Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Richard Heffner Aug. 5, 1925 - Dec. 17, 2013 Headed Film-Rating Board, Host of PBS Show 'Open Mind'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Richard Heffner Aug. 5, 1925 - Dec. 17, 2013 Headed Film-Rating Board, Host of PBS Show 'Open Mind'

Article excerpt

Richard D. Heffner, a historian, educator and broadcaster who was the longtime host of "The Open Mind," the venerable current-affairs program on public television, and who also spent two decades as chairman of the motion picture industry's film-ratings board, died Tuesday in New York City. He was 88.

The cause was a cerebral hemorrhage, his wife, Elaine, said.

As a historian, Mr. Heffner was widely known for his book "A Documentary History of the United States." First published in 1952 and now in its eighth edition, it presents many of the seminal documents of American history, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Marshall Plan, with Mr. Heffner's commentary.

As an educator, Mr. Heffner was on the faculty of Rutgers University, where he had taught continuously since 1964. At his death he was university professor of communications and public policy there.

As a broadcaster, he was associated for more than half a century with "The Open Mind," a half-hour program broadcast each Saturday on PBS stations around the country. Mr. Heffner conceived the program, was its producer and hosted the vast majority of episodes from its inception in 1956 to the end of his life.

"The Open Mind" made its debut on WRCA-TV, then the NBC affiliate in New York. It stayed with the network after WRCA became WNBC-TV, moving to Channel 13 in 1966.

From the beginning, the program was praised by critics for the level of its discourse, the quality of its guests and the willingness of Mr. Heffner to take on freighted subjects.

Among the topics the program tackled in its earliest days were homosexuality, alcoholism, McCarthyism, segregation and anti- Semitism. Guests over the years included Elie Wiesel, Margaret Mead, William F. Buckley Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Gloria Steinem, Edward I. Koch, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

In 1974, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, asked Mr. Heffner to become the sixth chairman of the association's Classifications and Ratings Administration, which assigned ratings -- then P, PG, R and X -- to hundreds of films each year. …

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