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Jinx, Tex left mark on radio

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WASHINGTON — Jinx Falkenburg was a knockout — the most beautiful cover girl, swimming and tennis star, and USO entertainer in the world of the 1940s. She lent Rita Hayworth her nightgown to pose for the sexiest picture of the era.

Tex McCrary was a handsome and daring warrior-newsman — an editor of Hearst's Daily Mirror who, as an Army Air Corps colonel, led the first journalists into the ruins of Hiroshima.

After a torrid global romance, they teamed up on radio as "Tex and Jinx" to pioneer intelligent talk radio.

Both died a month or so ago, she at 84, he at 92; the obituary of each was written at length and with insight by The Times' Richard Severo. Because this remarkable couple hired me as a teenager to pre-interview newsmakers for their New York Herald Tribune column and WNBC programs, let me add my take on how my mentors made a difference in media and politics.

Tex taught Jinx how to coax human interest stories as well as news and views out of guests. Tex and I cooked up a list of "couch questions" to help Jinx elicit anecdotes. (The humorist Abe Burrows, asked "What was the low point of your life?", answered "I never thought about that before, but this must be it.")

Jinx, with her appealing enthusiasm, became a better interviewer than her monotonal husband. She studied the questions he told her to ask but would add her own special one-word query that trumped all research. When the prickly Indian official V.K. Krishna Menon narrowly responded to a heavy question, Jinx would would lean in, look closely into his eyes and whisper "Really?'' The cagiest diplomat would spill all.

They developed an audience that was willing to start thinking at breakfast. Tex also trained a team of reporters — Gabe Pressman, Ted Yates, Barbara Walters, Barry Farber and many less famous — who were willing to work long hours at low pay and to endure furious tongue-lashings from a demanding boss.

I made two big mistakes on one day (my low point, if anybody asks me that one). I got Joe Dimaggio's lifetime batting average wrong in one Trib column, igniting a verbal explosion from McCrary that reverberated through the ninth floor of the NBC studios. Then I admitted having also provided unchecked data about Thomas (Three Finger Brown) Lucchese, a mafia don, which could have gotten us clobbered for libel. Tex's reaction stunned us all: "Never mind; I'm supposed to spot libel."

Their media career came a-cropper when Tex's zeal for drafting Gen. Eisenhower as a GOP candidate conflicted with his role as broadcaster. When Tex zapped Sen. Robert Taft in debate, the "Tex and Jinx" show was doomed. But both McCrarys organized a Madison Square Garden rally whose kinescope of 18,000 fans singing Irving Berlin's "I Like Ike" did more than anything to bring him home from Europe to gain the 1952 nomination.

Then Tex became the most creative public relations man you ever saw. He brought one client, the homebuilder William Levitt, together with his friend Thurgood Marshall and worked out an arrangement to quietly integrate the new Levittowns. He dispatched Jinx and me to Moscow to open a client's model house at a U.S. exhibition, leading to the "kitchen debate" in 1959 between Nixon and Khrushchev. He arranged for the sale of the about-to-fold Herald Tribune to his friend Jock Whitney, thereby keeping alive at least its international edition (in which this appreciation appears).

The love affair that united Tex and Jinx cooled. They separated a generation ago, coming together for events like the 80th birthday party that the grateful "McCrary alumni" gave for Tex at the Waldorf's Peacock Alley, scene of their late-night broadcasts.

Forgive the corn, but their 1940s romance is worth recalling. Back then, Tex took a series of pictures of the beauty he loved (erotic to my youthful eyes, but respectable enough now) and pasted them in an album with selections from "This Is My Beloved," a sentimental poem by Walter Benton. Opposite Tex's photo of his bride awakening dreamily were these lines:

“The last we saw of them was when they kissed,

then beautifully naked walked as if into a sea of bright blue water —

leaving their bodies like old clothes upon the shore.”

New York Times News Service