12/23/04: Samantha Smith (1983)

Samantha Smith was adorable; made for television. Most amazing of all, she had established a correspondence with the leader of the Soviet Union, during the Cold War.

Tara Sonenshine was one of our lead booking producers at the time. Get Samantha, we said:

TARA SONENSHINE : She was 10 years old, she lived in Maine, she had written to then-Soviet Premier Andropov, about the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and missiles and nuclear war. And I was told when it ran on the wires at about 8 o'clock at night, get this kid. We want her for the second half of "Nightline."

And I got a couple of people on the line and ultimately I got Mrs. Smith who said yes, Samantha would love to do television but she was coming to New York to appear on the "Today" show the next morning. Well that was the kiss of death to be a booker on "Nightline" and have to say the guest is going to be appearing on your competition tomorrow morning.

And I said, "where are you staying?" And it was like the Mayflower Hotel in New York and I said, "well I'll be there to welcome you."

And I was there with ice cream that had been brought to the green room and persuaded this little girl to come over at 11:30 at night and talk to us.

From Nightline, April 25, 1983:

TED KOPPEL : What did you write to him, and then what did he write back?

SMITH : Well, I asked him 'why do you want to conquer the world?' And he wrote back to me and said that he wanted nothing of the kind, and gave me a little history lesson on the last war they had. And he said that he didn't want to have a war or anything like that again.

KOPPEL : What else did you ask him?

SMITH : Well, I asked him who would start the war first.

KOPPEL : Not him, I'll bet.

SMITH : Yeah. He said that if we were going to have a war, they would never be the first ones to start it.

KOPPEL : Well, now that you've gone through this experience - and I must say it's one of the more effective exercises in diplomacy that we've seen in this country in quite awhile - now that you've completed it, what do you conclude from all of this?

SMITH : Well, I just hope we can have peace, and I hope it'll do some good.

She really was the sweetest kid. Tragically, less than three years later, she and her father died in a plane crash. Samantha was 13.

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