Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Big Zel

It's always a good day when you open your morning paper and find that one of your favorite people in the world has gotten some good ink. Now, I'm not talking about some ridiculous celebrity or the people who worship them (although he is certainly a celebrity in every sense of the word) I'm talking about someone who has made a real difference in the world and influenced your own life greatly.

Today, for me, that person would be Big Zel.

Robert Zelnick, (or Big Zel as he dubbed himself) was a TV news legend far before I ever walked into his classroom at Boston University that fall of 2000. ABC News' go-to-guy at the Pentagon for some 20 years, is how I remembered him, and I was a little more than worried as a "green" graduate student taking his "hard news" class. Prof. Zelnick, who stands at 5'6" tall, was an intimidating figure back in those days, standing at the head of the classroom. He had a stoic seriousness about him and "curmudgeonly" was the adjective we used to describe his occasional no nonsense teachings. But it didn't take long for us to figure out how wrong we were about Big Zel. Lucky for us, we quickly realized that we were in for the ride of our lives.

Beside his impressive ABC News resume, (his time spent there ranks right him alongside all the news greats: Walters, Jennings, to name a few of his colleagues) Big Zel spent many years traveling the globe and working on the political news of the world. A true "hard news" man, his infectious passion was undeniable for his chosen genre. We were the chosen ones to have learned first hand, from a legend, what it means to deliver a news story. But that fall of 2000, Big Zel's journalism students would also fast become "hard news" men and women in their own right, for we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of one of the biggest news stories of the 21 century. The botched Presidential Election of 2000.

I spent many sleepless nights (I was also the mother of a four and five year old) reporting for his class from the debates, to the botched announcement of Gore's presidential win, to the intense scrutiny of the announcement of the Bush presidency and the hanging chad. As writers, we all grew up a lot that fall under the loving wing of the great Professor Bob Zelnick.

Big Zel and I discussed those memories at our Sushi lunch last fall. Ever gracious and humble, my favorite professor and I broke bread and sake, and discussed the possibility of my publishing a memoir. I tried to convince him it was he who should be writing a memoir and he humbly dismissed the notion as rubbish. He would stick to writing about the news as he had for his entire career.

Big Zel is in the spotlight today for his role in the historic interviews between David Frost and disgraced President Richard Nixon. Bob Zelnick has been immortalized in Ron Howard's big screen adaptation of the Broadway show, "Frost/Nixon". His experience, he recalled in today's Boston Herald as, "historic from two points of view. One, it was unprecedented. And two, it worked. in terms of stirring a popular interest and delivering a good editorial product."

Oliver Platt plays Bob Zelnick in the movie and at 6'5" tall, when he met the actor, true to form Big Zel had some witty comments about overcoming the physical challenge. You can read all about my beloved Professor at this link: I urge you to go and see the movie and let me know what you think.

I've got to go right now and send an email to my favorite reluctant celebrity to tell him how proud I am to call him my friend. He seems to be handling it all in Big Zel stride. He humbly said of his involvement in the great news story portrayed by the film in today's Herald, "It's a form of immortality, (but) I think the most important thing is to not let anything change you. Richard Nixon himself in the interview said the brightest moments are those that fade away fastest and I think that's something to keep in mind."

That's what I love most about Big Zel. He never lets a teaching moment get lost in his bright spotlight.


SouthernBelle said...

Oh Candy, you are famous by association now!

PS - Wait, you said Big Zel was 5'6"? That's shorter than me!

Julia said...

Candy - it's amazing when you meet a person that chnages your life. I'm so happy it happened for you in such a cool way.