In a July 21, 1980, profile, Time called Andy Rooney “the Boswell of stuff.” Describing himself for the story, Rooney said, among other things, “I have an unpleasant voice.” But his musings are the raw material of 60 Minutes legend. “Save $1,253 on a Saab,” he once began in a report, repeating a claim in an advertisement. “I mean, if you bought eight or 10 Saabs a year, you can save enough to buy a Mercedes.”
Since Rooney is all about “stuff” and finding unexpected kernels in places you don't always give enough attention to, we've compiled a short group of Rooney fun facts, both about the man and some of the ideas his reports have inspired.
In 1962, Rooney began teaming with Harry Reasoner at CBS, writing essays Reasoner delivered that covered the mundane wonders for which he's now well known. The first was called An Essay on Doors.
To sell the idea to Jack Kiermaier, then head of the CBS News documentary unit, he wrote a lengthy memo detailing some of his thoughts. His listing of proposals for the report included the following:
“There will be 14 working doors set up for the cameras in the studio by CBS set designers. [A] Hospital door with two small, oval glass windows. They lend drama to a door. [B] French doors. We will try to determine why they are called French…[H] Revolving door. (Women never take the first one available.) [We'll have] A pantomime study of door manners, mannerisms and problems.
“My intention is to make it apparent that the most ordinary objects around us—doors in this case—hold extraordinary interest when viewed from a good angle or from a sufficient number of different angles. There is something basically dramatic about a door because our attitude toward one is markedly different if we are outside, wanting to get in, than it is if we are inside, wanting to get out.
“This isn't very convincing, is it? Find it in your heart to trust me.”
His door essay was produced and broadcast, leading the way to An Essay on Chairs and An Essay on Bridges. Later he starred in a documentary, Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington, to explain how the bureaucracy feeds on itself. Indeed, in some dusty warehouse, he found actual rolls of government red tape.
A Master of His Crafts
Rooney is very familiar with that desk we always find him behind, in part because he built it himself, according to CBS News. The topics he's covered have ranged from the contents of that desk's drawers to whether God exists. The “everything in between” includes cotton in pill bottles, motor scooters, faucets, the reduction in size of household cleaning products, and presidential vacations. His comments about homosexuals and AIDS in 1989 led to a brief suspension (he said his comments were misunderstood).
Usually, though, the topics are more whimsical. In a segment that won him the third of his four Emmys, he suggested a compromise to the then-grain embargo against the Soviet Union: selling them cereal. “Are they going to take us seriously as an enemy if they think we eat Cap'n Crunch for breakfast?” he asked.
Did You Ever Notice?
There have been many parodies of Rooney, and many other video tributes or attempts at humor regarding his signature voice and style. The most viewed YouTube video when searching “Andy Rooney” is Ali G.'s infamous interview, which Rooney ends a minute and a half in. Among other things, a clearly rattled Rooney asks the faux newsman—played by Borat star Sasha Baron Cohen—“Have you ever done this before?” and “What is your basic language?” before informing Ali G. that one can't actually report the news before it happens. Another somewhat less-viewed video promises Andy Rooney in 60 Seconds, piecing together tangential lines from many reports. “What I always want to read is stories about lottery losers,” it begins. It ends, “Sometimes when I get up in the morning, I can't even remember where my socks are.” And Joe Piscopo famously parodied Rooney in several segments on Saturday Night Live, his reports frequently beginning with the phrase, “Did you ever notice…” But CBS says that Rooney has never once used that phrase in any of his reports.
Wrong Number, Right Party
In trying to accrue more facts for this story, I called the direct dial of a CBS News publicist who works closely with Rooney. When I called, I heard a throat-clearing on the other end and a muffled “Hello?” “Hello,” I said, momentarily confused. “Is this Susie?” “No,” the suddenly very clear—and curmudgeonly—male voice on the other end announced. “This is not Susie.” The voice was strong, curt, and equal parts angry and quizzical.
Sorry to disturb, Mr. Rooney. And thanks for everything.
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Rob has written for Broadcasting+Cable since 2006, starting with his work on the magazine’s award-winning 75th-anniversary issue. He was born a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium … so of course he’s published three books on NASCAR, most notably, Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner. He’s currently the special projects editor at TV Guide Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and his origami art has been in The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his family in New Jersey and is writing a novel about the Wild West.