20 years of Wall St. Week

The Ticker

November 15, 1990|By Julius Westheimer

After I held Beth Dater's chair so she could sit down more easily on the "Wall Street Week" TV set, I received five long-distance phone calls from people telling me that women are capable of holding their own chairs. (I still believe in manners.)

When I fouled up and answered Louis Rukeyser's opening question about options very badly, I was deluged with 150 "hate-letters" from all over the country -- mostly from brokers -- telling me I was a dummy and should know better. (When I give an average performance I usually receive three letters -- one from my granddaughter, one from my mother-in-law and another from an elderly lady wanting to know if my grandfather was from Frankfurt, Germany (yes) and whether I'm related to Dr. Ruth (no).

And when I gave a pre-set speech on a 1976 show, instead of answering Rukeyser's opening question, he later warned me that this shouldn't happen again, adding, "If you have something to say, answer my question first, then give your speech." Terrified I'd be fired, I bought a huge blackboard ($55), wrote on it 30 times, "I will always answer your question first," and shipped it ($65) to our host's Greenwich, Conn. home. We've laughed about it since.

And so it goes on "Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser," the coast-to-coast Owings Mills-based program which celebrates its 20th anniversary tomorrow from New York, 8:30 p.m., channels 22 and 67. Panelists will be veterans John Templeton and Peter Lynch. Another program of clips from previous shows airs Monday, Nov. 19, at 10 p.m., also on PBS . . . When we began on Friday, Nov. 20, 1970, the Dow Jones average stood at 761.57.

I've been a regular, happy panelist for 19 1/2 years, adrenalin coursing through my arteries many Friday nights at 8:30 as our floor director shouts, "It's show time!" and our theme music, "TWX in 12 Bars" -- never changed in two decades -- opens the program to about 10 million viewers. W$W is now seen in over 300 U.S. cities, also in Japan, Mexico and Hong Kong.

BEHIND THE SCENES: In response to inquiries about "that woman" who appears at the opening, disappears, then brings in the guest, her name is Margot Derasse, a youthful Baltimore new grandmother who for eight years has been our valuable "on-the-air hostess." . . . Rukeyser, 58, has now hosted a national TV show longer than anyone except Johnny Carson . . . He writes every word of his opening monologue, batting it out on an ancient MPT typewriter before a staffer puts it on teleprompter . . . In an interview, our host said, "Something I've discovered is that the greatest teachers of any subject through history have been great entertainers." . . . Frank Cappiello, Carter Randall and Marty Zweig get the most mail . . . Zweig is considered our "tensest" panelist, but also leads newsletter writers for best stock picks.

STATION BREAKS: When people ask what kind of man Rukeyser is, I respond, "He has qualities of an ideal boss: tough, but fair. He tells us what he wants, compliments us when we do well but frowns when we screw up . . . Our show is generally taped shortly before you see it, but is "live" about once a month . . . Shows are unrehearsed, spontaneous, unedited; the only part we get in advance is that "viewer question" from, say, Mrs. Gotrocks in Milwaukee . . . We are allowed 35 seconds to answer it . . . The show was created by Anne Darlington; Rich Dubroff is our enthusiastic producer . . . Panelists must arrive at the Owings Mills studio by 6:30 p.m. to have our makeup professionally applied, and be "out of makeup" by 7, Rukeyser's pancake-and-powder time . . . In 20 years, we have had 635 guests . . . None of our 35 panelists has died . . . After the show we sit around in a darkened conference room and watch the tape, Rukeyser munching carrots, the rest of us back-biting each other, second-guessing, needling -- all in good fun . . . I hope the show lasts another 20 years (I'll be 94) and I hope the Dow average triples by then, as it has since we began. I would like to host the show some day, but suspect that wish will go unfilled.

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