Telemprompter Inventor “Hub” Schlafly Dies; Device Changed Public Address in America

Apr 26, 2011 12:55pm

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf and Brian Canova report:

You’ve never heard of Hubert J. “Hub” Schlafly Jr., but if you’ve seen a major political speech in the past generation, you know his work.  Schlafly invented the TelePrompTer and changed public address in America. He died April 20th in Connecticut.

President Barack Obama, is hailed by supporters as a gifted orator. But he has been lambasted by critics for his reliance on the teleprompter. In truth, every President since Dwight D. Eisenhower, excepting Nixon, has used one for major speeches in Congress.

Schlafly, a TV engineer, developed the device in the 1950’s to help soap opera actors remember their lines, according to the Washington Post. For more on Schlafly, read the Post's obituary.

But it  is politicians who made the device, which has evolved with technology, most famous. A seamlessly executed teleprompter-aided speech allows the speaker to read from notes while giving the impression that the speech is given from memory.

So there is no better way to understand how Schlafly's invention changed speechifying than to see what happens when it all goes wrong. Here are some top teleprompter malfunctions:

In teleprompter lore, President Bill Clinton, gets credit for having the most seamless teleprompter malfunction recovery. When he began giving his 1994 State of the Union Address, he realized the teleprompter had the wrong speech loaded. But Clinton carried on off-the-cuff and from memory. (Note – In the C-SPAN video below it takes Clinton nearly half an hour to wend his way through the room and start speaking.)

President Obama, despite his reliance on the teleprompter, once continued with a speech when a teleprompter crashed to the ground. One prompter screen crashed over and he was left with only one to keep going.

It is not just Republicans that rib the President about his use of the teleprompter. Vice President Joe Biden joked about the President’s use of teleprompter when his own blew over during a 2009 speech at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

 

President Obama is not the only person to have difficulty with the teleprompter. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer endured a teleprompter malfunction earlier this year. But she carried on using written remarks.

 

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