Sally Ann Roberts was on the cover of our 1978 People to Watch issue. Dressed as a fortune teller, the long-time WWL TV morning show anchor was pictured staring into a crystal ball as though to predict that year’s group of watchable people. The annual feature is the magazine’s oldest tradition, though one that has been modified with the times. Back then, the number of selections matched the year, so forty years ago it would be 78 people on the list. Mercifully the editors switched to a standardized number before being overwhelmed in 1999, which would, in theory, be followed by no people in 2000.
We define People to Watch as folks who are doing something new and different or, if they have been around, going in a different direction. Stephen Ambrose the UNO history professor, who would later be famous for being the impetus behind what is now the Word War II museum and whose books on the war are classics, was on the list but for a different reason. He had just been contracted by the BBC to write a parallel lives-themed documentary about chief Crazy Horse and George Armstrong Custer. A young reporter for the States-Item newspaper, Walter Isaacson was seen to be a rising star. Good call. He is now a nationally famous biographer whose latest critically acclaimed book about Leonardo DiVinci follows successes covering Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger,.
Selecting Dutch Morial for the list was an easy pick because he had just been elected mayor and would take office later that year. More daring was the inclusion of councilman-at-large Sidney Barthelemy who would be elected mayor eight years later.
Some names are forgotten but all had their moment in the sun. Curiously the person who literally was most watched for the longest period of time was cover girl Sally Anne Roberts. At one point the WWL morning show had one of the largest local audiences in the country. Roberts retired last year. Perhaps she saw that in her crystal ball.