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ne of the greatest treasures of media history at Eastern Michigan University is not locked in an


archive or stored on a library shelf. It’s the person of Mary Ann Watson, EMU professor of electronic media and fi lm studies. Watson, who celebrates her 25th


anniversary at Eastern this year,


is a living, breathing encyclopedia of media history whose expertise is sought by major news organizations, historical museums, and most recently, Syracuse University. “When I sought experts for our panel discussion on the life and legacy of Dick Clark, I chose the smartest people I know, and Mary Ann is one of the giants,” says Robert Thompson, panel moderator and director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse. Watson was one of three panelists invited to discuss Clark last anniversary celebration of the Newhouse


fall as part of the 50th


School of Public Communications at Syracuse. The event, which included the dedication of two renovated facilities, attracted thousands and drew a superstar into its gravitational pull— Oprah Winfrey. “When the Newhouse School fi rst opened in 1964, the guest of


honor was President Lyndon Johnson. Fifty years later, the special guest was Oprah Winfrey—the perfect person to inspire today’s students to use their education and skills in the most humane and benefi cial ways,” says Watson. Both Winfrey and Watson honored Dick Clark, a legendary


entertainer who had a huge impact on teen culture in the 1950s. Clark, a Syracuse alumnus, hosted “American Bandstand,” a popular music-performance TV show from the 1950s to the 1980s. He also hosted “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” for 40 years, a staple for many revelers. His success enabled him to build an enormous media empire with Dick Clark Productions, says Watson. “Dick’s clean-cut image helped parents accept rock ‘n’ roll


music. By featuring black performers on “American Bandstand,” he also helped young people accept social integration as the civil rights movement accelerated,” says Watson, whose book “Defi ning Visions: Television and the American Experience in the 20th


Century” has been used by media history classes at several universities.


This was Watson’s encore


performance at Syracuse, says Thompson. “Not only is she a treasure trove of information about media history, she’s an engaging writer and speaker. She has great presence,” he says. One of the highlights for Watson


was meeting Winfrey, an accomplished journalist, actress and entrepreneur. Winfrey spoke at the dedication, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and attended a luncheon. “About 200 people were invited to the luncheon,” recalls Watson. “When Oprah entered the room, it was as if a force of nature had been unleashed. “I had the chance to tell her that she helped me live a better and more meaningful life, and that the


admiration I had for all she’s accomplished was beyond measure. She whispered in my ear, ‘Thank you. That means everything to me.’ Then she gave me a big hug, and when you’ve been hugged by the Divine Ms. O, you stay hugged for a good long while,” says Watson. While Watson expressed admiration for Winfrey and Clark,


some would argue Watson is no less deserving of praise. “I would think Oprah was just as happy to get a hug from Mary Ann as Mary Ann was to get a hug from Oprah,” says Thompson, adding that Watson is much respected nationally. Watson has authored several books and scholarly magazine articles, and news organizations such as CNN, NPR and BBC Radio often solicit her commentary on media issues. “Dr. Mary Ann Watson is a renowned scholar who brings the


richness of her research into the classroom,” says Kathleen Stacey, Communication, Media and Theatre Arts department head. “She’s also an exceptional teacher who is committed to elevating the critical thinking, vocabulary and writing skills of her students.” Watson, who estimates she’s taught more than 5,000 students,


is as excited as ever about her fi eld. “Understanding how the media operate is a vital part of a liberal arts education; the media have a vast and persuasive infl uence on popular culture,” she says. “Many Eastern graduates from the early days are now years


into successful careers in radio, television and motion pictures,” adds Watson, noting that one of her former students works as a reporter for Detroit’s Channel 7. “Who knows?” Watson asks. “The next Dick Clark or Oprah might be sitting in a classroom in the Quirk Building this semester . . .” 3


Eastern | SPRING 2015 7


Getty Images, NBCUniversal


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