Reporting an eclipse of the sun from the jungles of Brazil, giving listeners a tense description of the state-by-state returns during a hotly contested presidential election, commentating with quiet dignity on the next selection of the NBC Symphony orchestra, bringing the theatre into your own living rooms each weekday morning on his WNBT Footlights and Klieglights program and covering the news wherever and whenever it happens is the day-by-day job of Ben Grauer, one of the most popular and busy personalities in radio and television.
People in the broadcasting business have stopped wondering "how he does it." They just expect Ben to have an inexhaustible supply of energy and he has never given them any reason to believe otherwise. But, like any other active person, Ben has his hobbies to provide him with badly needed relaxation. He is an ardent book collector and lists archeology as his number two hobby, placing special emphasis on the culture of the ancient Maya. One need only step across the threshold of Grauer's bachelor apartment in midtown Manhattan to see samples of his collections.
His walls are lined with well-filled bookcases and shadow boxes holding some pieces of Mayan handiwork. In fact, his library became so space consuming that he had to talk the management of his hotel into renting him an unused electric closet for additional storage.
Browsing through the Grauer library, you will see rare first editions, books on games of all descriptions and a goodly number of foreign language volumes. Since he makes his livelihood through the use of words, the study of word derivations is Grauer's pet hobby. His most prized edition is one of the 12 existing copies of the first dictionary printed in the Western Hemisphere, Molina's Diccionario, published in Mexico in 1555. He also has a first edition of Webster's Dictionary bearing the publication date of 1828.
In a slightly lighter vein, Grauer collects jokebooks and volumes on the origin of slang terms. His oldest book in this line is the first dictionary of slang ever printed in the English language titled New Dictionary of the Canting Crew, published in London in 1695. He proudly displays a third edition of Joe Miller's jokebook, which is considered a collector's item.
Although his interest in book collecting and word origins dates back as far as his school days, Grauer first discovered the fascination of archeology as a direct result of his NBC work. He was sent to Mexico on an assignment in 1940 and he has been south of the border six or eight times since then for both business and pleasure.
During these trips he developed a great curiosity about the culture of the Maya and Olmec tribes. He has participated in two exploratory expeditions to Mexico and Panama as guest of Mathew Stirling of the Smithsonian Institute. The Mexican expedition made an important contribution to archeology by finding the largest sculptured stone head as yet unearthed.
Grauer takes great pains to explain that he had nothing to do with this discovery: "It was wonderful of Dr. Stirling to allow me to come along."
When asked if book collecting had ever produced an unusual anecdote, Ben thought a bit and then smilingly came up with this one. In 1946 he was appearing as co-emcee on an NBC-BBC program titled Atlantic Spotlight, in which Leslie Mitchell interviewed personalities in London and then switched to Grauer conducting interviews in New York. While visiting London a few months after the series was concluded, Ben was hunting through the book shops at Charing Cross Road and his voice was recognized no less than three times in an hour by various shopkeepers as "that American chap who chats with Mitchell on the wireless each week."
In his 16 years in radio, Ben has never once been recognized by his public in America. Now what is that old story about a prophet being without honor in his own land?
From Radio Television Mirror, September 1951
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