John Chancellor was an award-winning reporter and evening news anchor for NBC-TV. John was born in Chicago on July 14, 1927. His mother was from County Mayo in Ireland. His father died when John was young and he and his mother lived at some of the best addresses in downtown Chicago. This was not because the family had money but because his mother worked for various fashionable hotels in management including the Stevens Hotel (later Conrad Hilton Hotel) at 720 South Michigan Avenue. Living quarters at the hotel was part of the compensation package
Early in World War II during his high school years, John attended DePaul Academy for three years and the University of Chicago Hyde Park Day School for one semester. He worked at a variety of odd jobs including a stint at the Chicago Daily Tribune as a copy boy. He also worked at Kroch and Brentano's Book Store on South Wabash and on a tour boat on the Illinois River. He got the equivalent of a high school diploma from the US Army in 1944 and served until 1946. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1949 and went to work as a reporter for The Chicago Sun-Times, a new newspaper that was the result of a merger of The Chicago Sun and the The Chicago Times in 1946. The paper was then owned by Marshall Field, III. He covered the Little Rock, Arkansas school desegregation story for The Chicago Sun-Times in 1957. Chancellor was married twice in the 1950s. The first marriage was short and the second marriage to Barbara Upshaw in 1958 lasted many years until his death.
In the late 1950s John worked as a reporter and then news anchor for WBKB-TV (later WLS-TV) and then for NBC affiliate WMAQ-TV. He had various appointments with NBC News as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Berlin. He reported for the short version of the Huntley-Brinkley Report and served for one year in 1961 as host for The Today Show on NBC. Chancellor reported from Berlin on President Kennedy's visit to that city in June 1963 and then reported on European reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy in November of that year.
Years later NBC based another veteran reporter from Chicago in Berlin, Garrick Utley, who was the son of Channel 5 reporters Clifton Utley and Frayn Utley. John was one of a large number of Chicago news veterans who went on to work at the network level including Utley, John Palmer, Hal Bruno, John McWethy, Frank Reynolds, Bill Kurtis, and many others.
John Chancellor violated what was then a rule of TV journalism when he became the story one night at the 1964 Republican National Convention. He was asked to not block an aisle for a floor position in order to let some "Goldwater Girls" pass in a planned demonstration at the Cow Palace in Daly City near San Francicso. After ushers, convention press officials, and police asked him to move and he refused, he was arrested. As the camera followed him out he made a flippant remark that NBC promised him bail money and he signed off saying "This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody." Some viewers suspected that Chancellor wanted to provoke the arrest since his reasons for not moving seemed a little vague or at least not obvious to police.
Chancellor himself might have gotten caught up in the moment. The incident did do some damage to his journalistic reputation at the time. He left NBC and in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Chancellor as the Director of The Voice of America overseas radio service. He held that position until 1967. In 1966, Chancellor gave a speech to the Illinois State Society of Washington, DC and was often invited to events of the group.
John returned to NBC in time for the 1968 convention and election coverage. He became one of three anchors of the NBC Nightly News in 1970 and served in that job for 12 years until 1982. For five years from 1971 to 1976, John Chancellor was the sole anchor. But faced with stiff competition at ABC and CBS, after 1976 he rotated the anchor chair with David Brinkley (after Chet Huntley retired) and with NBC veteran Frank McGee. Some of John Chancellor's competition in the early 1980s at ABC came from another Chicago news veteran, Frank Reynolds, was was by this time anchor at ABC News.
After John retired as NBC News anchor in April 1982, he was succeeded by Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd until Mudd went to Meet the Press and NBC Almanac and Brokaw became sole anchor. But John Chancellor continued to write commentaries and apprear on camera to read them for eleven more years until 1993 when he retired for good from active NBC News duties. John's retirement years were spent mostly in New England. John died on July 12, 1996, just two days shy of what would have been his 69th birthday.
After his death, the Lipman family gave a donation to the Columbia University School of Journalism in memory of John. Click here to read more about the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism.