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WASHINGTON, D.C., USA: Rosa Parks as she appears moments after being presented with a resolution awarding her the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol June, 1999 Rotunda, UPI rw/Ricardo Watson
Marian Etoile Watson: Casting Caution to the Wind
By Deardra Shuler *3-05

Negroes, sweet, docile and kind. Beware the day they change their mind. Wind in the cotton field, gentle breeze. Beware the day it uproots trees"Langston Hughes

Marian Etoile Watson sat leisurely in an office at Fox 5 discussing her life and career. There is no doubt the lady is a woman of wit, charm, and indeed someone who clearly knows her own mind and is unafraid to speak it. A doyenne of the network, Watson presently works at Fox 5’s sister station WWOR/UPN9 as their entertainment correspondent. Well known in cultural circles, Watson has spent the last 37 years hosting shows and covering events whether Broadway openings, film premieres, Hollywood award shows, celebrity interviews, galas, and traveling nationally and internationally to meet and greet the stars of tomorrow and yesteryear.
In fact, "Etoile" her nickname, means star, so, is it any wonder she chose a career documenting the multi burning filaments of renown.

Marian was adopted at 15 days old by the Watson family. Her father Dr. John Brown (born in 1869, the same year as W.E. B. Dubois) and her mother Hattie Rutherford Watson (already 55 years old by the time she adopted Marian) raised Marian in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and were the true parents of Marian’s life and love. Her father was a first generation freed black man. Her parents couldn’t have been more different. Both parents were educated; her mother at Spelman and her father at Brown University. He became the president of two institutions of higher learning: Leland College in Baton Rouges, LA and A.M. & N which is currently the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Her mother was of the genteel sort while her father was more of a diamond in the rough sort. He kept a gun on campus and was known to pull out his Winchester .22 or Colt .45 on those occasions when it became necessary to face down white supremacist. Thus, Marian grew up with the courage and spunk of her father and the refined ways of her mother. Music especially held her interest. "I began singing when I was knee high to a grasshopper," claimed Watson. "My first professional experience was at age 10 when I sang for Toscanini. In fact, classical music is what brought me to New York and the prestigious Juilliard School of Music."

While many a black folk claim their vocal/religious beginnings in church, Marian received her religious education on campus from her Drama teacher. Most of the churches in the South were segregated during her youth as was the Catholic Church she attended. "It was a cerebral environment all the way around for me. My mother taught me the social graces. She was very coquettish and Victorian and knew the art of fan language. The artful way my mother waived a fan definitely defined what she was thinking and had a social language all its own," said the bemused interviewer."

Marian was working for the UN and performing in shows like "Hair" and "Hello Dolly," when in 1968, she was hand picked to work at the news station. "Actually, Robert Kennedy was responsible for the first black show in the U.S.A," explained the occasional performer and news personage. "That show turned out to be "Inside Bedford Stuyvesant" with Roxie Roker. Roker is Lenny Kravitz’s mom and is best known for her appearance on "The Jeffersons." Kennedy had an association with the BedStuy Restoration Corporation at the time which was dedicated to improving Brooklyn, which 37 years ago was like a war-torn area. Mr. Kennedy thought it would be a good idea to show what Black folks were doing in their communities and feature it on television. He peddled the idea to every station around. Finally, Larry Frayber of Metromedia (Channel 5) said I will take the show. They hired Joseph Dennis, who was an actor who worked with one of the Kennedy children in desensitizing white corporate America. I had no news background when they brought me in to be the first host of Good Day New York. Initially, I thought I was only going to work at the network for 13 weeks," claimed Watson. However, 37 years later she is still part of the Fox 5/UPN9 family.

There have been three independently owned television stations at 205 East 67th Street; Dumont, Metromedia (owned by John Kluge) and Fox 5 (owned by Rupert Murdoch). "Ian Rae, Peter Brennan, and Bob Young were Rupert Murdoch’s point men. They came into the station to give it its Fox signature. They started with the volatile program "A Current Affair." Prior to working under the Aussies, interviewers used the cinema veritae style of the camera shot over the shoulder. But by 1988, when Watson was the studio host of "Good Day New York" the camera shot reporters from top to bottom. "The fact I was handpicked by this small body of Murdoch point men to be the first host of Good Day New York was an anomaly. In 1988, no one would ever have thought that my peculiarity would suit Fox. But Fox wasn’t looking for reporters they were looking for personalities. They sought out people who were open to challenge and even the unknown. At that time, that sort of thing was rare for television. "A Current Affair" was an edgy program back then. Now, years later, plans are in the works to bring back the "A Current Affair" program" continued Marian.

"I have a rebel spirit and I love it" claimed the feisty interviewer. "I don’t like lies nor do I like being a participant in someone’s folly. I hate the word minorities because we as a people have gone through so many psychological operations. At what point are we going to stop! We’ve called ourselves African Americans, Black, Negro and colored. It was Negro with a small "n" and then Negro with a large "N." In my mother’s day it was colored and then the NAACP fought to have the "n" capitalized in Negro. I remember the era when I was campaigning for McCarthy and wore this button that said, "Black Is Beautiful." I was proud of my wild hair in those days. The social climate was so different back then. It was a time of activism. When I came to the network during that era my only credentials were that I was Black and had been in the production of Hair. I admit I am not a journalist; although, I am an excellent executioner of stories. I tell them differently. I am also the greatest shoplifter in the world. I will shoplift anyone’s idea. Every time I hear something I like, I write it down with the idea I may use it later. Primarily, music is the source of my explosion. I have used time and meter to create substance in the way I report. Speaking of music, I sing every year with an all Italian speaking troubadour company that travels throughout Europe. I’ve even sang at the Apollo Theatre when "Good Day New York" decided to do a show there. Newscaster Jim Ryan played the ukulele and sang an Irish ditty as well," chuckled the correspondent. "I have interviewed many people in my life and I can say that I have been excited about everyone I have interviewed. However, I can’t say I have been impressed particularly by celebrity. I can say I have been daunted. The very first celebrity I interviewed was Marlon Brando. You know every reporter is their own producer. During the beginning of my tenure we produced every black special that aired like "Black Dreams for a New World," which was a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. I was a co-producer and one of the original authors of the show "Black News." Donald Bogle who is an esteem film historian was involved in the production. His latest book is "Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood." His first book was "Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films." Bogle has written many anthologies and detailed historical facts on Black Hollywood.

Watson was a co-executive producer of the Billy Dee Williams hosted PBS series "Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America’s Black Female Superstars" in the late 1980’s. The series was based on 80 years of black female superstars going all the way back to Ma Rainey and up to Ruth Brown. "Ruth put Atlantic Records on the map" recalled Marian. "Ruth is something else! She won a Tony for her song: "If I Can’t Sell It, I Got To Sit Down On It." These days, Ruth, has leg problems, so she really does have to sit down on it if she’s gonna sell it. I love people like Ruth and Eartha Kitt, who is a real diva. Eartha parts the air when she walks and so does Rita Moreno. My mother loved Lena Horne. Lena is my godmother and I was named for Marian Anderson. My mother was one to live in the metaphor. My father was someone who didn’t believe in group bargaining or compromise. He was of a singular persuasion and maybe that is why I am a solo player. I never want to be viewed as a collective. This era is too sanitized. Anytime someone gets bent out of shape because someone lights up a cigarette, then you are on your way to becoming a Marxist. This country has become so cyclical. It’s the Eisenhower era all over again," notes Watson.

Watson owns a ranch in Nashville, Tenn., where she raises horses and is an excellent riflewoman.

"Experience anything your heart desires. That is what I believe. My mother used to say to me: "Don’t be so concerned about the immediacy of yesteryear. Look at your face, it belongs to a millennium of time" and that is the way I feel, too."

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