Gloria Emerson, 1929-2004

Gloria Emerson
Speaking of the fall of Saigon
If female journalists were as lionized as their male counterparts, Gloria Emerson would’ve already gotten the full All The President’s Men treatment by now. I see a young Ali MacGraw or Diane Keaton circa Looking For Mr. Goodbar, or, if it were made today, Parker Posey as the compassionate, fearless Vietnam war reporter for The New York Times who died this week.
Of course, we’ll probably never see such a movie, since female journalists only get the biopic treatment if they’re martyred or the “based on a true story” treatment if they’re beautiful and tragic. Meanwhile, this asshole has a film about him, and this schmuck is about to, despite the fact that neither of them has half the talent, bravery, or impact as Emerson had.
Unlike those pishers, Emerson actually reported her stories, even going so far as to risk her life in war-zones like Vietnam and Gaza. But while Emerson’s male colleagues seem to have had a jones for the danger, the rugged manhood and camaraderie in the theater of war, Emerson brought uncommon compassion to her reporting. As Craig R. Whitney’s Times obit pointed out:

War as she wrote about it was not ennobling but debasing, a misery that inflicted physical suffering and psychic damage on civilians, children and soldiers on both sides.

Emerson wasn’t merely the war’s reporter, she was its conscience. She probably wouldn’t say that about herself, but she almost did when she said:

Vietnam is just a confirmation of everything we feared might happen in life. And it has happened. You know, a lot of people in Vietnam—and I might be one of them—could be mourners as a profession. Morticians and mourners.

She was such an important figure of that era, Richard Avedon gave her the full icon treatment with one of his myth-making portraits, which caught her mid-word, mid-thought, and mid-smoke, looking very much the model of forthright intelligence and intense focus.
As it turns out, there sort of is a movie about Gloria Emerson, or, at the very least, a movie that features her in her prime. In the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon, Emerson pops up in a hilariously confrontational interview with the ex-Beatle who was then embarking on his anti-war “give peace a chance”/bed-in phase. Emerson chastises Lennon for his attention-grabbing antics and his Rolls Royce, repeatedly calling him “my dear boy,” and cutting him off again and again. Lennon, knowing he’s up against his rhetorical better, can only roll his chewing gum in his hand, make jokes about “the moptops” and act like a petulant child.
The only other person who got up in John and Yoko’s shit more in that film was cartoonist Al Capp, but he came off like a crotchety oldster, Bob Dylan’s out-of-touch Mr. Jones, whereas Emerson came off like someone who told it like she saw it, and knew exactly whereof she spoke. She stole the scene in John Lennon’s very own film. I guess she got her movie after all.
Gloria Emerson was 75.

5 replies on “Gloria Emerson, 1929-2004”

I was a friend of Gloria’s and her death has hit me quite hard. I was very happy to read your eloquent and touching tribute. Bravo!

Was minutes ago introduced to Gloria via a documentary on Discovery Channel about reporters at war. She impressed me so much in just the few minutes I heard her speak that I needed to know more about her . . . and now I am heartbroken to learn that she died last year. All I can say is what an amazing woman she obviously was and how tragic that her voice wasn’t given a more prominent platform.

I didn’t know her reporting but I saw her recently in the “Imagine: John Lennon” documentary. Your opinions above are the exact opposite of how I felt about her appearance.
The confrontation isn’t hilarious; its grating,
John Lennon was well able to handle her; she came across as a condescending arrogant snob.

I agree with Martin. Lennon told Gloria to get past the cute little moptops she much preferred in earlier years, the bed in was his attempt to draw attention to peace by using the media to his advantage.

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