The over-the-top, undeniably sexist Ron Burgundy of the "Anchorman" movies may be a legend in his own right, but according to Will Ferrell, the story of the real-life inspiration for his comedic character -- 78-year-old retired newsman Mort Crim -- is the stuff of TV legend, too.
Ferrell recently told the New York Times he got the idea for the movie while watching a documentaryon the late anchor Jessica Savitch, one of the first women to anchor newscasts in the 1970s. During the documentary, Ferrell recalled, the filmmakers interviewed Crim on what it was like to have Savitch join the news team.
“He [Crim] literally said the line: ‘You have to remember, back then I was a real male chauvinist pig. I was not nice to her,’" Ferrell recently told the New York Times.
HLN talked to Crim, a 35-year veteran of television news, to get his take on the what it's really like to have inspired the "legendary" franchise.
HLN: When did you find out you inspired the character of Ron Burgundy?
Mort Crim: I knew about that 10 years ago [when it was mentioned in an interview]. One of Will's agents contacted me and said, "Can you send him an autographed picture. He’s a huge fan of yours." I said, "Sure." I autographed it: "Will you’ve almost got it, just a little more authenticity. Your friend the real anchorman, Mort Crim." Will has said it’s hanging in his office.
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HLN: What was your reaction when Jessica Savitch, the real-life inspiration for the movie's Veronica Corningstone, joined your Philadelphia news team to become the first female primetime anchor? Was it anything like the movie?
MC: I was quoted as saying that I was a typical male chauvinist pig. I have to go back and look at the interview, but I was probably being funny as I said that. I really wasn’t a chauvinist. It was an old boy’s club, sure. Looking back at it, she was 25 years old with very limited experience and suddenly they’re putting her in a major news market. There might have been a little snobbishness in it. There was the feeling she hadn’t earned the right to sit in this chair. But, after it was determined that she was going to sit next to me on the news, I took her out to dinner. The decision had been made, and I told her I’m here to be supportive, and anything I can do to help you I’m here. Whatever tension we felt was short-lived. We became extremely good friends.
HLN: Do you see yourself in the character?
MC: I’m an anchorman, but I don’t see myself in the character of Ron Burgundy. Consequently, I don’t take offense in it. Have I seen a few Ron Burgundys over the years? A few. But they’re not the norm.
Every storyline in that movie can be traced back to some element of truth. One of the things Jessica [Savitch] bristled at at the station was they wanted her to go out and do the panda in the zoo stories, and she said, "Look I’m a reporter. I’m here, I can do anything the guys can do," and she did and eventually went on to NBC. If you could pick out any scene, I bet I could trace it back and say, "OK, there is a grain of truth in that."
HLN: But do you play the jazz flute?
MC: I play the piano. If I could play the jazz flute the way he supposedly did in the movie, I wouldn’t be an anchor man.
HLN: What is the most outrageous thing that happened in the newsroom in the glory days of network news?
MC: When I started in the business, people smoked in the newsroom. I don’t remember any drinking, but there were probably a few people who had a little stash in their desk... We did play tricks on each other. We would put things on the teleprompter. They put this naked woman up on the teleprompter right in front of me. You had to keep your composure.
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HLN: Has Ferrell’s name-dropping affected your life in any way?
MC: Only that I don’t have time to do much except do interviews.
HLN: Were you really invited to the premiere of the upcoming movie, "Anchorman: The Legend Continues"?
MC: Will has invited us to the "Anchorman" premiere. He’s quoted in one of his interviews saying when he meets me, he’s going to plant a big kiss right on my lips. I already told my wife she is going to have to stand between us.