The New York TV news star was once among the most familiar figures in our lives. But as local TV news ebbed their prominence ebbed as well. What happened to these New York TV legends? Today, a visit with Storm Field.
For a time in the early '80s, Elliot David Field of Bellmore was perhaps the most famous person in New York TV news. You knew him as Storm.
After a brief time at a long-defunct news network funded by Joseph Coors, then at WPIX/11, he joined WABC/7's famed "Eyewitness News" team as weather forecaster in 1976, remaining there until 1991. He joined WCBS/2 a year later, then left in '97 for a ten-year run at WWOR/9. (He worked — briefly — alongside his father, Dr. Frank Field.) Field, 73, now lives in Florida near his mom and dad. We spoke recently about his career.
Your father and his career obviously mean a great deal to you. True?
Yes, he was what you aimed for — to be the person that people trust and want to turn to when the weather situation is serious and not when the management wants to make it serious to pump up ratings.
How do you both get along now?
Great. We're very, very close.
So, you were a Long Island kid long ago, right?
I grew up in Bellmore and my parents moved to Massapequa after I graduated from high school — Mepham High. I like to say they moved and didn't tell me [laughs]. But it was a very simple, middle-class, conservative upbringing.
Where'd you go to college?
McGill [in Montreal]. I started out in pre-med and ended up honors in English. I was going to be a doctor, then a college professor, then ended up going to optometry school in Boston. After that, I went to work for the [New York] state university as a clinician and instructor, then got a job teaching reporters about medical stories. At McGill, my dad said, "You oughta study weather as a minor just in case."
After a short time at WPIX/11, you go to WABC/7?
I was lucky. It's funny to me because I got the job not because of my dad but because of the [general manager Al Ittelson's] secretary there — Marsha Chin — who kept putting my video reel back on the top of a pile for the general manager to see. She was the gateway for me. She made it happen.
Your name didn't hurt — and I don't mean the "Field" part but the "Storm" part.
I was always Storm to my family. When my mother was pregnant with me, she'd go in for the monthly checkups with the obstetrician and I was very active, and my mother recalled him saying, "My God, that's a stormy kid." So they were calling me "Stormy" even before I was born.
Tex Antoine — also an early weather forecaster for Ch. 4 later for Ch. 7 — was instrumental in your career. How did that come about?
The station brought on someone else because Tex was quite ill and they figured he wasn't going to make it that much longer. But Tex refused to die and hung on [and the other anchor] said, "This is crazy. I'm not waiting around anymore" and [left]. It was then the moment that Tex must have thought, "OK, now I'm going to blow myself up."
Blow up is right!
Either ["Eyewitness News" co-anchors] Roger Grimsby or Bill Beutel had just reported a story of an attempted rape [of an eight-year-old] in the Bronx and Tex, who had not been paying attention, said something like, "It is well to remember the words of Confucius: If rape is inevitable, sit back and enjoy it." [After he was fired] I remember they worked a week or two without anyone doing the weather [then] I was asked, "What are you doing this week? Good. You're doing the weather." That was my start.
What did you feel?
Terrified. I remember before my first night, I was told to fill up extra time, so suddenly I had almost three minutes to do the weather [because] Hurricane Belle was forming. I had plenty to talk about.
Eventually you became that sex symbol weather guy?
I never had time to be a sex symbol. Maybe that's what they were printing but I had no idea. My dad was really great about setting me straight about the [TV] business early on. The advice he gave me was, be nice to people on your way up because those you step on will be the ones who kick you on the way down. He said [success] isn't about you but about the people who are watching. If they like you, that's the reason you stay on the air... I never thought of myself as being any more than anybody else in terms of an an on-air person. I got schooled with the people I worked with, like Gloria Rojas, who had a really tough life story. Their take on the business was this is a blessing.
I'll never forget when you left, Ch. 7 sent out a news release saying you were leaving to star in a pilot for the network.
They made it up. There was never a pilot but they had to explain why I had left. I needed a break and you can't take a break in TV. It's not like other jobs where you can take a six-month sabbatical. If you're not on the air, you're forgotten. I needed to take some time and they wouldn't do it, so I took it myself. My wife and I traveled for a year to the South Pacific [then] my intention was to retire to the Berkshires, but my wife liked New York [City] and I thought might as well get another job. Figured I'd go back to Ch. 7—all I wanted to do was weekend fill-in — but they had other people in the role. That's when I got an offer for a full time gig at Ch. 2.
It got ugly, right?
After a couple years they hired Ira Joe Fisher to do the weather [and] they wanted me to do the new [network] morning show. So I was going to do mornings and afternoons which was OK by me but I was also working without a contract. I asked for one but they said we've got too much going on right now and we'll take care of it down the line. Famous last words from a TV executive.
There was a standoff just six months later?
I gave a two-week notice and [the then-station boss] refused to talk to me, then, on the day I was leaving, gave me a piece of paper with a new deal written on it and there was almost no change at all. I told him it was too little too late. Then they threw me out.
Did you get a rep out that as someone difficult to deal with — a prima donna?
I got a rep as someone difficult to deal with, mostly because I didn't have [an agent] to stand up for me. I was following my dad's lead. He never had an agent … Prima donna? I don't think that was it, but I wasn't user friendly.
Then those ten years at Ch. 9 where you were briefly reunited with your dad.
We finally got it all together [at Ch. 9] and firing on all cylinders then Fox [which also owned WNYW/5] took over the station. Over the next year they fired over a hundred people and the building was an empty shell. One night the general manager said it doesn't appear you are very happy working for us — I said I wasn't — and there doesn't seem to be any reason to re-up your contract. I said I wouldn't if I were him. He was stunned. They walked me out with the security guard.
What then — you were only 58 after all?
I was lucky. I had been absent for my children [both daughters], and now was home and got a lot of good years with them, when they were in their young teens then on into college. I was completely there for them and that was a blessing for me. Unfortunately, my wife and I decided not long after that the marriage was over, too.
You've had a fascinating post-TV career — as a race car driver.
I have always been a car guy and always been someone interested in machinery of all kinds. I went to race school back in the '90s [and] made good friends in racing over the years, particularly now, with the guys down here.
We all have regrets about things we could have done better and I think about the things I could have handled better when I was younger. But you live by making mistakes and hopefully the mistakes you make don't end up hurting other people. With most of my mistakes, I hurt myself. [But] I had a career that lasted over three decades and I'm not unhappy about that. It would have been nice to end it a little differently but then I wouldn't have gotten the time to spend all those years with my girls. That was the nicest bonus I could have ever had.