Marlene Sanders, one of the first female broadcast TV journalists, lost a battle with cancer on Tuesday at the age of 84. Jeffrey Toobin, her son and an Emmy Award winning writer, announced her death on his Facebook page, writing, “Marlene Sanders, my mother, died today. A pioneering television journalist – the first network newswoman to report from Vietnam, among many other firsts — she informed and inspired a generation. Above all, though, she was a great Mom.”
USA Today reported that Sanders was “the first woman to anchor a prime-time network newscast, in 1964 for ABC, when she filled-in for Ron Cochran, who had lost his voice that night.”
Sanders anchored ABC Weekend News on Saturdays for three months in 1971, taking over for Sam Donaldson. She went on to become the first female vice-president of a news division, ABC, in 1976 — the same year Barbara Walters became the first full-time female news anchor as a co-anchor of ABC Evening News. Sanders produced hundreds of documentaries for ABC before moving to CBS in 1978, where she worked as a documentary correspondent and producer.
Sanders’ charm is unmistakable and on full display in a clip on YouTube from a 1978 episode of Newsbreak at CBS, where she reported “it was some nine months ago when the blizzard of ’78 hit New England, the medical community predicted this would be a busy time for maternity wards but it hasn’t happened. One nurse at the maternity ward said ‘most of the men must have been shoveling snow.’”
Sanders won three Emmy Awards during her time at CBS before she retired in 1987, and also was the recipient of a Writers Guild Award and a Silver Satellite Award.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her career began in the 1950s on Mike Wallace’s local Nightbeat TV show. Until recently, she was an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. Sanders’ son Jeffrey Toobin is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and a senior legal analyst for CNN.
Toobin wrote candidly about his mother in a 2012 New Yorker piece titled, “My Mom, Top Journalist” after she was named to New York University’s “100 Outstanding Journalists in the United States in the Last 100 Years” list.
In the article, Toobin recalled always having been proud of his mother’s achievements, but it was “only later in life that I’ve come fully to appreciate the magnitude of her accomplishments. Now, happily,” he wrote, “everyone else will too.”