in western Washington, to homestead near Blanchard, 30 miles (50 km) south of the Canadian border. He attended high school in nearby Edison, and was president of the student body in his senior year and excelled on the debate team. He was also a member of the basketball team which won the Skagit County championship.
After graduation from high school in 1926, Murrow enrolled at Washington State College (now WSU) across the state in Pullman, and eventually majored in speech. A member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, he was also active in college politics. By his teen years, Murrow went by the nickname "Ed" and during his second year of college, he changed his name from Egbert to Edward. In 1929, while attending the annual convention of the National Student Federation of America, Murrow gave a speech urging college students to become more interested in national and world affairs; this led to his election as president of the federation. After earning his bachelor's degree in 1930, he moved back east to New York.
Murrow worked as assistant director of the Institute of International Education from 1932 to 1935, serving as the assistant secretary of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, which helped prominent German scholars who had been dismissed from academic positions. He married Janet Huntington Brewster on March 12, 1935. Their son, Charles Casey Murrow, was born in west London on November 6, 1945.
Career at CBS
Murrow joined CBS as director of talks and education in 1935 and remained with the network for his entire career. CBS did not have news staff when Murrow joined, save for announcer Bob Trout. Murrow's job was to line up newsmakers who would appear on the network to talk about the issues of the day. But the onetime Washington State speech major was intrigued by Trout's on-air delivery, and Trout gave Murrow tips on how to communicate effectively on the radio.
Murrow went to London in 1937 to serve as the director of CBS's European operations. The position did not involve on-air reporting; Murrow's job was persuading European figures to broadcast over the CBS network, which was in direct competition with NBC's two radio networks. Murrow recruited journalist William L. Shirer to take a similar post on the continent. The two men would become the forefathers of broadcast journalism.
Murrow gained his first glimpse of fame during the March 1938 Anschluss, in which Adolf Hitler engineered the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. While Murrow was in Poland arranging a broadcast of children's choruses, he got word from Shirer of the annexation—and the fact that Shirer could not get the story out through Austrian state radio facilities. Murrow immediately sent Shirer to London, where he delivered an uncensored, eyewitness account of the Anschluss. Murrow then chartered a plane to fly from Warsaw to Vienna, so he could take over for Shirer.
At the request of CBS New York (either chief executive William S. Paley or news director Paul White), Murrow and Shirer put together a European News Roundup of reaction to the Anschluss, which brought correspondents from various European cities together for a single broadcast. On March 13, 1938, the special was broadcast, hosted by Bob Trout in New York, and including Shirer in London (with Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson), reporter Edgar Ansel Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News in Paris, reporter Pierre J. Huss of the International News Service in Berlin, and Senator Lewis B. Schwellenbach in Washington, D.C. Reporter Frank Gervasi, in Rome, was unable to find a transmitter to broadcast reaction from the Italian capital, but phoned his script to Shirer in London, who read it on the broadcast.
Murrow himself reported live from Vienna, in the first on-the-scene news report of his career: "This is Edward Murrow speaking from Vienna.... It's now nearly 2:30 in the morning, and Herr Hitler has not yet arrived."
The broadcast was considered revolutionary at the time. Featuring multipoint, live reports in the days before modern technology (and without each of the parties necessarily being able to hear one another), it came off almost flawlessly. The special became the basis for the World News Roundup—broadcasting's oldest news series, which still runs each weekday morning and evening on the CBS Radio Network.
In September 1938, Murrow and Shirer were regular participants in CBS's coverage of the crisis over the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, which Hitler coveted for Germany and eventually won in the Munich Agreement. Their incisive reporting heightened the American appetite for radio news, with listeners regularly waiting for Murrow's shortwave broadcasts, introduced by analyst H. V. Kaltenborn in New York saying, "Calling Ed Murrow ... come in Ed Murrow."
During the following year, leading up to the outbreak of World War II, Murrow continued to be based in London. William Shirer's reporting from Berlin brought him national acclaim, and a commentator's position with CBS News upon his return to the United States in December 1940. (Shirer would describe his Berlin experiences in his best-selling book Berlin Diary.) When the war broke out in September 1939, Murrow stayed in London, and later provided live radio broadcasts during the height of the Blitz in London After Dark. Those broadcasts electrified radio audiences as news programming never had before. Previously, war coverage had mostly been provided by newspaper reports, along with newsreels seen in movie theaters; earlier radio news programs had simply featured an announcer in a studio reading wire service reports.
World War II
Murrow's reports, especially during the Blitz, began with what became his signature opening, "This is London," delivered with his vocal emphasis on the word this, followed by the hint of a pause before the rest of the phrase. His former speech teacher, Ida Lou Anderson, suggested the opening as a more concise alternative to the one he had inherited from his predecessor at CBS Europe, Cesar Saerchinger: "Hello America. This is London calling." Murrow's phrase became synonymous with the newscaster and his network.
Murrow achieved great celebrity status as a result of his war reports. They led to his second famous catchphrase. At the end of 1940, with every night's German bombing raid, Londoners who might not necessarily see each other the next morning often closed their conversations with "good night, and good luck". The future British monarch, Princess Elizabeth, said as much to the Western world in a live radio address at the end of the year, when she said "good night, and good luck to you all". So, at the end of one 1940 broadcast, Murrow ended his segment with "Good night, and good luck." Speech teacher Anderson insisted he stick with it, and another Murrow catchphrase was born.
When Murrow returned to the U.S. in 1941, CBS hosted a dinner in his honor on December 2 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. 1,100 guests attended the dinner, which the network broadcast. Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a welcome-back telegram, which was read at the dinner, and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish gave an encomium that commented on the power and intimacy of Murrow's wartime dispatches.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred less than a week after this speech, and the U.S. entered the war as a combatant on the Allied side.
Murrow flew on 25 Allied combat missions in Europe during the war, providing additional reports from the planes as they droned on over Europe (recorded for delayed broadcast). Murrow's skill at improvising vivid descriptions of what was going on around or below him, derived in part from his college training in speech, aided the effectiveness of his radio broadcasts.
As hostilities expanded, Murrow expanded CBS News in London into what Harrison Salisbury described as "the finest news staff anybody had ever put together in Europe". The result was a group of reporters acclaimed for their intellect and descriptive power, including Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, Mary Marvin Breckinridge, Cecil Brown, Richard C. Hottelet,Bill Downs, Winston Burdett, Charles Shaw, Ned Calmer, and Larry LeSueur. Many of them, Shirer included, were later dubbed "Murrow's Boys"—despite Breckinridge being a woman.
Murrow so closely cooperated with the British that in 1943 Winston Churchill offered to make him joint director-general of the BBC, in charge of programming. Although he declined the job, during the war Murrow did fall in love with Churchill's daughter-in-law, Pamela, whose other American lovers included Averell Harriman, whom she married many years later. Pamela wanted Murrow to marry her, and he considered it; however, after his wife gave birth to their only child, Casey, he ended the affair.
After the war, Murrow recruited journalists such as Alexander Kendrick, David Schoenbrun, Daniel Schorr and Robert Pierpoint into the circle of the Boys, as a virtual "second generation", though the track record of the original wartime crew set it apart.
On April 12, 1945, Murrow and Bill Shadel were the first reporters at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. He met emaciated survivors including Petr Zenkl, children with identification tattoos, and "bodies stacked up like cordwood" in the crematorium. In his report three days later, Murrow said::
I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words.... If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry.
—Extract from Murrow's Buchenwald report. April 15, 1945.
Postwar broadcasting career
In December 1945 Murrow reluctantly accepted Paley's offer to become a Vice President of the network and head of CBS News, and made his last news report from London in March 1946. The relationship between Murrow and Shirer ended in 1947 in one of the great confrontations of American broadcast journalism, when Shirer was fired by CBS. He said he resigned in the heat of an interview at the time, but was actually terminated. The dispute began when J.B. Williams, maker of shaving soap, withdrew its sponsorship of Shirer's Sunday news show. CBS, of which Murrow was then vice president for public affairs, decided to "move in a new direction," hired a new host, and let Shirer go. There are different versions of these events; Shirer's was not made public until 1990.
Shirer contended that the root of his troubles was the network and sponsor not standing by him because of his comments critical of the Truman Doctrine, as well as other comments that were considered outside of the mainstream. Shirer and his supporters felt he was being muzzled because of his views. Meanwhile, Murrow, and even some of Murrow's Boys, felt that Shirer was coasting on his high reputation and not working hard enough to bolster his analyses with his own research. Murrow and Shirer never regained their close friendship.
The episode hastened Murrow's desire to give up his network vice presidency and return to newscasting, and it foreshadowed his own problems to come with his friend Paley, boss of CBS.
Murrow and Paley had become close when the network chief himself joined the war effort, setting up Allied radio outlets in Italy and North Africa. After the war, he would often go to Paley directly to settle any problems he had. "Ed Murrow was Bill Paley's one genuine friend in CBS," noted Murrow biographer Joseph Persico.
Murrow returned to the air in September 1947, taking over the nightly 7:45 p.m. ET newscast sponsored by Campbell's Soup and anchored by his old friend and announcing coach Bob Trout. (Trout left for NBC but returned to CBS in 1952.)
In 1950, Murrow narrated a half-hour radio documentary called "The Case for the Flying Saucers". It offered a balanced look at unidentified flying objects, a subject of widespread interest at the time. Murrow interviewed both Kenneth Arnold (whose 1947 report kick-started interest in UFOs) and astronomer Donald Menzel (who argued that UFO reports could be explained as people misidentifying prosaic phenomena).
From 1951 to 1955, Murrow was the host of This I Believe, which offered ordinary people the opportunity to speak for five minutes on radio.
Murrow continued to present daily radio news reports on the CBS Radio Network until 1959. He also recorded a series of narrated "historical albums" for Columbia Records called I Can Hear It Now, which inaugurated his partnership with producer Fred W. Friendly. In 1950 the records evolved into a weekly CBS Radio show, Hear It Now, hosted by Murrow and co-produced by Murrow and Friendly.
A chain smoker throughout his life, Murrow was almost never seen without his trademark Camel cigarette. It was reported that he smoked anywhere from sixty to sixty-five cigarettes a day, equivalent to roughly three packs. See It Now was the first television program to have a report about the connection between smoking and cancer; Murrow said during the show that "I doubt I could spend a half hour without a cigarette with any comfort or ease." He developed lung cancer and lived for two years after an operation to remove his left lung.
Murrow died at his home on April 27, 1965, two days after his 57th birthday. His colleague and friend Eric Sevareid said of him, "He was a shooting star; and we will live in his afterglow a very long time." CBS carried a memorial program, which included a rare on-camera appearance by Paley.