Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mort Crim talks about his influence on Will Ferrell for Ron Burgundy

Many people in Metro Detroit remember WDIV-TV (Channel 4) alumnus Mort Crim reporting the news.

Recently, Crim, 78, has become the news.

Actor/comedian Will Ferrell stated in numerous interviews how Crim inspired his alter-ego Ron Burgundy, the eponymous character of 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” opening today.

Crim has been interviewed by USAToday, Rolling Stone, CNN, Inside Edition, and — of course — Channel 4.

“I’ve stopped keeping count,” said Crim, Channel 4’s lead anchor from 1978-97, who resided in Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe and now lives in Jacksonville, Fla.

Crim clarified how he influenced Burgundy. For starters, Crim didn’t read the tele-prompter like Burgundy. Nor was he a narcissistic, egotistical, chauvinistic, womanizing alcoholic like Burgundy.

Asked what he does have in common with Burgundy, Crim replied with a laugh: “I’d like to think not much at all … People ask me if I take any offense when (Ferrell) says I was the inspiration. Not at all. First of all, he’s talking about a situation that merely sparked the idea for the movie. I don’t think he was patterning his own anchor style after me. It’s satire, it’s a comedy, it’s a parody — and I love that as much as anybody … I think there’s nothing funnier than good satire and there’s certainly plenty in our business to be parodied. I liked the movie.”

Ferrell saw a documentary where Crim spoke about the late Jessica Savitch, who broke the glass ceiling in broadcast journalism in the 1970s and became an anchor at a time when it was a male-dominated field (Savitch was portrayed by Sela Ward in the 1995 tele-film “Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story”). Crim and Savitch co-anchored the news on KYW-TV in Philadelphia. In the documentary, Crim stated he wasn’t nice to Savitch at first and called himself as a “real male chauvinist pig.”

“I don’t think I used the word ‘pig.’ I think (Ferrell) added that. I have to go back and listen. Maybe I did it just as a figure of speech. I thought a lot about that and I think the resentment and resistance towards Jessica wasn’t really chauvinism. Even back in those days when women were joining the work-force, I was an ardent feminist. I really supported the idea of my daughter being able to grow up and do what she wanted to do…” explained Crim.

He continued: “We felt here was a 25-year-old young woman with limited experience, and (the producers are) bringing her in and plopping here down in a major market anchor position next to guys who’d been doing this for 15 years or longer with all kinds of experience and credentials. We might have been a little snobbish. But I do think we felt she was only being brought in because she looked good on camera … so I think that got interpreted as chauvinism. It’s like is it possible for somebody to oppose President Obama without being a racist? You know there’s other issues involved besides the color of his skin. I think there are other reasons that we may have been resistant to Jessica coming in other than the fact she was a woman.”

However, Crim leapt this hurdle quickly.

“After it was determined she would be sitting at the anchor desk with me, I took her out to dinner and said, ‘Jessica, you know this was not my choice, not my preference, but you’re gonna be on the air with me and I want you know that I will be supporting you in every possible way because I think it’s important that we succeed as a team. Your success is gonna be mine and mine’s gonna be yours.’ So we started out on that basis and all of our team developed a very tight friendship with her — we got to be known throughout the industry as the Camelot team and sometimes the dream team.”

Savitch died in a car crash in 1983. Her mother asked Crim to deliver the eulogy at the funeral because Savitch “considered (Crim) a very valued friend.”

Crim is surprised at all the media attention he’s been receiving. This isn’t the first time he heard he influenced Burgundy; Ferrell mentioned Crim when the first “Anchorman” debuted.

“I think the promotion of this movie has been sterling. A lot of it is due to Ron Burgundy, but I think the promotion people at Paramount have just done a superb job of pulling out every stop and pulling every lever to get this thing some excellent publicity. They put (Ferrell as Burgundy) on a local anchor desk in North Dakota. They’ve done a fantastic job,” said Crim. “I think the revelation… the broader recognition that something I said in a documentary so many years ago has sparked the idea for this… That this has just taken off is part of the promotional push the movie is getting, and I think that’s why there’s being so much more made of it now then there was 10 years ago when he first mentioned my name.”

Ferrell’s agent asked Crim for an autographed photo.

“In (the agent’s) words, ‘We’re about to wrap up filming to Anchorman 2.’ Will is a fan of yours. We thought it would be fun at the end of filming if we presented an autographed photo you signed to him,” said Crim. “So I wrote: ‘Dear Will, you’ve almost got it — just a little more authenticity. Your friend, the real anchorman, Mort Crim.’ His agent got right back to me and said (Ferrell) loved it. I’ve seen Will in (several) interviews say he’s got the picture in his office.”

Ferrell invited Crim to Sunday’s world premiere of “Anchorman 2” in New York City. This would be the first time they’d meet in person. Ferrell has stated publicly that he’s going to greet Crim with a “big, sloppy kiss” on the mouth.

“He did not follow through with his promise to (kiss me), but if he had, I was prepared to have my wife, Renee (pronounced REE-nee), jump in between us,” said Crim, laughing. “Will seems like a very decent, down to earth guy ... no pomposity at all ... quite the opposite of the Ron Burgundy character he plays in the movie. I also met his co-writer and director, Adam McKay, who said he had lived in the Philly area and watched me when I was on KYW-TV. He then got some tapes of my shows with Jessica and showed them to Will and that was the beginning of the idea for creating (these movies). It was a great evening. I rate the movie as even better than (the first), although I enjoyed both of them immensely. The new movie does an excellent job of parodying the slide of TV news into sensationalism. One of the key lines was when Burgundy says, ‘Let’s give them what they want instead of what they need’ (referring to the audience). The post-premiere party was outstanding, as one would have expected: great food, music, and a chance to mix and mingle with the stars.”

This post was written by Kurt Anthony Krug for Digital First Media. Reprinted with permission.

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