I just got finished reading this month’s Atlantic Monthly and there was a feature on Mr. Rivera that exposed a whole new side of him to yours truly. I guess most people seem to have some kind of an opinion on him. Either they hold him high regard or they think he’s a self indulgent asshole and the stories that he reports have more to do with his persona than with the actual story itself. As for me, I’m still on the fence. During his career I think he’s done some very good work along with some shoddy stuff that was done just to keep his name in print and a check in his pocket. I guess, like most things, one has to take the good with the bad.
What’s in a name?
Geraldo wasn’t always “Geraldo”. In fact, he was born on July 4, 1943 in Brooklyn, New York under the name of Gerald Miguel Rivera. His parents were of mixed origins. His mother’s maiden name was Lily Friedman and was of Russian/Jewish descent while his father was a full blown Puerto Rican named Cruz Rivera. After graduating at the top of the list, he went on to study at Brooklyn Law School and quickly became associated with defending a local Puerto Rican activist group known in NYC as The Young Lords. That was also about the time that he decided a name change was in order to help with his image and began referring to himself as “Geraldo”.
In 1970, The Young Lords had occupied a local church and the story became big news in New York City. Camera crews were sent out to record the goings on and Geraldo was soon being interviewed to give his and his clients take on the matters at hand. The producer of the station, WABC - TV liked what he saw in Geraldo’s demeanor and hired him for the local news program.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
It was in 1972 when Geraldo first garnished some national attention. He blew the cover on the treatment and abuse of mentally retarded patients at the Willowbrook State School located in Staten Island. His brand of investigative journalism hadn’t been seen before and when he entered the facility with a stolen key and a camera crew late at night to record the proceedings people sat up and took notice. He would later win the much coveted Peabody Award for investigative journalism and initiate much needed reform in the state’s treatment of the mentally impaired. Sensing that they had a budding star on their hands, the network decided that Geraldo needed some more face time in front of the American public. Shortly afterwards, he became a regular on such programs as Good Morning America and 20/20. During that time he interviewed some pretty powerful figures in the public spotlight , the most notable being Cuban President Fidel Castro
In 1985 Geraldo got into trouble with then network powerhouse Roone Arledge. It seems that he wanted to air a story in prime time about the relationship between Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy. Arledge was a close friend of the Kennedy family and put the kibosh on the deal. Rivera cried censorship and called into question Arledge’s qualifications and his journalistic integrity. He was quickly and unceremoniously canned.
The next year, a budding network by the name of Fox was looking to make a name for itself and decided Geraldo might just be the shot in the arm they needed to gain some prominence among their competitors. Things were going all right until the much ballyhooed opening of Al Capone’s “secret vault turned out to be nothing more than but a bunch of dirt and an empty whiskey bottle. Still, America tuned in and the show managed to garner the highest rating of any syndicated one of its type in history.
From there, the road becomes even more checkered. Geraldo began hosting a talk show that was (in true homage to himself) called Geraldo. The show had an almost no holds barred approach when it came to subject matter (Men in Lace Panties and the Women Who Love Them) and could be considered the forerunner for the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povitch and a host of others folks who contribute to what is commonly known today as “Trash TV”. The highlight of that show came during a particular episode when Geraldo had his nose broken by a flying chair on air during a fight that broke out between a group of Nazi skin heads and black activists. Undaunted , he even went so far to have plastic surgery performed on himself during upcoming broadcasts. The first time was when he had his eyes tucked. I guess the ratings for that weren’t so good because later he would have some fat sucked out of his ass and injected in his forehead to make those pesky wrinkles try and disappear. Still, America wasn’t listening.
Not to be deterred, Gerlaldo moved on and tackled such subjects as Satanism. He claimed that devil worship permeated American society from the rich to the poor and from small town to large. America bought the hype and soon there were investigations afoot to bring these folks to the public eye and that justice had to be done.
Geraldo then hit what might called a dry spell. His stories weren’t selling and the American public wasn’t buying. He decided to do what anybody else in his shoes would do and write a tell all book about himself.
Exposing Myself hit the bookstores in 1991 and immediately caused a stir. In the book Geraldo describes his sexual encounters with the likes Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Judy Collins, Chris Evert and Margaret Trudeau amongst what he calls thousands of others.
In 1993, Geraldo seemed to be slowing down. He landed a nightly gig on CNBC called (oddly enough) Rivera Live and continued hosting the show Geraldo. I guess he found that boring because in 1997 he hooked up with NBC for a six year contract for a mere $30 million. After the events of 9/11 and the subsequent war, he began begging NBC to send him overseas to cover they story. NBC said no and Geraldo took a huge pay cut to sign on with Fox News Channel as its man on the scene and war correspondent.
Since then, he hasn’t had it easy. While in Afghanistan ,he was taken to task for claiming to witness a friendly fire incident that in reality occurred more than 50 miles from where he was reporting. In Iraq, while acting as an embedded journalist he drew a map in the sand while broadcasting live from the desert. The folks at the Pentagon weren’t amused and thought he was jeopardizing the safety of US troops and asked that he be removed. He continued to report on the war from neighboring Kuwait for a while but soon found himself back on American soil where he remains to this day.
Did You Know?
Geraldo has been married five times and has five children?
Married his first wife to escape the draft and the Vietnam War?
That his second wife, Edie Vonnegut was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s daughter?
Has stated on the record that if he got the chance he would kill Osama bin Laden with his bare hands live on network television?
Has won seven Emmy’s during his broadcasting career?