Obituary: Florence Sando Manson / Pioneering woman in early days of television in Pittsburgh

FLORENCE SANDO MANSON | Sept. 1, 1918 - Nov. 25, 2013

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If Florence Sando Manson's pulse was racing during the 1958 interview with Louis Armstrong at KDKA-TV, you never would have known.

It was only after the segment with the jazz trumpeter and singer, in town to perform at the Twin Coaches supper club, that Mrs. Manson and announcer Paul Shannon let viewers in on a little secret.

"Louis Armstrong appeared on the premises after the show had begun," she said, exhaling with relief, as Shannon assured her, "You handled it beautifully."

This was, after all, a time when "The Florence Manson Show" was live. The sound is a little scratchy on the black-and-white clip, but you can watch it on YouTube and see how relaxed and professional Mrs. Manson appears.

No wonder, though, that she often summoned the phrase "incredibly stressful" when talking about her 18-year career in radio and TV, said her daughter, Cynthia Manson-Faville of Bronxville, N.Y. "She did a lot of different things, she wasn't just sitting there looking pretty and interviewing."

Florence Sando Manson, a pioneering Pittsburgh broadcaster and occasional actress at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, died Monday at her home in New York City's Bronx borough. She was 95 and suffered from complications related to dementia.

Born to Italian parents in Wilkinsburg, Mrs. Manson earned a full scholarship to Westminster College, where she graduated in 1939, and received her master's in drama from Case Western Reserve the next year. She came of age at a time when women weren't anchoring local -- let alone network -- newscasts or delivering reports from global hot spots.

She got her start in radio, producing and moderating her own programs on KQV and WJAS and serving as "director of women's radio" at WCAE. Along the way, she interviewed luminaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt and built "The Florence Sando Show" on radio and TV.

Mrs. Manson migrated to WDTV, the city's first TV station and forerunner of KDKA. She created a TV talk format called "Ask the Girls," using friends Helen Rauh and Dorothy Randall to field questions and chat about topics sent in by viewers.

In 1954, she launched the "Woman's Angle" on TV. In his book "Broadcasting the Local News: The Early Years of Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV," Lynn Hinds writes that "Woman's Angle" was a 15-minute newscast initially airing at 9:30 a.m. weekdays.

"Sando recalled that she was the only person in the newsroom when she arrived at 6 each morning, so deciding what stories to use, writing the script and editing the film were her responsibility. She learned how to splice film because she had to. The important thing to remember, Sando said, was that it was not women's features" but news.

She told Mr. Hinds that sometimes at 9:25 a.m., a colleague would scream, "Florence, are you ready?" and she would run up the stairs, slip behind the desk, short of breath, and start the show. By 1955, Mr. Hinds' book noted, she, Bill Burns and Carl Ide were listed as the station's main newscasters.

In 1953, Florence Sando married Arthur Manson and became Florence Manson. The pair met on an arranged date when Mr. Manson, who continues to consult for the Weinstein Co., came to Pittsburgh promoting a Laurence Olivier film for United Artists. They went to the Variety Club on their first date and, just like in the movies, romance blossomed and endured until her death.

It was marriage and the start of their family that led Mrs. Manson -- by this time commentator and interviewer for "The Florence Manson Show" airing at 12:15 p.m. after Burns' 15-minute newscast -- to move to New York in 1958.

She had defied tradition in many ways, by marrying a younger man outside her faith and giving birth to their daughter at age 38 and their son at age 42.

In 1956, while pregnant with her first child, Mrs. Manson was part of an Easter broadcast to remember.

KDKA tried to do an Easter parade show much like the one that was broadcast in New York in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The crush of the Gateway Center crowd -- estimated at 12,000 -- nearly trampled her, a testament to her celebrity and viewers' never-ending desire to be on TV. The next year, she appeared in a photo on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette celebrating a more measured holiday pageant.

Mrs. Manson remained active in theater and community affairs in New York City. She was a board member of both the Ensemble Studio Theatre in Manhattan and Riverdale Neighborhood House. She also was an elder of the Riverdale Presbyterian Church.

In addition to her husband, and her daughter, Mrs. Manson is survived by her son, Anthony, of Scarsdale, N.Y., and five grandchildren.

Burial will be private this week with a memorial at 11 a.m. Dec. 7 at Riverdale Presbyterian Church.

Memorial contributions may be made to Riverdale Presbyterian Church, 4765 Henry Hudson Parkway West, Bronx, NY 10471.

Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.



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