Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Howard Cosell

I was a film editor at ABC Sports, working with Roone Arledge on the Ali fight with Evangelista (an unranked pretender).  Alex Wallou, "The Prince of Promos" (his attribution) and future ABC network el presidente, is sent all around the world to film interviews with knowledgeable fight promoters as to the merit of the challenger.  Alex returns with a load of BS that I screen for Roone, Alex and 2 corporate lawyers on an overtime Sunday afternoon.  Late to the meeting, suffering from jet lag, is Howard Cosell who is the scheduled to host the fight on ABC this week.  There is a couch in the editing room and Howard in his silk silver custom built suit stretches out on the couch, exhausted.

All the VIPs agree that none of the interviews have merit because all the interviewees avoided the central question: Is this "bum of the month" a worthy challenger to the champ?  Roone's gift is to see the obvious; this is a championship fight and we're covering it because every sports journalist in the world will be there.  Forget the big ratings, we're providing a free service to the public for the price of a "few" commercials.  But Howard has to sell this to the public.  Roone asks for a preview of Cosell's opening gambit/speech.

Howard unglues himself from the orange, leatherette couch and walks to the far corner of the room where my close friend and assistant, Wayne Weiss, is guarding the door from any interlopers to this earth shattering discussion.  What I don't see is Howard's face as he walks to the corner but Wayne sees him coming toward him and, just before Cosell turns to face the rest of the room, he gives Wayne a wink.  The exhausted giant turns to face us and all of a sudden, in full throttle,  Howard "the man we love to hate" Cosell with nasal passages whinnying does "his thing":

HOWARD: "AND SO, ..." (we're here because all of sports journalism is here for a championship fight no matter the merits of the contestants.... ).   Roone congratulates him and days later the fight goes on just as rehearsed.  As Howard is delivering his opening, the video switches to all the reporters with pen and tablets poised, and local news crews dutifully blasting away.   The fight was nothing.  Ali danced for a few rounds and then politely finished him off. 

To me, the earth shattering news was to learn that Howard Cosell was an artifice, a face a man put on to face the faces that he met.  Otherwise, he was a regular guy, a bit insecure, that the public and Ali had turned into a god. 

AND SO, he played his part perfectly.

Simon Gribben

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