Words from the Heart

Courtesy Jane Muheim

“We have all been drawn here tonight . . . by heartstrings,” Harry Miles Muheim told classmates at his 55th reunion. “There is a heartstring running from every member of the Class of ’41 to the heart of every other member. And so . . . we are all sitting here enmeshed in a great web of affection.”

Muheim, a lifelong writer, died February 11 at 82 in Boulder County, Colo., after a stroke. He was a man who treasured his friendships—with playwrights and presidents, composers and classmates alike.

Born in San Francisco, he majored in economics and was active in Ram’s Head theatrical productions. He wanted to go to Los Angeles “to write funny movies” but was derailed by World War II, during which he attended language school (where he met his wife), translated Japanese for Navy Intelligence and received a Bronze Star. After returning to Stanford for a master’s in speech and drama, he taught playwriting and play production at NYU for four years, taking leave on a Guggenheim fellowship in 1956 to write a musical. Throughout this period, he penned weekly TV scripts for Playhouse 90, Playwrights ’56 and Philco/ Goodyear Television Playhouse.

Muheim shifted to political writing in 1958, moving to Washington, D.C., to work on campaign commercials and speeches for Democrats including Robert F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey and Jimmy Carter. The experience served as fodder for a humorous political novel, Vote for Quimby—and Quick (Macmillan, 1979), and for articles in Esquire, the New Yorker and other magazines. In one piece, Muheim described the six hours he spent with Leonard Bernstein writing TV spots for Carter’s 1980 presidential campaign. Muheim and Bernstein stayed in touch until the musician’s death in 1990. Another friend, former CBS executive Jerry Weissman, MA ’58, became acquainted with Muheim while taking his freshman speech class at NYU. “From the moment I met him, Harry’s eloquence, intellect, charm and wit made me a starstruck acolyte,” Weissman writes in Presenting to Win (Financial Times/ Prentice Hall, 2003).

Muheim’s screenwriting won him a Peabody in 1991 for ABC’s Pearl Harbor 50th-anniversary program and the Writers Guild Annual Award in 2001 for a CBS special on the Kennedy Center honors.

He also lent his talents to Stanford, creating the script for the Centennial show, “Stadium Spectacular,” and writing and narrating the Business School’s 75th-anniversary video. “He was the writer for capturing seminal moments in our history,” recalls his friend Julia Hartung, ’82, a development officer at Stanford.

And he was still the big man on campus more than a half-century after graduating. At Muheim’s 60th reunion, in 2001, Hartung asked one of his classmates what she remembered about him. “Ah,” the woman replied, “we loved Harry Muheim.”

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Jane; his daughter, Heidi; his son, Mark; two grandsons; and his sister, Fern Carr, ’40.