When Diane Sawyer Came to Town
Incident at Murray Bar Was One for the Books
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Livingston, Montana, has attracted more than its share of celebrities over the years. No one knows why. Some enjoy greater prominence than others, and in July 2000, one of the more notable, a prominent female journalist—beautiful, intelligent, experienced—happened to stroll into the Murray Bar, and an encounter ensued that has since become part of the town’s oral history, a history that in this case has been corroborated by eyewit-nesses.
The Montana Pio-neer covered the journalist’s arrival at that time, and her reason for showing up—a compelling human interest interview for ABC’s 20/20 related to a woman who survived an ordeal in the Antarctic. The interview was conducted at the Lincoln School, where a studio had been set up for filming. Since that time, though, we learned that the more astounding story took place in another part of town, away from the lights and makeshift stage in a half lit barroom. Here’s what happened.
But first some background: After winning America’s Junior Miss pageant in the 1960s and graduating from Wellesley College, this well known journalist went on to work as a White House Press Aid for Richard Nixon, and later assisted him in writing his memoirs. Subsequently, she anchored the CBS Morning News, served as a correspondent on 60 Minutes, co-anchored ABC’s Primetime Live, 20/20, and Good Morning America, and has since replaced Charles Gibson as the ABC World News anchor. Notable interviews she’s conducted include Fidel Castro, Sadaam Hussein, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Nancy Reagan, and Madonna (to name a few). In 2001, she was named one of the thirty most powerful women in America by the Ladies' Home Journal. In 2007, she ranked 62nd on Forbes Magazine's List of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women. Not a thin resume by any standard. In Livingston’s Murray Bar, though, as it turned out, she had earned no special treatment—quite the contrary.
She entered through the lobby of the Murray Hotel in the early evening, distinctive in her appearance by local standards, blond, fiftyish (appearing younger), wearing a short maroon skirt and well coiffed, looking like a million bucks, as they say, yet dropped into the middle of a Rocky Mountain railroad town more suited to ranchers and locomotive mechanics than fashionable TV personalities. Those in attendance that evening recall well what took place, though some disagreement exists over incidentals.
One local customer, a regular at the Murray by 5:30 every evening, saw the woman enter, undoubtedly a sight to behold. In order to avoid contention, we shall call him Spalding (one brand strikes a chord as well as any another). And he’s known for taking an Irish Whiskey or two, or more, and occasionally uttering phrases that might rightly be perceived as, well, obscene. In this case, he had no idea who he was talking to (having been consulted for this article) or her prominence, but he was aware of her mini skirt and fine appearance, probably even her perfume, the high quality variety that arouses a man’s natural instincts. All these factors must have played upon Spalding’s senses and propensities, wafting across the barroom as she entered, driving him to make oral history then and there.
Turning to the beautiful woman, extending his hand with a back and forth motion that suggested a certain suggestive commingling, and with a sense of urgency, Spalding blurted out his proposition, the most graphic perhaps in the English language, one that can’t be repeated here (oral history indeed), and then a price quote—a hundred bucks.
Onlookers stood by in disbelief. The place went silent as a graveyard at midnight. A moment passed that seemed much longer, and if you hadn’t guessed, the woman in question was Diane Sawyer, the savvy All American veteran of TV journalism who always manages to look far younger than her age—54 at that time.
Hardly missing a beat, always a class act, and with those at the bar waiting in suspense, Sawyer turned to Spalding, having quickly considered his one hundred dollar proposition, and quipped:
Having met his match, and unexpectedly, Spalding went silent, a rare occurrence.
Foregoing the drink she had in mind, a woman at a disadvantage given the circumstance, Diane Sawyer then exited the Murray and went about her business.