Veteran newsman Richard C. Hottelet of Wilton dies at 97

The newsman Richard C. Hottelet, known as the last of “Murrow’s Boys” — a group of journalists who worked with Edward R. Murrow — died Wednesday morning, Dec. 17, at his home in Wilton, CBS reported. He was 97.

Mr. Hottelet made his mark reporting during World War II. While living in Germany, he originally worked for United Press International.

During the war he was also imprisoned for four months by the Nazis on charges of “suspicion of espionage.” He recalled the incident for Bulletin reporter Chris Davis.

When his doorbell rang at 7 o’clock the morning of March 15, 1941, Mr. Hottelet, then 23, opened it only to find Gestapo agents who told him to get dressed and go with them. At police headquarters he was fingerprinted and thrown into a cell. He remained a prisoner for four months. He attributed his troubles, he told The Bulletin, to the kinds of questions he asked the Nazis at press conferences.

“I got on the Nazis’ nerves because I did what you should never, ever do as a reporter,” he said, “I became part of the story, in that I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me. And I would ask them nasty questions.

“At any rate, they came along one day and just put me in the pokey,” he said. “And there was a lot of hemming and hawing between governments and an exchange was eventually arranged. There was a German newspaperman named Manfred Zapp, who was in the United States. And he was caught with his hands in the cookie jar. He was also a spy.

“And we were exchanged. He came over on the USS West Point, which was a troop carrier, and I came down by train from Berlin. We met and were exchanged in Lisbon. It was a relief for them to get rid of me.”

That was hardly the end of Mr. Hottelet’s adventures during the war. He covered the air battles and went on bombing raids that targeted U-boats hidden along the French coast.

He met Murrow and joined CBS News in 1944, and on D-Day, he reported the first eyewitness account of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Shortly thereafter, he reported on the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

Mr. Hottelet was one of a corps of celebrated CBS journalists that included Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, William Shirer, Larry LeSueur, Winston Burdett, and Howard K. Smith.

He went on to cover the Cold War as well as events in Vietnam, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. He remained with CBS for 41 years.

After CBS, Mr. Hottelet was counselor for press and public affairs at the United States mission to the United Nations.

He told The Bulletin he enjoyed working at CBS. “Murrow was the head man,” he said, “a fine human being. He was a great boss, he was fair, he was demanding enough so that you had to deliver. He wasn’t going to take excuses. He wanted the product. But a first-class human being.”

He was not so sanguine about the state of the news business today.

“It’s really a two-way street,” he said. “It’s the people who write the news and the people who want the news. And if there is anything wrong with the news business today, the responsibility is likely to be shared on both sides. People don’t want serious news. They like features, they like human interest, they like to shed a tear or smile a smile, rather than move their minds. The news business is really what people have made of it, and it’s largely feature. It’s not that serious anymore.”

Mr. Hottelet was born Sept. 22, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He married Ann Delafield in 1942, and they settled in Wilton some 60 years ago. Mrs. Hottelet died in 2013. He is survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Hottelet, who lived on Chestnut Hill Road, was a familiar face and voice in Wilton. Active with the Democratic Party, he was also a guest speaker at many community events, including delivering the keynote address at the town’s 1988 Memorial Day celebration.

More recently, Mr. Hottelet was honored with the Distinguished Service Award in 2011 from the Radio and Television Digital News Association.

CBS Newsman Dave Barrett, who lived near Mr. Hottelet, described him as “a wonderful man, a wonderful conversationalist.

“He was a gracious host … his living room and den were full of books,” he said. And there were letters everywhere.

“He was a very kind man. At CBS he was revered.”