Rooney was very popular with the public but drew criticism from the media for his controversial views and for the seemingly effortless style and content of his 60 MINUTES essays.  He once took advantage of his popularity to get back at a critic.  When Associated Press television critic Frazier Moore wrote that Rooney should quit because his material was getting old, Rooney took Moore to task by broadcasting the newswire’s New York phone number, exhorting his 60 MINUTES viewers to tell the writer what they thought of his opinion.  The Associated Press logged over 7,000 calls in 48 hours, the vast majority in favor of Rooney.

 

            He rarely attacked his critics publicly, in fact, he sometimes embraced them.  On many occasions, he read on the air their most cutting letters, sometimes admitting he was wrong and apologizing.  The Cobain and the O.J. Simpson incidents were both essays he regretted writing and he said so on air.

 

            Andrew Aitken Rooney was born January 14, 1919 in Albany, N.Y. He was graduated from Albany Academy High School and attended Colgate University, writing for both of the schools’ newspapers.  He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941, his junior year at Colgate. After brief service in an artillery unit in England, he became a correspondent for The Stars and Stripes for three years.  Rooney was one of six correspondents to fly with the Army’s Eighth Air Force on the second American bombing raid over Germany – a risky mission the enemy fully expected.  He then covered the Allied invasion of Europe and, after the surrender of Germany, filed reports from the Far East.

 

             He was awarded the Bronze Star for his reporting under fire at the battle of Saint Lo.

 

            Rooney wrote about his war experiences in his first three books, the second of which, The Story of the Stars and Stripes, was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for movie rights.  Despite going to Hollywood and writing a film script, Rooney’s script was never produced, but the sizable sum he earned enabled him to write as a freelancer for several years after the war.

 

            He was hired by CBS in 1949 after a bold encounter in the elevator with Arthur Godfrey. Rooney told the biggest radio star of the day he could use some better writing. His nerve moved Godfrey to hire him for “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” which moved to television and became a top-ten hit that was number one in 1952. He also wrote for Godfrey’s other primetime program, “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends,” and the star’s daily morning show. He became Godfrey’s only writer in 1953, before quitting the lucrative work in 1955, because he felt he could be doing something more important. But after a period of freelance writing, with a wife and four children to support, he returned to television writing on CBS’ “The Morning News with Will Rogers, Jr.”  The best thing that happened to Rooney on the short-lived program was meeting and befriending CBS News Correspondent Harry Reasoner, with whom he collaborated later to great success.

           

He also wrote for “The Garry Moore Show” (1959-‘65), helping it to achieve hit status as a top-20 program. Such regularly featured talents as Victor Borge, Bob and Ray and Perry Como spoke the words written by Rooney during this period. At the same time, he wrote for CBS News public affairs broadcasts, including “The Twentieth Century,” “News of America” and “Adventure,” and he wrote freelance articles for the biggest magazines of the day, including Life, Look, Esquire and Cosmopolitan.   

 

By the mid-1960s, Rooney’s name was a familiar credit at the end of CBS News programs.  “The most felicitous nonfiction writer in television” is how Time magazine described Rooney in 1969, by then a winner of the Writers Guild Award for Best Script of the Year six times.

 

Rooney had convinced CBS News he could write for television on any subject when he wrote his first television essay in 1964, an original genre he is credited with developing. Proving his point, he picked doors as the subject and Reasoner as the voice for “An Essay on Doors.”  The team – Rooney writing and producing and Reasoner narrating --  went on to create such critically acclaimed specials as “An Essay on Bridges” (1965), “An Essay on Hotels” (1966), “An Essay on Women” (1967), “An Essay on Chairs” (1968) and “The Strange Case of the English Language” (1968).

 

Rooney also wrote and produced many news documentaries, including the most comprehensive television treatment of Frank Sinatra, “Frank Sinatra: Living With the Legend,” with Walter Cronkite in 1965. Rooney had met Cronkite in World War II and they had remained close friends for the rest of their lives.  He wrote two CBS News specials for the series “Of Black America” in 1968, one of which, “Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed,” won him his first Emmy and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award’s First Prize for Television.