TOM HALEY - FORGOTTEN MAN OF CLEVELAND TV

Submitted by Roldo on Tue, 03/17/2009 - 20:38.

 It’s good that Tom Haley lived a long life. He expressed the fear that he would not.

Haley had a scrape with death in the mid 1970s. His doctor suggested he put his “affairs in order.” A friend remembered that nurses at Mt. Sinai Hospital said that they “had never seen anyone as frightened of death.” Haley agreed but couldn’t explain the fear.
I guess it was appropriate then that he died on St. Patrick’s Day and live to the age of 88.
 
Haley, who became a friend and sometimes lunch companion, loved to be recognized in public years after he had left WKYC-TV. He was the only one known by a waitress at Alvie’s in company with other media people. He had not been to the restaurant in years, favoring the old Pat Joyce’s near the WKYC offices on East 6th Street. He was greeted there as a celebrity.
Haley left WKYC angry with the way he was discarded after long years of service. His job had been saved several times previously by his union. It was the station that lost, not Tom.
 
Haley, among other duties, hosted a Sunday religious show where his tough questioning revealed a strong desire to get at the truth. He hosted the “Sunday Magazine” for a time.
 
He could be a tough questioner and sometimes a perverse tease.
“I’ll betcha you don’t know whose birthday it is today?” Haley pointedly asked a woman who did biting feminist commentaries for the Sunday show. She had just rated Haley as “regressive” on her men’s liberation scale.
 
He stumped her. “Susan B. Anthony,” he triumphantly enjoying his one-upmanship.
“And I’ll bet you don’t know what the “B” in Susan B. Anthony stands for,” he said, continuing the baiting and stumping her again. She wanted the segment snipped from the show but it remained.
 
I wrote in a 1976 profile of Haley: “The little exchange provides a glimpse of Haley’s forthright style; because of this, he’s probably the best, and certainly the sincerest interviewer in local broadcasting. Yet with more than 30 years in Cleveland broadcasting, he remains relatively unknown as TV personalities go.”
“Haley doesn’t have the agreeable style of Fred Griffith, who appears to side with all his “Morning Exchange” guests; or the unpredictable stance of a Dorothy Fuldheim, who is as likely to condemn as commend, depending upon whim.
 
One station manager wanted Haley to be a nightly commentator. “He’s a light under a bushel,” said Dick Lobo, then news director. Lobo felt Haley could be a modern day Will Rogers with slice of life pieces on the nightly show.
 
Haley refused. He said the change would destroy his reputation of neutrality. Besides, he said, “Who gives a damn what I think?”
 
Haley, born in Brooklyn, N. Y., spent most the years from six to 18 in conservative Catholic boarding schools in New York State.
 
“It is thus not surprising,” I wrote, “that Haley describes himself as an idealist and that principles, as he sees them, make a great difference in what he will and won’t do. ‘I’m an idealist. I don’t put money first,’” he said.
 
He turned down a TV job for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company because it would require he speak fondly of nuclear power. He didn’t believe in nuclear power and refused to do commercials for CEI. “It would compromise the position I have,” he said.
 
He got his start in broadcasting in the 1940s when he had a $75 a week job as a secretary to a wealthy New Yorker. He quit for a $15 a week job as an NBC page boy, an entry into broadcasting.
 
He came to Cleveland in 1944 and promptly lost his first broadcast job because of his “Irish temper,” he said. He had been told his broadcast delivery was weak that day and told his critic to “shove it.” He was informed that his remark was unacceptable and he had to apologize. Instead, he walked away, leaving his paycheck. Luckily for him, he got an offer as an announcer at Channel 3, WKYC, before he left town.
 
Haley worked out of a small office at WKYC that one friend called “a torture chamber;” another called it “pathetic,” and when I wanted to see it Tom let it be known he didn’t permit visitors.
 
“I really try as a human being to look for the truth,” he said of his interviewing style, “because I know that somewhere there is truth.”
 
He did admit that he was less than probing when he interviewed the late Bishop Clarence Issenmann, former Catholic Bishop of Cleveland. The Bishop gave few public interviews, I wrote, and was an imposing figure. He appeared in full church regalia for the show. Haley admitted that a critic’s assessment that he had “bowed and scraped” was correct. Not something many would admit.
 
“Clergy are the toughest people to get to tell the truth in public,” Haley said.
 
“He seems to have a genuine interest in his subjects,” said one viewer and the questions he asks show it. The questions aren’t for his self-aggrandizement… They reflect the curiosity of someone who is really interested. He doesn’t come across as though he’s concerned about his image. I’m sure he is, but it doesn’t show.”
 
 Cy Brief, former director of the American Jewish Committee, said, “The religious community just loves him. Tom is sensitive to people and warm without being effusive. He puts you at ease even though he’s going to zing you and you know it.”
 
Surprisingly, Haley said that he often got letters that started with “If you were a Catholic you would never have asked…
 
Tom actually was lucky he was forced out when he was.
We don’t have anyone on television today of his ilk and I don’t think we will ever have again. The local media has become too phony for someone as real as Haley. It’s not real. It’s show biz.
 
 
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My Irish side

  This is sad news, but really a life well lived.  I never fit in with either side of my family.  Tom Haley was a part of the Irish side.  My father and his Ignatius friends and their extended network of St. Christopher folks, Bill Millson and that crowd.  Cleveland media doesn't really produce such strong characters anymore.