Geyer, Georgie Anne, 1935-2019
- Existence: 1935 - 2019
Georgie Anne Geyer was born April 2, 1935 in Chicago, the daughter of Robert George and Georgie Hazel Gervens Geyer, and attended Calumet High School. She entered Northwestern University’s School of Speech in 1952, and after two quarters transferred to the Medill School of Journalism. During her winter quarter of junior year, Geyer temporarily left Northwestern to continue her studies abroad at Mexico City College. Geyer earned her B.S. in 1956. While an undergraduate, she was active on the Daily Northwestern and was twice Rush chairman of Alpha Chi Omega. After graduation, Geyer spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Vienna, wrote freelance articles for the Chicago Tribune, and worked for a few months as a reporter for the Southtown Economist.
In 1959, Geyer joined the Chicago Daily News as a social reporter. In 1964, while on a six-month fellowship for travel in South America, Geyer became the Latin American correspondent for the paper. In 1967, she won the Overseas Press Club Award for her nationally syndicated series on Latin America, which included interviews with Cesar Montes, the Guatemalan Communist guerrilla leader, whom she met while residing with rebels in the Latin American nation. Geyer also interviewed Fidel Castro during this period. This interview was a major feat for a woman in the journalism field. As the Daily News famously put it “Our Man in Havana is a Woman.” Given the high tensions between Cuba and the United States at the time, obtaining an interview with the dictator was a notable feat. Her success in this regard helped her establish a reputation as one of the most prominent foreign correspondents of her time.
Following the success of her time covering Latin America, Geyer served as a roving foreign correspondent until 1975, handling assignments in the Middle East, U.S.S.R., Vietnam, and Africa. Some of her journalistic accomplishments during this time included interviews with Israeli politician Shimon Peres, PLO leader Yassar Arafat, the first foreign interview of Saddam Hussein, and the last foreign interview of Argentinian President Juan Peron. Geyer has stated that being a woman interviewer has helped her obtain much better interviews with these dignitaries, saying that something about her femininity “puts men at ease. They sit there and sooner or later everything pours out.”
It was during this time that Geyer published her first book The New Latins, which documented the revolutionary wave that swept Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. The book was widely praised and became assigned reading in many college courses on the subject. The book was the beginning of her career as an author. The New Latins was followed up by numerous books including her autobiography, Buying the Night Flight; The Guerilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro; a biography of the elusive Cuban dictator; and When Cats Reigned Like Kings: On the Trail of Sacred Cats, a profile of the role of cats in our world.
She was a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times from 1975-1980. During this time, she continued to conduct interviews with some of the most prominent figures of the time, including Ayatollah Khomeini. She became the first American journalist to visit the Sultanate of Oman. She was also briefly imprisoned in Angola during this time, for her writings criticizing the revolutionary government.
In 1980, Geyer moved to the Universal Press Syndicate, where she began writing her syndicated column, The Geyer Files. Published three times a week throughout the nation in papers such as The Chicago Sun Times, The Washington Times, The Dallas Morning News, and The Houston Post, column covered a variety of international issues, and also addressed women’s issues.
Her time at the Universal Press Syndicate was also known for a small controversy in the early 1990s involving the television sitcom, Hearts Afire. The show, which premiered in the fall of 1992, was produced by Harry and Linda Thomason, friends of Bill and Hillary Clinton, portrayed a journalist whose career accomplishments were remarkably similar to Geyer’s. Yet, the show’s producers also spun the character to be a journalist who was lacking in character. Throughout the run of the show, Geyer received significant support from friend and fellow journalist Mike Royko of the Chicago Sun-Times, and from numerous readers of her columns. She sought advice from first amendment lawyer Rod Smolla as well as prominent attorney Gary Botswick, but eventually did not pursue legal action
Geyer’s career has not been limited to the newspaper. She has also made numerous appearances on television news talk shows including PBS’ Washington Week; NBC’s Meet the Press; William Buckley’s Firing Line; and CSAPN’s Washington Journal.
Geyer’s professional activity also included a large amount of time spent as an educator. She held numerous positions in which she educated future journalists. These include the Lyle M. Spencer Professor of Journalism at Syracuse University and the John J. Fitzpatrick Lecturer at the University of Utah. She also was involved with the Annenberg Program in Washington D.C., which was designed to educate the public on issues of communications policy, where she was a senior fellow. Additional professional activities included a stint as a trustee at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, and numerous lectures and speeches at Universities and Think Tanks throughout the United States.
Geyer’s work has earned her critical acclaim from a large number of individuals and institutions. Some of her numerous awards include 21 honorary degrees including three from Northwestern University, as well Lake Forest College. She also has won the Edward Weintal Prize, awarded by Georgetown University for quality diplomatic reporting, and the Maria Moors Cabot Award, given by Columbia University in recognition of those who have helped to improve relations within the Western Hemisphere.
Geyer suffered from multiple health ailments during the last years of her life. Cancer of the tongue and the medical treatments she received subsequent to diagnosis took away her ability to speak publicly, something she had done previously and with great frequency through public events and broadcast programs. She died at her home in Washington, DC, on May 15, 2019.