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Cigars in the Newsroom

Cigars are a hot story with local TV newscasters.
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 1)

"I hadn't been in there in a long, long time, and last summer I was coming back from a story; I was working at night. I'm driving back into the city and it's about 9 o'clock and I'm coming up the West Side Highway and I'm thinking, 'Gee, I'd like to have a cigar.' I don't have any cigars and the stores are closed. As I'm going up by Desbrosses [Street], I see Ponte's and I say, 'They'll have a cigar.' I pull over, go inside, go upstairs to the second floor, which is where the restaurant is and the bar, ask 'em if they've got a cigar. The guy pulls out a wonderful humidor from behind the bar, opens it up, and he's got like four or five different kinds in there. There's some Avos, there's some Fonsecas," Guida recalls, warming to his story.

"So I grab a Fonseca and it's like I'm a guy comin' out of the desert dying for a glass of water. I grab the Fonseca, I clip off the end, I'm lighting the thing and I say, 'How much is this thing?' He says, 'Twenty dollars.' I said, 'What! Are you crazy? Twenty dollars!' I said, 'This is a four-dollar cigar.' The guy looks at me like I'm, you know, like I'm from Mars and I have to give him $20. So, what a schmuck, I light the cigar before I ask. I've told Joe [Ponte, the owner of Ponte's] that story and he laughs, the son of a bitch. He says, 'I don't understand why they're charging so much and getting away with it.' Since then he's given me a number of cigars to make up for that night, but he gets a big laugh out of that. That I was fleeced like a tourist. Twenty dollars for a Fonseca at a bar!"

Reggie Harris, a reporter who was also caught up in the WCBS shake-up, usually reserves most of his enjoyment of his preferred Thomas Hinds and Cuban Montecristo No. 4s for after work, with his wife, Diane. There are occasions, though, when Harris is out on a story and a cigar would be just right while waiting for something newsworthy to happen.

"During the [TWA] Flight 800 coverage, we were out at JFK [airport in New York] in the hotel where the families were staying for weeks, and Chris Jones from Fox was smoking a cigar and I thought it looked really good," Harris recalls. "We were waiting for the next statement or something to happen. He offered me his last cigar and I wanted it, but I knew I was going home soon and he was going to be out there all night, so I didn't take it from him."

Not surprisingly, in the frantic news market that is New York, Harris and Guida had never shared a cigar moment until the photo shoot for this article. "We have exchanged cigars," Harris says, remembering that he once gave Guida a new Duke Ellington CD that he had come across (Guida is a big Ellington fan). "And I told him he had to give me a cigar. I forget what he gave me, but it was good," Harris says, laughing.

Dick Oliver, a veteran New York reporter who started in print, left WCBS in 1988 and has since been working for WNYW's morning show. Oliver began smoking cigars to enhance, shall we say, his credibility, and now smokes three a day.

"I quit cigarettes in 1965 in favor of candy, which didn't work too good for my health or my weight. Then, when I was going to Vietnam [as a reporter], because I have such a baby face, I started sticking cigars in my face and I enjoyed them," Oliver recounts. "First were the cigarillos with the wood tips on them, I recall, and it made me look like a tough guy, like Winston Churchill, a baby-faced Winston Churchill. I smoked cigars like that throughout Vietnam. When I came back and started working for the [New York] Daily News, I really began to love cigars. I started out with the cigars I'm smoking today, Don Diego Lonsdales. They're getting very rare, though."

If there's one station at which cigars have made inroads, it is KTVU in Oakland, California. Among other journalists who smoke cigars are Brian Copeland and Randy Shandobil. When he is not doing stand-up comedy, Copeland appears on "Mornings on 2" and does commentary and celebrity interviews. He says he generally smokes when he writes, preferring Macanudo Portofinos, about three a week. He says that he started smoking in the eighth grade.

"I got hooked on 'Maverick' reruns, and Bret and Bart Maverick always smoked cigars and I thought it was cool," Copeland says. "So, when my mother had my baby sister when I was in the eighth grade, I bought a bunch of cigars, Dutch Masters, to give out 'cause my little sister was born. I smoked 'em and liked 'em. They stank," he says with a laugh. "They really stunk the place up. That's how I started."

Shandobil, a KTVU reporter for 16 years, is partial to Avo, CAO, Macanudo, Maya, Vueltabajo and Santa Rosa, and enjoys the collegiality cigars have created at his station.

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