Frank Chirkinian, the longtime golf producer for CBS Sports who died last week at age 84 of lung cancer, was called the Ayatollah. The man was a dictator, but his motives were pure: He wanted his telecasts to be works of art. And the best of them were. Each April he brought reality television live from Augusta that was often irresistible.
The son of Armenian immigrants, Chirkinian produced events in an array of sports (the first televised Winter Olympics, in 1960; Ali-Spinks I in '78) over a 40-year career, but he was most noted for golf in general and the Masters in particular. It has become a cliché to say that Arnold Palmer brought golf to the masses through TV in the early '60s. Taken a step further, Chirkinian's highly personal broadcasts of Palmer's Masters wins in '60, '62 and '64 boosted the sport by enhancing the Arnie and Augusta legends.
Chirkinian's view was that the course was a stage, that golfers were performers and that the Sunday finale was the ultimate third act. He loved—but used sparingly—the close-up: a player flicking away a cigarette; a caddie yanking a flagstick away from a beelining putt; a ball on a bed of pine needles with a worried golfer hovering, visor in hand.
He was especially close to three of his announcers: Pat Summerall, Jim Nantz and Ken Venturi. It was Venturi who spent years lobbying World Golf Hall of Fame officials to honor Chirkinian in the category of lifetime achievement, and in January, when the seriousness of Chirkinian's condition became apparent, an emergency vote was finally approved. The induction will take place on May 9, accompanied by the acceptance speech that Chirkinian made when he realized that he was unlikely to be around. Rest assured, he oversaw the production, and his final show will be must-see TV.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A man in Los Angeles has been making as much as $1,500 per appearance as a Pau Gasol impersonator.
CBS PHOTOS (CHIRKANIAN AND PALMER)
THE KING AND THE EYE CBS's golf guru, Chirkinian (left), took the game to new heights with Palmer starting at the '60 Masters.