And so she goes: Linda Ellerbee is a onewoman media blitz. It all began when a comic letter of hers slipped onto the AP news wire
INFORMED sources close to Linda Ellerbee, the network newscaster, said today that she's a cottage industry. Ms. Ellerbee, reached at a Greenwich Village restaurant, denied the allegation. But evidence continues to mount that the report may be true:Skip to next paragraph
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Her book ``And So It Goes'' has scurried up the nonfiction best-seller list to hover between third and fourth place; Columbia Pictures has bought ``And So It Goes'' for a movie in which Ellerbee may be played by producer-star Marsha Mason (if Miss Mason chooses to), or Debra Winger, or Karen Allen; ABC News has signed her on for a new $350,000 contract that includes co-hosting its new TV magazine, ``Our World,'' which premi`eres tonight, as well as continuing ``T.G.I.F.,'' her offbeat view of the nearly news on ``Good Morning America,'' and perhaps anchoring a late-night news show following ``Nightline.'' During station breaks, she is also writing a novel.
The Linda Ellerbee of the networks is as throaty as Bacall, as crisp as snap beans, a writer of considerable and pungent wit who cares about words the way some women care about star sapphires. She breezes into the restaurant looking distinctly un-newscasterish: faded blue jeans, jonquil yellow T-shirt, blue work shirt slung over that, and blue gumboots. Her long chestnut hair, which the networks have sometimes suggested she edit, cascades in Hollywood waves over her shoulders. In her own low-key way, she has made an entrance that can't be missed. When she sits down at the table with a wide, slightly shy smile, heads turn. She is without her trademark horn-rimmed glasses, and her eyes are a startling shade somewhere between hazel and blue. But a fan at the next table recognizes her and calls over that she's written the best book since Alice Walker's ``The Color Purple.''
Ellerbee has brought along what you'd least suspect someone in the hard-edged TV news business would enjoy doing: hand-painted greeting cards she has made for friends. And there's a quotation for her new boss at ABC, Av Westin. ``Here, I want you to read this,'' she says, handing me a card full of orange, yellow, and green Ellerbee trees; ``it's the most important thing I know about what we do.'' The quotation on it is from historian Will Durant:
``Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream sometimes is filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shooting, and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians and journalists are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.''
Ellerbee has spent much of her life as a journalist working the banks of the river, as her book, ``And So It Goes,'' proves. It is a funny, provocative, yeasty book, which is mostly not about Ellerbee at all but about the inside skinny on surviving in broadcasting. It is studded like a fruitcake with stories, anecdotes, and one-liners, including the story of how she got her first TV job: There she was, low-tech Linda, working on a word processor as a story writer for the Associated Press's broadcast wire in Dallas. One day she wrote a long, chatty letter to a friend in Alaska that was full of scandalously funny criticism of Texas newspapers, the Dallas City Council, the Vietnam war, and her boss. When it was accidentally sent out on the wires to the AP bureaus in four states, she lost that job but gained one at KHOU-TV ``for writing funny.''
About herself, she's as terse as Calvin Coolidge. Readers of the book learn only that she's a yellow rose of Texas, dropped out of Vanderbilt University at 19, then ``moved around some, married some, had two babies. . . .''
Over a dinner of raddichio and shiitake mushrooms, the former Linda Jane Smith explains why she's so cryptic about herself. ``Ellerbee is the name of my third husband,'' she admits. But no details, please; her original manuscript included not a snippet of biography. ``I did not want to write an autobiography. A friend and my editor persuaded me to put in whatever personal information there is in the book, through arguing that no one would want to take the tour if they didn't know who the guide was.''