Four weeks into their internships, the Temple University students were getting a pep talk from their professor.
“You’re at the point now where pleasantly aggressive comes into it,” he told them. “If you’re not getting to do … what you want to do, you’re not being aggressive enough. You’ve got to make yourself known.”
It’s the kind of straightforward advice that Lew Klein has been giving students for a long, long time.
But it’s not just his words that serve as a lesson. It’s his life.
The Philadelphia broadcasting legend started his collegiate tutelage before he helped to launch the careers of NBC anchor Matt Lauer and Dick Clark; before he served as executive producer of American Bandstand, the show that turned Philadelphia teenagers dancing into a national trendsetting phenomenon; before he helped start Channel 6’s Action News format; and before he and W. Carter Merbreier sat down over fried oysters and cocktails and thought up Captain Noah and His Magical Ark.
All but one of these roles are in the rear-view mirror now for Klein, 89.
Temple is not.
For 65 years — as long as he’s been married — Klein has been an adjunct professor at Temple’s School of Media and Communication, which next month will bear his name.
Klein started in 1952 when he was producer/director of WFIL-TV, now WPVI Channel 6. What’s kept him on campus?
“Seeing the students and seeing how successful some of them are,” he said. “There’s always a handful that stand out. First class, you can tell.”
He could tell with Bernie Prazenica, now president and general manager of WPVI.
He could tell with Steve Capus, executive producer of CBS Evening News. And David Brenner, comedian. Merrill Reese, Philadelphia Eagles radio announcer. Marc M. Rayfield, senior vice president of CBS Radio in New York. And Bob Saget, actor on Full House and host of America's Funniest Home Videos, who will emcee the Lew Klein naming ceremony March 29.
On Monday, Klein faced another group of undergrads, who listened attentively and clapped when he finished his lecture.
“He tells you how it is,” said Alyssa Jerome, a senior from Freehold, N.J., “not crushing your dreams, but like if you’re not going to work for it, nothing will happen.”
During class, Jerome told Klein she was disappointed she hadn’t been able to go out on a story with a news crew from Fox 29, where she began interning last month.
“Did you go up to see Dennis?” he asked her, referring to station manager Dennis Bianchi.
“Not yet,” Jerome said.
“Ohhh, I told you,” he said, reminding her of his previous advice. “If they see you walking across the newsroom with Dennis on your arm, that may solve the problem.”
“All right! I’ll make it happen,” Jerome said.
The Cheltenham High grad got his start in television, then a fledgling enterprise, when he was still an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and performed commercials for Dutch Boy paints, using a marionette he had made in summer camp.
He showed a picture from 1948 with a young, dashing version of himself operating the marionette. Fun fact: The weatherman in the picture with him was the late Ed Felbin (stage name Frank Ford), husband of former District Attorney Lynne Abraham.
Klein still has the head of that marionette sitting on a shelf in his den.
He’s given a lot of advice over the years, like the time Matt Lauer, still a student at Ohio University, got a job offer from a television station and was torn on whether to finish school or take the job.
“Take the job,” Klein advised.
One person who didn’t need advice, he said, was Dick Clark. Klein recalled how Clark impressed him during an interview.
“We gave him some scripts, and said look them over. … About five minutes later, literally, he came into the control room and said I’m ready,” Klein said.
Clark, Klein said, had taped the script, then using a pedal-operated recorder played it back through a wire that fed into his ear, repeating his words as he heard them.
“We were amazed, and he got the job,” Klein said.
Klein also was amazed how American Bandstand caught on around the country, giving rise to new styles and trends.
“Most of the girls on the show came from West Catholic High School,” he said. “As soon as school was over, they would run around the corner and come into the studio. The sisters at the school did not want the kids appearing on the show in the uniform. So the girls would take sweaters to school and put them on as soon as school was over. It left a little Peter Pan collar from their uniform. That became the phenomena of what girls wore across the country.”
He still marvels how Captain Noah came about.
For six months, Merbreier, a Lutheran minister, all but stalked Klein, asking him to host a show.
“So we went to the Union League,” he said. “We had a couple of cocktails. We had fried oysters and we came away with Captain Noah.”
The show ran 27 years.
Klein began at Temple before it had a communication school. He was one of a handful of adjuncts who taught a few courses in radio and TV out of the business school. The weekend anchor at WFIL had asked him to keep an eye on Temple students when they visited the station. Soon he was lecturing on campus.
“I just remember being completely impressed,” said Prazenica, “that we would get a chance to listen to and be taught by someone who literally did all the things that I had hoped to do some day.”
Rayfield, also a former student, said he may not have gone to college if it weren’t for Klein. His parents were divorced, and he wasn’t sure he’d have the money. Klein helped him get financial aid.
“There’s a lot of people in the media business who might otherwise be digging ditches if it wasn’t for Lew Klein,” he said, gazing at a picture of himself and Klein in his office.
The connections between Temple and Klein are many. Klein, who lives with his wife, Janet, in Abington, comes to campus three or four times a month. He chairs the communication school’s advisory board.
Scholarships in his name are awarded to media/communication students annually.
“Students travel around the world and have internships because of Lew,” said Betsy Tutelman, who has been co-teaching with Klein for 33 years.
He donated his archives, all 23 boxes, to Temple in 2012, including: a photo from Dick Clark’s 30th birthday party, with Klein standing between Fabian and Chubby Checker. Photos with legendary Phillies, including Mike Schmidt and Tim McCarver (for 14 years, Klein oversaw telecasts of Phillies games.) Photos of Klein posing with Presidents Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy. (He once gave Kennedy a ride in his station wagon.)
Temple named a 1,200-seat hall in its performing arts center for Klein, and in 2001, it started the Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Awards. Distinguished alumni and other entertainers, including Tina Fey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lauer, have been recognized.
Temple announced last month that the school would be named for Klein, who provided a multimillion-dollar gift. It was the same day that Klein received the lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Television Program Executives, which he cofounded.
Klein remains humble and grateful for the honor.
“To me, it was so amazing that it would ever happen,” he said.
He has no thought of retiring from teaching. The internship class isn’t a heavy lift; it meets four times a semester.
That’s enough to leave students, like Jerome, with a lasting impression.
The day after class, Jerome took Klein’s advice. She met Bianchi, the Channel 29 executive.
Bianchi’s face lit up when she mentioned Klein’s name, she said. “You did the right thing,” Bianchi told her.