Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Art Carney, 85, Lauded 'Honeymooners' Actor, Dies

In a way, he was one of my journalism teachers. When Art Carney had heart trouble about 25 years ago, he landed in the Middletown, Conn., hospital for a week or so. On the day he was discharged from Middlesex Memorial, he had a little press conference and clowned around for the cameras. When two AP photographs landed on my desk at The Hartford Courant, I wrote a "says farewell to the hospital" caption that would work on whichever photo fit the page two space for the "People" column. (Our reporter had missed the press conference. )

The big photo showed Carney laughing with nurses who escorted his wheelchair to the door. Unfortunately, space was short, and I let the same caption go under a tightly-cropped funny-face photo that looked like Carney was thumbing his nose at something -- his illness or just being cooped up, perhaps. Nobody likes to be in the hospital, right? But it was neither. A funny camera angle just put his hand in that position, which the AP "clowned around" caption hadn't explained at all.

I don't remember ever hearing "Ed Norton" sounding hurt and angry on TV, but the voice on the phone the next day was unmistakable. He was horrified and hurt that someone might think he was "thumbing his nose" at the hospital. "Those people saved my life," he said, and the Academy Award winner went on to give the small regional hospital a solid rave review. The guy who had made millions laugh really wasn't joking. I led the next day's column with that sentence, filled in some details about his hospital stay, and never thought of "just a little celebrity gossip" the same way again.

I don't think anyone else ever sent me a thank-you note for a correction, but he did. In Carney's obituary today, I see one of his co-stars describing the man I talked to: "a genuinely nice guy."
1:20:39 PM    

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