Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Brush with Peter and Kati

Another celebrity encounter — after my days at Finch...
It was really raining. I was headed downtown from 83rd between First and York. I was trying to hail a cab. So was another couple and neither of us was having any luck. The guy looked familiar and then I realized it was a newscaster but I couldn’t remember his name — it wasn't Tom Brokaw and it wasn’t Brian Williams but he was handsome and distinguished and — even though he was on the nightly news, I still couldn't think of his name

I decided to walk down to the corner and see if I could hail anyone on York. After a few minutes a cab pulled up, someone got out, and I got in, finally out of the pouring rain. I had him turn on 83rd when I saw the couple walking toward First.

“Slow down," I told t
he driver of the big Checker cab I'd managed to snag, "we’re going to pick these people up.”  I rolled down the window. 

“Hey get in!" 
I called out, "I’ll give you a ride.”  They looked at each other briefly before deciding to climb in. 

“Well, thank you, this is quite nice of you,” he said unbuttoning his trench coat and brushing the wet hair out of his eyes.

“Where are you two going? I’m headed downtown
 — we'll drop you.” 

I think they said 71st and Park so that’s where the driver headed.

“We’ve been looking at coops in this neighborhood,” he said. “What do you think of the area?  Do you live here?”

“No, but I work on the block
 — it's a great neighborhood — filled with Germans, Ukrainians, Hungarians. Very ethnic and wonderful.” 

“My wife doesn’t think so.  She’s worried those kind of people will be dirty…” he trailed off.

“Are you kidding?  
It’s not dirty at all — these Hungarians are out every day sweeping the sidewalk, cleaning the steps — they really take pride in their place!"  I said emphatically. It bothered me to hear such prejudice.  Didn't fit with my expectation of who they were.

And then they both started laughing. “My wife is Hungarian,” he explained.

“And I’m happy to hear you have such a good view of the Hungarians who live here!” she smiled warmly. “Peter, you really shouldn’t have!” was Peter Jennings!

“This is my wife Kati and I’m Peter.”

“I know that,” I said (untruthfully). “Hello, nice to meet you," and we continued to chat until the driver pulled up to the building they wanted.  When Peter tried to give me money toward the fare, I shook my head. “This is on the company,” and off they went to their coop board meeting, waving goodbye.

Peter Jennings and Kati Marton. Talk about a power couple. Kati had just completed her first book on Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman and diplomat who engineered the rescue of perhaps 100,000 Hungarian Jews after the Nazis occupied their country. A truly heroic man,  
Wallenberg was “detained” in January 1945 by the Soviets after they liberated Hungary — and was never seen again. The date and circumstances of his death remain a mystery.

I bought the book and read it cover to cover.  Then I wrote Kati (typed on a typewriter) a letter and sent it to ABC News c/o Peter Jennings. Within a few weeks I got her reply and we began corresponding sporadically for a few months. All these years later, I don't recall what we wrote, but I was thrilled she took the time to respond.

Then one afternoon, when my boyfriend Christopher was at his local D'Agostino's getting some groceries, who was on the checkout line but — Peter Jennings!

"Hey, you're Peter Jennings!  I watch you...a while back my girlfriend gave you and your wife a cab ride!"
"You mean Melanie?" he asked.

"YEAH!" said Christopher, startled but all smiles, as they chatted briefly about Peter being home with his kids who had chicken pox or mumps or some other childhood illness  but Christopher had a hard time listening because he couldn't wait to get back to his apartment and call to tell me.

Guess I made an impression.


  1. Hey! I remember when this happened. It was so exciting!! And it still is exciting to hear it all over again. Thanks!

  2. The book by Kati Marton on Roaul Wallenberg sounds like a good one...what is the title? I am reading a book now along the same theme...."Bonhoeffer" which is the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here is the summary of the book on Amazon.....
    "From the New York Times bestselling author of Amazing Grace, this is a groundbreaking biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century, the man who stood up to Hitler. A definitive, deeply moving narrative, Bonhoeffer is a story of moral courage in the face of the monstrous evil that was Nazism."
    It's a little slow moving at first, but another good read about a great man who made a difference during a very sad period of history.

    1. The title of the book is simply "Wallenberg" and I think it's a good read...I'll check out Bonhoeffer..thanks GeeGee!