by Anne Youngclaus Stratton, Class of 1964
In January 1961, while I was a freshman at Vassar College studying frantically for my first college exams, and truly frightened that I might flunk out, I got a message from someone official on the Vassar College staff inviting me to come to her office. Once it was clear that I was not about to lose my financial aid, I was still nervous. What would the public relations department want with me?
As a part of Vassar College’s centennial celebrations, the PR person (I wish I could remember her name) informed me that four students, one from each class, had been selected to be on the NBC’s The Today Show (with Dave Garroway, the original host).
I was going to be driven to New York City! And back. And be on live television! Me, little Annie Youngclaus from Elm Grove, Wisconsin.
This was BIG TIME!
The limo picked us up early on the morning of the broadcast. The driver, Harry Brickman, known to all as simply “Harry,” was famous around campus for being an entertaining and reliable ride to and from the train station.
In the back seat we introduced ourselves to each other. The senior was Susan B. Anthony ‘61, a relative of the suffragette. The junior was Mead Bridgers ‘62. The sophomore was Kate Sides ‘63. I am sure we were all very excited and nervous.
At Radio City, a Vassar alum met our limo and led us up to the studio. (I can’t remember her name, either, or what her connection to NBC was.) We were ushered into a very small, dark room where we could watch the show.
And there was Dave Garroway, looking relaxed enough to be sitting in someone’s kitchen sipping coffee, chatting with his guests and making jokes. Next to him was Beryl Pfizer, one of a string of Today “Girls.”
The first guest was Bruce Catton, the prolific and popular Pulitzer prize-winning historian whose latest book on the American Civil War was about to come out. One of the other Vassar girls was excited that we might be able to meet him. Did we? I don’t remember.
Floyd Patterson was charming and handsome. He may have appeared in his boxing uniform; at least that’s how I picture him. He and Ingemar Johansson were about to face each other again for the World Championship title.
According to NBC records there was a singer on the show that day too, but I have no recollection of her. [That person was Meg Welles, a Welch singer of Medieval and Elizabethan music.]
However, I’ll never forget Zero Mostel [who appeared toward the end of the program, after the four young Vassar women]. He was starring in Rhinoceros, a hit show on Broadway that winter. Dave asked him to roar the way he did every night in the show, which he did–loudly enough to make me shiver.
And then we were on, lined up in order, freshman to senior, left to right as you looked at the TV screen. I think Dave asked most of the questions. Susan Anthony explained her relationship to her namesake. I can’t remember what Mead or Kate spoke about, only that I was impressed with their composure and eloquence.
I wince when I remember part of what I said. You have to understand the time. It was 1961. Most women who worked did not have “careers.” They did not go into “business.” They were not lawyers. They were not physicians.
Either Beryl or Dave asked me why someone from Wisconsin would choose to attend faraway Vassar College. I said I thought it was important for a woman to get an excellent education so she could be a good mother and help her husband. I think I added something about a woman working so her husband could go back to school for another degree.
Then it was over. Back on campus my buddies welcomed me with cheers. They had even decorated the dorm room door with paper stars with my name on them. My parents called. My brother called. Lots of people wrote me letters saying they had seen me on TV and were proud of me.
Me, little Annie Youngclaus from Elm Grove, Wisconsin!
P.S. No one ever explained how we were chosen to be on the show. Since the other three were from the East Coast, however, I assumed the “powers that be” decided to include someone from the middle of the country. I have always suspected my Midwestern roots were also the reason I was accepted at Vassar. I guess you could say I owe suburban Elm Grove for my exciting live TV experience and for a wonderful education.