Biography



Mary Pangalos Manilla (M.P. Manilla) is an award-winning journalist who launched her career by hanging out in a bar.

Not any bar, but the one in the Chinese restaurant in Garden City, Long Island, New York, where the Managing Editor of NEWSDAY ate lunch every day. After three weeks of being nagged by sympathetic patrons, waiters, the bartender, and even the owner of the restaurant—who’d all been told about this young woman’s dream of becoming a news reporter—the editor finally approached Mary on her bar stool and said “I want to eat my lunch in peace. Report to work Monday morning.”

She did, and that began a career in what in those days was called “The Woman’s Department,” writing the daily Calendar of Club events and meetings. Her first story was about a woman who created a turkey out of jellybeans for her Thanksgiving Day table.

After nine months of being a calendar girl, Mary managed to win a transfer to the City Room by desperately browbeating and tricking NASA and Air Force officials into letting her become the first woman to take the same tests given the seven astronauts, and prove that women could withstand the rigors and hazards of space travel as well as any man. The results, which were “as good as any of the astronauts and better than most,” convinced the same peace-loving NEWSDAY Managing Editor to transfer her into the City Room, where she covered axe murders, natural disasters, Town Hall meetings, political campaigns, wars, accidents, and celebrity interviews. In an effort to distinguish herself from other reporters she also parachuted out of planes for a story about sports parachuting, was smuggled into Cuba after the Bay of Pigs to do a story about

anti-Castro fighters, rode a snow plow in a record-setting blizzard, conducted an underwater interview with the man attempting to set a world’s record for underwater endurance, and was finally promoted to Senior Feature Writer.

Along the way she acquired two Pulitzer Prize nominations. The first was for her series about being the first woman allowed to take the astronaut tests, which opened the way for women to officially be included in NASA’s space program. Her second Pulitzer nomination was for a five-part series on the Civil Rights movement.

Shortly after that, Mary was being interviewed on a TV show. Her appearance was seen by an executive at CBS-TV which was considering (finally) hiring a woman to be an on-air TV News correspondent at its flagship station in New York City.

And there was Mary, already living in New York City.

It was another “first” for her, as the first woman to be hired as an on-air TV News correspondent whose stories could be seen on a major network’s news broadcasts (although other stations and networks soon followed suit), and often introduced by the late great Walter Cronkite himself.

After several months of hectic reporting, sleepless nights, and endless work hours, Manilla aspired to be a writer/producer of documentaries, combining what she felt was the power of words to the magic of visual images. Towards that end, she enrolled at New York University (NYU) to study film production—a goal that almost immediately proved to be impossible because she was usually working when she should have been in class.

It was a dilemma she serendipitously solved by marrying her NYU professor of film production, James Manilla, perhaps the only man in the world understanding enough to tolerate her work schedule. As a “wedding gift,” her news editor covered and broadcast her wedding on TV. Then the same editor phoned her on her wedding night and assigned her to cover a transit strike that resulted in her being separated from her new husband for three weeks.

Shortly after that, Mary (now Mrs. James Manilla) had an epiphany while riding in a van with her TV News film crew. The epiphany occurred as they drove through New York City’s Central Park on a beautiful, sunny, spring

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