Doug Wilson Talk and Book Signing

by Francis D. Campbell

     On October 27th, the Irvington Historical Society sponsored a “Talk and Book Signing,” held at the Irvington Library. Irvington’s own Doug Wilson, a Trustee of the Historical Society, introduced the standing-room-only audience to The World Was Our Stage: Spanning the Globe with ABC Sports, a work he recently authored with the collaboration of Jody Cohan. Among those in attendance was Doug’s wife and fellow Trustee, Betsy Griggs Wilson. Jamie Wilson, the second eldest of the three sons born to Doug and his late wife Debbie, was also there with his wife, Teresa, and their daughter Kathryn.

Doug Wilson

     Doug donned his Wide World of Sports blazer and proceeded to describe the weekly TV show that he directed for almost half a century, and that won him 17 Emmys. Taking examples from his book, he noted how the show actually did span the globe, introduce its audience to the constant variety of sport, and demonstrate the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as was claimed by anchorman Jim McKay in each weekly introduction. Working closely with producer Roone Arledge and McKay, Doug and ABC’s Wide World of Sports crew laid the foundation for TV sports coverage as seen to the present. While Doug affirms an appreciation for the technical side of directing, he notes that directing has a more important artistic side and claims that it is this side that enabled him to bring sporting events into homes as dramatic live theater.

       The sporting events covered occurred during a period of major twentieth-century technological, social and political change. So, in addition to the events themselves, readers of the book will learn of the impact of gender-related issues and terrorist activity on sports broadcasting. There are also interesting anecdotes about Muhammad Ali, Evel Knievel, Arthur Ashe, Howard Cosell, Jim McKay, and many others. Doug covered some 120 sports in 58 countries during his career. However, gymnastics and ice skating were the sports he became most identified with.

Olympic skater Elaine Zayak with Doug Wilson.

    One Olympic ice skater, Elaine Zayak, was there in the audience with her husband and son. Doug introduced her and told the very moving story of how she overcame a severed-foot injury suffered in her youth and went on to become a World Champion ice skater and Olympic competitor.
       The audience also learned of Doug’s association with athletes such as gymnast Nadia Comaneci and of how he captured on camera the artistry of virtually all of the world-class figure skaters of the last 50 years—from Peggy Fleming to Dorothy Hamill and Katarina Witt. He highlights the human side of these and others, including Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano, with a sensitivity that is especially evident in his personal dedications and epilogue.
        Peggy Fleming sums it up in her foreword to Doug’s book: “Few people have ever conceived of covering the world of sports as Doug did through his eyes and ears. He did things differently from his directing contemporaries. He didn’t just video an event. He lived in the moment with the athlete, the camera crew, the audio team, and the entire production unit. He captured the fine details and the grand energies.” Broadcast veteran and producer Donald (D.T.) Slouffman, a former colleague and friend of Doug’s, attended the talk with his wife and daughter.