CBS correspondent Morley Safer was always known as a gentleman who appreciated a distinguished bottle of wine, an elegant automobile and a beautiful woman. But at 36, an age at which colleague Mike Wallace had married his third wife, Morley shocked his cronies by taking his first. “He was reckoned to be bombproof,” says one of those pals, CBS producer John Tiffin.
The blockbuster turned out to be Jane Fearer, a Connecticut Yankee 10 years younger than he who was working on her doctorate in anthropology at Oxford while Safer was operating out of the CBS London bureau. Three and a half months after they met in 1968, Safer proposed—by phone—while covering the civil war in Nigeria. Having just survived an ambush by Biafran soldiers, in which a good friend, TIME-LIFE photographer Priya Ramrakha, was killed, the normally unflappable Safer was shaken out of his bachelor’s nirvana. “A sense of my mortality was involved,” he says now.
It’s a wonder that perception had not occurred much earlier. In 20 years as a foreign correspondent, Safer covered nine wars, took a bit of shrapnel, suffered nightmares about Nigeria and made his reputation in Vietnam. His courage in Vietnam also earned him almost every journalism award, including a Peabody. In 1965 Safer’s film report showing a marine setting a hut in Cam Ne on fire with a cigarette lighter helped change the world’s view of the war. President Lyndon Johnson was furious and unsuccessfully pressured CBS to censor Morley. A marine colonel later advised the newsman to “stay out of Da Nang, or you may end up dead.” Safer returned there the same afternoon to do a follow-up story.
Since marrying Jane (and joining 60 Minutes in 1970), Safer has been under fire less, but still logs 200,000 miles a year and is away from home two-thirds of the time. It’s a merciless grind, but if Morley, now 47, is grounded for more than a week he gets itchy. “By Friday,” he finds, “there is this feeling that something is missing from my life.” Jane learned quickly that her marriage would leave sufficient time for her own career. “I had to leave for Israel and Egypt the day after we were married,” Morley says, “to cover the War of Attrition.” Jane joined him a week later for a honeymoon in Israel, the first and last time she’s been with him on assignment. “The job has always come first,” he confesses, “and to my dismay, still does.”
While he globe-trots (12 countries last year), Jane anchors the Safer operation in Manhattan. Besides looking after daughter Sarah, 8, Jane has been a scientific consultant with the American Museum of Natural History for six years. She set up the anthropology section in the Hall of Mollusks and Mankind. Her current project is organizing the museum’s more than. 500,000 anthropological photographs dating back to the 1890s and ranging from Siberia to Mexico.
Safer is one of TV’s keenest and wittiest writers; his executive producer, Don Hewitt, calls him “the best, bar none.” As such, he is his own and Jane’s toughest critic. When they met, she was in the middle of her doctoral dissertation on the Saha Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in Colombia. She lived with the tribe a year and a half, sleeping in a hammock, boiling her water and dining on iguana, which she reports “tastes a little like chicken.” Jane is now working on a book about shells, and Morley is keeping an eye on her sometimes jargon-laden academic prose. “She’s a good researcher and a lousy reporter,” he needles. “Her lead for the story is always at the end.”
Safer speaks his mind just as fearlessly away from home. In 1976 he broke the code of journalistic gallantry by criticizing Barbara Walters (“the first American female Pope”) on radio for her unreporter-like closing comments (“Be wise with us…be good to us”) during her pre-inauguration interview with Jimmy Carter. Walters still shuns him socially, which doesn’t bother Safer. “She’s an excellent interviewer but a pain in the ass,” he says.
Morley’s also been in some intra-shop tussles with Mike Wallace over who got which assignments. “You have an awful lot of ego flying around this joint, a lot of door-slamming over the years,” Safer admits, “but it’s been a positive kind of tension.” Though Wallace is the reputed heavy hitter, it was Safer who had the sensational interview with Betty Ford on her reaction if her daughter were to have a premarital affair. “Where would you and I be without Susan?” the former First Lady recently joked to Safer.
Journalism was Safer’s ticket out of his working-class beginnings in Toronto, where his Austrian Jewish father ran a small upholstery store. Morley is still a Canadian citizen. “I really feel stateless,” he says, “which is not bad because I always felt a man without a country was not encumbered by narrow loyalties.” After six months at the University of Western Ontario (“I just scraped through”), Safer landed his first newspaper job in 1951 on the Woodstock, Ont. Sentinel-Review at $28 a week. His real education, cultivation and dandyish dress style came in a subsequent journalistic stint in Britain. There with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, he helped pioneer TV war coverage in the 1956 Egypt-Israel conflict. After joining CBS in 1964, he spent two years in Vietnam before becoming London bureau chief.
Morley and Jane met there on a blind date engineered by Av Westin, now executive producer of ABC’s World News Tonight. Safer packed Westin, Jane and Walter Cronkite into his 1949 Bentley convertible and took them to a disco. “That was a hilarious night,” recalls Safer, “with Cronkite standing up in the rumble seat doing a kind of Her Royal Highness impression.” Jane, the daughter of a Hartford aeronautical engineer and a product of the exclusive Chaffee School and Radcliffe, was impressed by America’s elite electronic press corps. “I think she was quite taken with a side of life she’d never known,” recalls Morley. He, who “by instinct” is often suspicious of human motives, says he found Jane “both curious and marvelously naive at the same time. She is utterly open to people and has the most ardent thirst to know of anyone.”
With their grander London days behind them (they brought a Rolls home but now drive a Ford), he and Jane live in a four-story Manhattan townhouse. They vacation in a house in southern Spain that has no electricity and is five miles from a phone. Morley calls it “Dogpatch” and unwinds there cooking cakes and pies which he rarely eats. (“No great pastry chef has sweet teeth,” he aphorizes.)
On assignments, he relaxes by painting. “When I grow up, I want to have an exhibit called ‘American Motel,’ ” he says. At home the Safers’ life is quiet, which suits Jane fine. “The toll of 60 Minutes is enormous physically as well as to your emotions and psyche,” she says. Their daughter is the one unmarked by it all. “Sarah,” says Mom, “has a very clear idea of sex and division of labor: mommies cook, and daddies bake.”