When Ray Gandolf leaves for work it is dark. A taxi, unimpeded by traffic, whisks him down 40 blocks on Manhattan's West Side, coming to a halt outside the low, red brick building that houses CBS' New York studios. The security guards duly note Gandolf's arrival and watch him disappear through twisting corridors to Room IE-32-E. Seven phones, four desks, three clicking wire-service machines and seven typewriters await him and the other four staffers who write the CBS Morning News. It is 2:30 a.m. when Gandolf begins sorting through piles of scores and stories of sports events that ended while he was asleep. In five hours Gandolf will distill this material into the only nationally televised daily sports report. Then he will go on camera to read his five-minute script.
Gandolf, 46, began his double-faceted job of writing and broadcasting in May 1974, when Morning News anchorman Hughes Rudd abruptly refused to read the sports report. Gandolf, who had written for the show for 11 years, specializing in sports for the last two, stepped into the breach.
"I find sports no more exciting than the Punic Wars," says Rudd. "If the teleprompter breaks, as it frequently does, and I'm reporting on Jimmy Carter, I can wing it. With sports I am completely lost." (Not as completely as his former colleague, Sally Quinn, who once read a baseball score as "Cuba 3, Mets 2.") Following a 13-week, on-air trial, Gandolf became the permanent morning sports-caster.
Aspiring to become an actor, Gandolf, a native of Norwalk, Ohio, came to New York in 1954. In between auditions he met and married an actress, Blanche Cholet. Since his graduation from Northwestern in 1951, he had appeared in plays like Stalag 17 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in places like Irwin, Pa. and Holyoke, Mass. When those credits failed to impress New York directors, he signed with the local CBS affiliate to write documentaries.
February 14, 1977
"With his acting background, I knew being on camera would present no problem for Ray," says Rudd. "And he was already the best sportswriter in television."
"I came cheap," is how Gandolf explains his sudden appearance on TV screens across America.
Whatever, every weekday morning at 7:25 Eastern time the bearded, bushy-browed Gandolf reports sports to an audience of millions. Unlike local sportscasters, who assume their viewers are most interested in the local teams, Gandolf, whose audience includes fans of every team, must be non-partisan. To that end, he has developed a relaxed, even-handed style that one critic has described as a "combination of Red Smith and Lord Byron."
CBS correspondent Charles Osgood says, "Gandolf has a novel way of presenting the scores, saying them in a witty way that gives people something to laugh about early in the morning." On Monday mornings in the fall, Osgood contributes a share of whimsy himself by composing poetry to accompany the weekend football clips. He also substitutes when Gandolf is on vacation. That's the only time Gandolf needs a stand-in, because he never leaves New York on an assignment.
"I hate traveling and treasure my distance from sporting events," he says. "It allows me to say whatever I want. I try very hard to be a fan, not an expert, and I consider myself a writer about sports, not somebody covering an event." In his stead, Associate Producer Ed Freedman tours the country, tracking down stories and assigning affiliates to film players, game action and such sports-related subjects as betting for the 1½-minute sports feature that appears each morning.
By the time Freedman arrives at CBS, Gandolf has already finished work and gone home. They communicate by note or phone to decide on stories, some of which range far afield from big-league sports. Three years ago the Morning News reported on Silk Stockings' first harness race at Brandywine and, in the process, told the story of her owner, the Au Clair School for autistic children in Bear, Del. Since then the pacer has earned more than $500,000 for the school. On another occasion, Gandolf did a report on Cleveland semipro football underneath the lights—car headlights.
At Gandolf's home the only reports are about his naps. "Is Poppy up? Is Poppy sleeping?" are his children's two favorite questions. If it's between noon and 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., Poppy is likely to be sleeping. "The only rule in our house is that everyone must be free for dinner at seven," says Blanche, who claims the family is so accustomed to her husband's hours that no one bothers to tiptoe past his door anymore.
One recent afternoon, while he was asleep, the kids were upstairs playing a guessing game with friends who live in an identical apartment. The object was to name something common to both apartments. The clue Gandolf's children gave was "Yours works, ours doesn't." (The answer: the safe.) The neighbors' response: "Father."
"The next day we took those kids to the studio to convince them Ray really does have a job," says Blanche.
And it's one Gandolf enjoys. "I've been working overnight all my life," he says. "I don't know any working hours except these." By the time Gandolf has appeared on more than 120 stations across the country, the sun has risen in New York. Commuters stream past the morning shift of security guards. During his cab ride home, Gandolf is certain to get snarled in traffic. His work is over, but because of him, those whose day is just beginning already know the scores.