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News 8 Throwback: A look at Harold Keen's career in San Diego

Enjoy this look back at journalist Harold Keen interviewing some of the biggest names of the time.
Credit: KFMB

SAN DIEGO — Born in the Bronx in 1912 and educated at UCLA, Harold Keen arrived in San Diego in 1936 as a reporter for The San Diego Sun. Keen later became a reporter for the San Diego Union, and a contributing editor of San Diego Magazine. 

He started working at News 8 as the editorial director in 1949. He received numerous prestigious awards for his investigative reporting and was referred to by his colleagues as "The Dean of San Diego Journalists." 

Ray Wilson said of Keen, “it’s safe to say that when Harold moved to San Diego in 1936, much of what San Diegans heard and read about their town came from Harold’s interviews and typewriter.”

Keen's 'People in the News' segment was the longest-running television interview program. He interviewed approximately 25,000 people—athletes, people on the streets, entertainers and presidents. 

Our archives are filled with long-form fascinating interviews that haven’t been seen since they aired decades ago. We begin with this 1981 tribute story from his friend and colleague Ray Wilson.

Related Video: KFMB-TV/News 8's Harold Keen talks about early years in TV news in 1969

On February 7, 1964, Nobel Peace and Chemistry Prize Winner Linus Pauling was in town to lecture at the San Diego Academy of Behavioral Sciences. He had become a controversial figure because of his views on disarmament. Keen asked him about his views on China and whether they belonged in the United Nations.

On February 9, 1964, Keen had a conversation with Dr. Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist, about automation and how millions were losing jobs because of it. Many of the topics they discussed on that day still resonate over half a century later.

On August 29th, 1965, actor Ronald Reagan attended a party sponsored by the Republican Associates. Keen spoke with him about the California governor’s race where Reagan said he would be a candidate if his candidacy would not cause a division within the party. Reagan added that he would only campaign against Governor Brown and not against other Republicans in the primaries. Reagan urged harmony within the GOP.

Related Video: Clips of Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan in San Diego in the 1960s

Hello, Dolly! opened its smash run at the Civic Theatre on September 7, 1965. All performances were sold out from Tuesday through Saturday. It was the start of its West Coast run. Actress Carol Channing remarked that the new theater was beautiful and had only been here a few months. Gower Champion was the director/choreographer and Channing was very impressed with the cast he assembled. She is delightful as she talks to Harold about her affection for San Diego. How nice it must have been to have her perform in our city after she won the Tony Award for best actress in 1964. It won a total of eleven including best musical.

Related Video: 1995 News 8 interview with Carol Channing before run of "Hello, Dolly!" at Civic Theatre

On February 9, 1966, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was in San Diego for a speaking engagement. He had already been on the highest court for 26 years and was nominated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. His term lasted almost 37 years and is the longest in the history of the Supreme Court. Keen talked to him about his love of strenuous exercise, childhood polio, freedom of speech, individual liberties, and more.

Much can be learned from Harold Keen’s interviews. They’re like history lessons that are not available in books. We may not be able to unearth all 25,000 interviews but this is a start and an example of the wide range of people he interviewed. He was a tireless worker and his contributions to News 8 and San Diego were enormous.

KFMB alumni share their memories of Keen.

Tom Warren, former Chief Photographer

I was lucky enough to work with Harold for several years at the beginning of my career. Forty-four years later, and with apologies to the many skilled journalists I subsequently worked with, he was still the best. He was constantly on the phone, digging and digging and digging some more. His thirst for information made him an encyclopedia of knowledge. He knew and had interviewed just about everyone in politics, in sports, in the PD, in local organizations, you name it. It never went to his head though and he always treated this junior writer, then photographer, with the same respect the long-time staffers got. He also had a great sense of humor. I’ll never forget the time after he lost his lower leg due to a medical issue and had a wooden prosthetic, a guest walked into his office and stuck out his hand to shake the seated Harold’s hand. Harold slipped off his wooden leg and stuck it out to the man to shake instead of his hand, to the man’s shock and surprise. Harold thought that was funny as heck. In the end, we would go to his house in the Burlingame neighborhood to film segments or take tracks. He just couldn’t stop working, ill as he was, and did so right until the end. Loved and learned from that man and so totally respect what he stood for and meant to the news in San Diego. There has been none better.

David Cohen, former reporter 

As Tom has said, if you covered a city or state issue, you invariably knocked on Harold's door. He knew everyone...and their skeletons...and he was gracious with his time and knowledge. Years later, the same could be said about Carl Sisskind.

Vic Heman, former photographer 

Ray Wilson hired me as a student intern to help carry the station's new minicam gear. Harold had recently undergone his leg amputation and was taping commentaries at his home. The walls of his den were covered with framed photos of Harold with presidents, politicians and celebrities. He seemed genuinely interested in this wide-eyed kid and we had a few enlightening chats that included the phantom pains he was experiencing, the fact that he bought his house for $5k, and interview techniques. "Never tell 'em how much you know." It had a context I won't go into, but that was the quote that stuck with me. He was cheerful and spirited, and I was lucky to have met him.

Jon Janes, former photographer

I got to shoot with him early 70’s. He was a funny, funny man, frenetic, outstanding newsman who got all the big interviews. He would literally run out of the newsroom and photogs would have to catch up. Great sense of humor and his funniest saying would be a few words he actually invented, jokingly ending with “.... ya butt brained butt!”

Pamela Beatty, wife of former KFMB photographer Ben Cutshall

My first introduction to Harold Keen was when Ben took me down to the old studio on Fifth Avenue before we were married. I heard a typewriter that was clattering at the rate of a machine gun. I looked over and there was Harold banging away on his typewriter at 120 words per minute.