In the late 1980s, biographer Alannah Nash wrote the first story on the life of a noted TV journalist: Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch.
Savitch was only 36 when she died in mysterious circumstances, and Nash, a writer for the NY Times and Entertainment Weekly, focused on her rise to fame in television journalism, interviewing friends, lovers, colleagues and psychiatrists about her life.
Savitch was hired as the first female reporter at a Houston TV station, and became the first woman to be a tv anchor in the southern US.
In the early 1970s she moved to become a tv reporter in Philadelphia, winning awards and gaining fans, which led to her being chosen by NBC to become their new Washington correspondent.
Although Savitch did well as an anchor, her lack of reporting skills continued to haunt her, as did constant criticism from male colleagues. Savitch became a regular on NBC’s Meet the Press, handled the NBC News Updates and became the first woman to anchor the NBC Nightly News, substituting for David Brinkley and John Chancellor.
Savitch was demoted by NBC News, but was still tapped to launch Frontline, a new news program on PBS in 1983. Endless stories after her death talked about her lack of reporting skills, but also focused on how male TV executives chose her for her looks and not always supporting her in her anchor skills.
Nash’s book focused on her weaknesses as much as successes revealing her affairs with fellow journalists, abusive relationships, alleging she was bisexual as well as her apparent addiction to cocaine.
Savitch was portrayed as a perfectionist who battled insecurities and isolated herself, especially from women who might become competition, as well as having many health challenges including anorexia.
Nash also detailed the infamous incident that occurred on October 3, 1983 when Savitch was incoherent on-air and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Colleagues were both supportive, hoping Savitch would get help as much as worried that she would cause herself harm. Three weeks later, Savitch would become the news.
Savitch died in a car accident on October 23, 1983, when she and her colleague drove off the road on a rainy night into a canal, with both drowning in the car.
Published in September 1988 by Dutton, Golden Girl was a bestseller, with the public wanting to know more of the private details of Savitch’s life. Friends of Savitch didn’t like the book, citing the good friend they knew was not to be found within the pages.
The book resulted the 1996 film, Up Close and Personal, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford, altered Savitch’s life story and was not a biopic, despite it being based on Nash’s book.