by Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication

In the early 1960s, Robert Frost was making his annual visit to Agnes Scott College. He came
yearly to visit the president and talk to students at Agnes Scott, a women’s college in Decatur, Georgia, near Atlanta. The college held a news conference for Frost

Robert Frost
© Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication

In those days a news conference, even in Atlanta, with Robert Frost, was a small affair. That afternoon, the media was about six people. There was a cameraman from each of the three TV stations, a daily and weekly papers sent reporters or photographers. I was shooting stills. My previous impression of Frost’s public persona was he was kindly old man who personified the sentiments of his poems.

Maybe our small group antagonized him, but that afternoon, he was a cranky old guy ready to fight. Atlanta had not achieved its reputation as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. Upright New Englander Frost may have thought he was among the unwashed, ignorant masses.

The first question started it. (A big, unrelated story of the time was the pronouncement by a theologian in a nearby college, “God is dead.” I think the professor meant the opposite, but he got attention. That’s another story.)

The first question was, “Mr. Frost, is poetry dead?” The reporter thought he was asking a friendly, provocative opening question. Robert Frost, the nation’s kindly old grandfather turned belligerent. “How dare you ask ME that!” If Frost was younger, I think he would have beaten him up. Frost sputtered invective at the cringing reporter. He questioned the reporter’s intellect

He turned to the rest of us and talked about “that guy.” We all caved. No one risked explaining it was just a way of getting fresh remarks out of Frost.
Let’s go back to just before the news conference opened. In those days, a TV station might send only a cameraman to such a news conference, armed with list of prefabricated questions.
The cameraman (it was literally “cameraman” in those days.) would set up the heavy Auricon sound camera, ask the questions and film the answers. This would be reconstructed on the air, with the anchor asking the questions. The cameraman was in no sense the interviewer. He just read questions, never venturing even a follow-up question.
Before the news conference opened, Frost was the kindly old man we expected. The cameraman decided to help Frost by reading his set of three questions, so Frost could formulate answers before the camera rolled.
Frost didn’t understand this. He thoroughly answered each question during the run-through. Frost was concentrating on the answers, but he may have detected a slight condescending look on the cameraman’s face.
The cameraman didn’t waste any of his precious three minute roll of film on the meandering news conference. When his one-on-one time came, he turned on his camera and sat near Frost and asked his first question. Frost started into the answer. About three sentences in, he paused and said, “You’ve already asked me that. Ask me something different.
The cameraman tried to explain run-through, but went on to his second question. Frost, “You’ve asked me that too. Get some new questions.” Today a new set of questions would be quickly forthcoming via cell phone. That day, the cameraman slinked off to attempt his daunting task.
In those days, it didn’t take a college degree to lug a news camera. The cameraman may have had only a vague idea of who Frost was, and certainly did not want to risk another question that would bring down this old guy’s wrath again. It was the toughest writing assignment I ever observed. I don’t think he ever did come up with fresh questions.
The affair went on for about 20 more minutes. We enjoyed coffee and cookies and deferential chats with Frost. I glanced occasionally at the TV cameraman over in the corner by a window, trying to compose three more questions.
I’m grateful to the hapless cameraman for his light which illuminates the accompanying photo of Frost. They always clamped a reflector flood on the film camera. It was safe, straight-on light suitable for black and white TV. I could “ride” his light by standing to the side and getting wonderful, dramatic side lighting. I don’t think my standard joke, “Thanks for the light,” amused the cameraman that day.
Knowing the situation, I see two Robert Frosts in the photo. One is the kindly old public man we know. If you look again, you might see the power and anger of a truck driver you have just inadvertently insulted on the next bar stool. I’ve always cherished the thought that I know both Robert Frosts.
Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication



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