It has been many years now since the late David Yellin presided over a much-admired local television show. Called Face To Face, it focused on subjects of the day as discussed by newsmakers, authorities, hobbyists, and sometimes merely talented gossips. In no way did it resemble that numbing species of programming known as the public-affairs broadcast. Nor did it have much in common with the shout-down talk shows which are now everywhere you turn on network and cable TV.
It was civilized without being stuffy. It was both knowledgeable and fun. Though it often turned potentially abstruse subjects into digestible nuggets of information, it never patronized its viewers. In other words, the show was in every way like its host. Guests who appeared on the show would always remark that things had gone so smoothly that they'd forgotten they were doing television. The experience was altogether like good, spontaneous conversation.
It was probably like being a member of the Yellin household, which unfortunately has diminished by three in recent years. Wife Carol Lynn Yellin, an outstanding feminist and author, died in 1999; son Chuck, a sometime resident of Israel and Internet pathfinder, in 2000; and David Gilmer Yellin himself passed away last week from Parkinson's disease at the age of 86. David (he was informal enough to enjoy being called by his first name, even in his later years) is survived by what is a remarkable family group -- two other sons, ABC news producer Tom and film and video producer Doug, and daughter Emily, whose work graces the pages of The New York Times (as it once did those of the Flyer).
David Yellin spent much of his adult life as an admired member of the University of Memphis faculty, where his wide-ranging classes virtually defined the nature of media for his fortunate students -- particularly through the landmark film and television curriculum he founded. He was much revered by his colleagues too. In 1988, the university conferred the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award on him and Carol Lynn for their work in mediating between black and white segments of the community in the wake of the 1968 sanitation strike and Dr. King's assassination as well as for their invaluable work in archiving the pivotal events of that era.
Though he was the son of immigrant parents and was brought up in Philadelphia, David was as typical of the local landscape as its magnolia trees and broad Ahs. He was a sports nut whose proudest boasts included that he once saw Lou Gehrig hit four home runs in a ball game and that he himself had executed an unassisted triple play as a sandlot infielder.
David's trademark way of ending segments of Face To Face was to keep his panelists talking well past the point that the tape had ceased to roll. If his guests had any regret at all, it was that some of their best lines were never heard by the TV audience, since the conversation which David so artfully stoked was still going strong -- getting stronger, in fact. Always, David Yellin inspired people to keep talking. He still does. His friends and admirers will have the opportunity to remember him at a memorial service set for Saturday, June 15th, at 1 p.m. at the University of Memphis theater building. Face to face, as it were.