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Have you ever felt a lot of crap was missing after reading a news story? For many people the “Black NBC Production Assistant Fired,” article published by JET, July 18, 1974, was such a story. A follow-up piece was never published. So, the readers were left twisting in the wind. This post will revisit and re-examine said article.
In a nutshell, Mamye Smith having worked six years on the NBC Today Show was dismissed for alleged incompetency. She claimed her dismissal was racially motivated. However, the bombshell the thin-lipped, alabaster hued, businessman’s haircut wearing, former NBC Nightly News anchor, and recently deceased Today Show host, Frank McGee, was her alleged lover made the print sizzle.
Those who glimpsed Smith’s photo noted her psychedelic blouse, mod chic jacket, impeccable makeup, and flawless pecan-colored skin. As well as the nervousness gripping her eyes, and the tension playing Ring Around the Rosie about her gorgeous lips. Also, they wondered out loud, “Girl, what have you gotten yourself into?”
When Smith met with the JET correspondent, she was unaware private matters shared with a friend were divulged. Thus, caught off guard, cornered, pressed, and peppered with questions about her relationship with Frank McGee, Mamye Smith was probably mortified their romance would become public.
Smith had no need to worry, though. Just as mystifying as D. B. Cooper’s disappearance with the $200,000 ransom, JET’s scoop about Smith and McGee’s affair failed to muster traction in the white mass media. Thus, Frank McGee, Mamye Smith, Sue McGee, Frank Magee’s wife, and the Today Show were spared the glare of public scrutiny.
It took more than 30 years for the missing pieces surrounding Mamye Smith’s firing to wash ashore. Surprisingly, Barbara Walters, the renowned American broadcast journalist, TV media trailblazer, and executive producer of The View provided the tidbits in her 2008 memoir, Audition: A Memoir.
In the chapter, A Dead Marriage and the Dead Sea, Walters related on returning to New York from a London assignment, she learned Frank McGee had deserted his wife and was residing with Mamye Smith. Her description of Mamye is as follows: “…Mamye, whom we all knew as fun, giggly, inefficient and not even particularly attractive,” said a lot.
It’s clear Walters perceived Smith’s personhood so incongruent and so ill-matched for the sharp-witted and erudite Frank McGee that their coupling was unfathomable and blew her mind. Also, Walters indicated everyone on the Today set was aware of Smith and McGee’s entanglement but kept it hushed-hushed.
Smith’s employment on the Today Show began circa 1969. Whereas McGee joined the show as the lead host in 1971. At some point, the pair became so chummy that Mamye Smith occasionally babysat Frank and Sue McGee’s grandchildren.
Did the sophisticated McGee manipulate Smith awed by his celebrity, wealth, and flattery into an affair? Or was Mamye Smith the only person in the world that McGee, a private person, trusted?
Conversely, did Mamye Smith view Frank McGee who was 20 plus years her senior as a sugar daddy, or a mentor and stepping stone into a broader TV production career?
According to Dr. Frank Southworth, McGee’s attending physician, Frank McGee had known for four years he had multiple-myeloma. In fact, he successfully rallied back from hospitalization in 1972. Unknown to the public at the time, the NBC brass and the Today’s executive producer were aware of McGee’s health issues. Moreover, they expected him to host Today for two more years. Which begs the question whether Mamye Smith knew McGee had bone cancer prior to 1974?
The JET article alleged Mamye Smith and Frank McGee were making plans to wed. Also, it alleged Sue McGee stymied Frank McGee’s divorce efforts. In retrospect was McGee’s marriage proposal fair to Mamye Smith given his health issues? Or was McGee stringing Smith along for selfish reasons?
In the chapter, Resignation in Washington and Victory in New York, from Audition: A Memoir, Walters revealed Mamye Smith was not at Frank McGee’s funeral (can’t you just see Barbara Walters’ head turning here and there searching for Mamye Smith?).
Also, Walters disclosed Mamye Smith and Stuart Schulberg, the Today Show's executive producer, argued after the Today crew returned from Frank McGee’s funeral. Consequently, during the course of their quarrel Schulberg fired Smith.
Walters remained mum about what set off the tiff. No doubt the exchange was disturbing and unsettling to the onlookers. After cooling off Schulberg apologized to Smith, but he would not rescind the termination citing their incompatibility.
However, Schulberg offered to assist Smith with a transfer to another department, which she rebuffed. After her departure the Today Show became a battle zone. Smith’s disgruntled allies versus Stuart Schulberg and the senior personnel were the warring parties.
No shrinking violet, Mamye Smith filed a complaint with the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity against NBC charging racism. The complaint worked its way through the cumbersome OEEO bureaucracy and was eventually dismissed.
Although the OEEO's dismissal of Smith's complaint was another setback; however, buoyed by a strong fortitude, bubbly personality, and a supportive network of family and friends, Mamye Smith eventually transferred to another NBC department.
According to the JET article, Mamye Smith was at Frank McGee’s bedside when he passed away. To Smith’s credit, she never penned a tell-all book about her life with Frank McGee or uttered a word publicly about their affair on the talk shows, or in the press. Whether or not Smith signed a non-disclosure agreement is unknown. Will Mamye Smith ever step forward and spill the tea? Who knows?
*Frank McGee succumbed to bone cancer on April 17, 1974.
An Update re Mamye Smith:
A relative of Ms. Smith contacted me and advised that her aunt, Mamye Smith, passed away peacefully on October 29, 2021. Moreover, they made me aware that Ms. Smith was a lovely person both inwardly and outwardly. May Ms. Smith Rest-In-Peace and Power forever. (Posted 12/7/2021).
1. JET. (1974, July 18). "Black NBC Production Assistant Fired."
2. Fowle, Farnsworth, (1974, April 18). “Frank McGee of NBC Dead; Newsman and ‘Today’ Host, 52.” New York Times.
3. Walters, Barbara. Audition: A Memoir. New York. Alfred Knopf, 2008.
4. Punt, Peter, (1974, September 22). “How Jim Hartz Won the Great TV Host Hunt.” New York Times.
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I'm I. Cowthern -- I enjoy watching old black and white movies and listening to jazz, pop, rock, R&B, and classical music.