Photo Gallery | Sherman Safford, Model for Rockwell's 'Rookie' painting


STOCKBRIDGE -- For Sherman Safford, who modeled for Norman Rockwell's renowned illustration "The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)" when he was 18, his day in the CBS News spotlight was "more fun than any one guy should have."

For the Norman Rockwell Museum, it was priceless publicity as the illustrator's studio was turned into a TV news set last week.

And for CBS News national correspondent Lee Cowan and Alturo Rhymes, a network producer, it was a pleasurable long day's work interviewing Safford and museum leaders, roaming the spacious grounds decked out in their full springtime glory to gather video for a "CBS Evening News" segment set for Thursday.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, the privately owned Rockwell painting will be auctioned at Christie's auction in New York, where it potentially could fetch $20 million to $30 million.

Taking a break after interviewing Safford about his session posing for photos snapped by Rockwell, Cowan called him "a lovely guy to talk to, he just has vivid memories of what happened that day, even though he said it didn't change his life that much."

Cowan, a 30-year veteran of local and network TV news, explained that he won the coveted "Evening News" assignment "by the luck of the draw."

Preparing for his first visit to the Berkshires and the Rockwell museum, Cowan immersed himself in Rockwelliana "as much as one can, because I wasn't aware that he worked so much from pictures."

Fresh from an overnight stay at the Red Lion Inn, he described spending "an hour just wandering the halls, looking at all the paintings and all the different artifacts. It was fantastic."

How will Cowan distill 2 minutes-plus of TV from many hours of video? "The art of it is not what to put in, but what to leave out when you have so much. That's the tough part," he said.

After screening all the footage back in the Los Angeles bureau, he intends to "try to write a script that's short enough. I'm notoriously long so it'll have to be cut down, then edited and shaped in New York. It's sort of like clay that you have to mold."

"The writing is my favorite part," Cowan added. "Sometimes it comes relatively easily. You try to find a nice story line and little moments that worked during the conversation and write around that. But Sherman is such a good storyteller that I hope to do less of me talking and more of him."

Rhymes, the producer, spends many hours on logistics, but explained that "you have to have in your producer head how the ultimate piece will turn out, so as we're planning the shoot, I'm thinking about what elements I need, what interactions between Lee and Sherman need to happen, and I'm constantly thinking about shots we may need, questions that Lee may have to ask, responses based on the pre-interview that you want to bring out."

As for cutting all the video down to size for the "Evening News," the 25-year TV news veteran said that "if you do it long enough, it just comes naturally, you get used to it. Obviously, the narrative of the story tends to leapfrog a bit, and we decide what parts we stitch together in order to tell a complete story without cheating everyone, even though we know we're leaving most of the material on the cutting room floor."

For the museum, the TV spotlight "brings continued awareness beyond getting the Rockwell name, the brand, the museum out there, just for people to learn more about what we do and what Rockwell was all about," said Jeremy Clowe, manager of media services. "These are great opportunities."

First approached by Rhymes to shoot a piece on a reunion of Rockwell's models that could not be scheduled, Clowe pitched a segment on "The Rookies" built around an interview with Safford that turned into a home run for CBS News.

Although "The Rookie" and other Rockwell artworks recently auctioned were not owned by the museum, Clowe pointed out, "for us, the works are priceless. We like to be here as a resource, we assisted Christie's with finding the factual information."

"It's fortunate for us because it reminds people about what was so special about his work," Clowe added, "and the fact that they can come here to see original artwork and learn more."

Safford, 75, was reveling in his new-found fame -- soon after the auction was announced six weeks ago, he was interviewed by four Boston TV stations after he appeared at Fenway Park with the painting. But the CBS News story on a broadcast that typically attracts 6 million to 7 million viewers will be his national TV debut.

"I'm working on a new career, actually" the jovial, dapper Rochester, N.Y., resident quipped as he awaited his interview.

Safford, a 1957 Pittsfield High graduate, appeared on the Saturday Evening Post cover on March 2, 1957 -- an illustration that also featured four other Red Sox players. Ted Williams, who had been asked to appear, begged off, citing other commitments.

As much as Safford is enjoying his time in the limelight, he was modest about his role on the "CBS Evening News" segment. "It's not about me, what they're interested in is hearing about Mr. Rockwell, how he did things, about his life. Whatever questions I can answer, that's all."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto