Richard D. Heffner, Host of ‘The Open up Brain,’ Dies at 88

December 22nd, 2013

Sara Krulwich/The New York Occasions

Richard D. Heffner, still left, lengthy the host of the general public-affairs present “The Open Thoughts,” with a guest, Floyd Abrams, in 2003.

Richard D. Heffner, a historian, educator and broadcaster who was the longtime host of “The Open up Brain,” the venerable existing-affairs system on community tv, and who also put in two decades as chairman of the motion picture industry’s movie-rankings board, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 88.

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

As a historian, Professor Heffner was extensively acknowledged for his guide “A Documentary Historical past of the United States.” Initial revealed in 1952 and now in its eighth edition, it provides many of the seminal paperwork of American historical past, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Marshall Prepare, with Professor Heffner’s commentary.

As an educator, Professor Heffner was on the college of Rutgers University, exactly where he had taught constantly given that 1964. At his demise he was college professor of communications and public policy there.

As a broadcaster, he was connected for far more than fifty percent a century with “The Open Thoughts,” a fifty percent-hour plan broadcast every Saturday on PBS stations all around the place. Professor Heffner conceived the program, was its producer and hosted the large greater part of episodes from its inception in 1956 to the end of his daily life.

Latest segments taped by Professor Heffner will carry on to be broadcast in the coming months, his spouse mentioned, but the destiny of the plan after that has not yet been decided.

Professor Heffner also aided generate what turned WNET, New York City’s community broadcasting station, and was its very first common supervisor.

“The Open Mind” made its debut on WRCA-Television set, then the NBC affiliate in New York. It stayed with the network after WRCA became WNBC-Tv, shifting to Channel thirteen in 1966.

From the starting, the plan was praised by critics for the amount of its discourse, the quality of its guests and the willingness of Professor Heffner to get on freighted subjects.

“What distinguishes the discuss is that it is chat that is seldom read in other places on tv,” John Corry, producing about “The Open Mind” in The New York Times, stated in 1987. “For a single point, men and women converse in whole passages Mr. Heffner would quicker dive beneath the tablecloth than needlessly interrupt. When he does interrupt, it is simply because he has one thing to say.”

Between the subject areas the program tackled in its earliest days had been homosexuality, alcoholism, McCarthyism, segregation and anti-Semitism. Attendees in excess of the years integrated 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.

Broadcasts from practically the complete run of “The Open Mind” could be viewed on the internet at

Richard Douglas Heffner was born in Manhattan on Aug. 5, 1925, and experienced a Runyonesque commence in life. His father was a extremely successful bookmaker — until finally the Melancholy came.

“His very rich clients were big bettors,” Professor Heffner told the journal Columbia Higher education These days very last yr. “They would bet $ one hundred,000 on a race. And when they had been absent, my father went broke.”

Following graduating from DeWitt Clinton Substantial University in the Bronx, he attained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in historical past from Columbia, the place he was a broadcaster on the campus radio station.

He embarked on his training job at Sarah Lawrence School, but broadcasting beckoned. In 1953 he made the rounds of New York radio stations, proposing an job interview with Eleanor Roosevelt to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the dying of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

WMCA assented, and Professor Heffner recorded Mrs. Roosevelt at her home. Not lengthy ahead of the broadcast, when Professor Heffner uncovered to his horror that an engineer experienced accidentally erased the tape, Mrs. Roosevelt, ever gracious, agreed to a next job interview.

The station was so happy with the software that it gave Professor Heffner a weekly half-hour present, “History in the News.”

Professor Heffner joined WRCA-Tv in 1955, serving as host of a public affairs plan, “Man of the 12 months.” The subsequent year, in Might, “The Open up Mind” made its debut.

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