– February 22
) was a producer of TV, movies, and stage plays and also a pioneer TV talk show host.
Susskind was born in New York City
. He went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison
and then Harvard University
, graduating with honors in 1942 and then heading off to the World War. A communications officer on an attack transport, he saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His first job was as a press agent for Warner Brothers
, which probably fancied hiring a Harvard man.
Next he was a talent agent for Century Artists, ultimately ending up in the powerhouse Music Corporation of America's fairly-newly-minted television program department, managing Dinah Shore, Jerry Lewis, and others. He then came to New York and with Alfred Levy formed Talent Associates, Ltd., representing creators of material rather than performers and also itself creating programs for TV. Ultimately, Susskind himself became a producer -- of movies and stage plays as well as TV programs.
He married (and later divorced) two women, Phyllis Briskin in 1939 and later Joyce Davidson, a Canadian-American television personality. He had three daughters and a son.
His program, Open End
, began in 1958 on WNTA-TV
in New York City, and was appropriately titled: the program continued until Susskind or his guests were too tired to continue. In 1961, Open End
was constrained to two hours and went into national syndication
. The show was retitled The David Susskind Show
in 1967 and continued until 1987.
During his almost 30-year run as a talk show host, Susskind covered many controversial topics of the day, such as race relations and the Vietnam War. Susskind's interview of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, which aired in October 1960, during the height of the cold war, generated national attention.
In 1961, Susskind conducted a series of interviews with former president Harry Truman in Truman's hometown of Independence, Missouri. After picking Truman up at his home to bring him to the Truman Presidential Library for the interviews for a number of days, Susskind asked Truman why he hadn't been invited into the house. Truman stated to Susskind, according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, "This is Bess's house" and that there has never been nor will there ever be, a Jewish guest in there.
Producer and legacy
Susskind was also a noted producer, with scores of movies, plays, and TV programs to his credit. His legacy is that of a producer of intelligent material at a time when TV had left its golden years behind and had firmly planted its feet in programming which had wide appeal, whether or not it was worth watching. Among other projects, he produced television adaptations of Beyond This Place
(1957), The Moon and Sixpence
(1960), Ages of Man
(1966), Death of a Salesman
(also 1966), Look Homeward, Angel
(1972), The Bridge of San Luis Rey
(1958), The Glass Menagerie
(1973), and Caesar and Cleopatra
(1976), the television films Truman at Potsdam
(1976), and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years
(1976), and the feature film Loving Couples
Susskind suffered a heart attack
and died in New York City. One commentator (see below) has pointed out the irony in that the man who sold Willy Loman
to a nationwide audience himself died alone in a hotel room at the early age of 66.
He is interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.