Barry ZeVan – “the weatherman” to television viewers in Minnesota and across the country – has written a memoir that looks back on his career in broadcasting and show business, and he’s donating a share of proceeds from the book to two union charities.
The 78-year-old ZeVan self-published “My Life Among the Giants” earlier this year after a writing process that took 11 months. The book runs 284 pages long, includes 32 bonus pages of photos and is available for purchase now on Amazon.com.
The memoir recounts ZeVan’s many run-ins with celebrity actors, artists and politicians over the course of his career – relationships that stemmed mostly, he said, from “being in the right place at the right time.”
“I got to meet ambassadors and presidents and kings and queens and everything else,” he said. “Being in show business and broadcasting, you meet everyone eventually.”
ZeVan’s friend Jerry Stiller, the legendary actor and comedian, encouraged him to collect his stories in a book. “Some people have said my life should be a movie,” ZeVan said. “The problem is it would be a 17-hour movie.”
Locally, ZeVan is best known for his work delivering TV weather forecasts on KSTP and, later, KARE. His broadcasts on KSTP drew a 51-percent share of the Twin Cities audience in 1974, higher local ratings than anywhere else in the country, he says.
ZeVan also did the weather for TV stations in Detroit and Washington D.C., where he struck up friendships with high-profile ABC news anchors and reporters. Ted Koppel was his neighbor, ZeVan says, and Peter Jennings “was like a brother to me.”
Sam Donaldson wrote a review of ZeVan’s memoir that appears on the back of the book. “How can Barry ZeVan know so many famous people?” Donaldson asks. “Beats me, but he does and the stories he tells about them make fascinating reading.”
But ZeVan, who continues to work as a documentary producer and narrator, has done more than deliver weather forecasts over the course of his career.
He got his start in radio at the age of 5 doing spots for KDKA in Pittsburgh, and two years later – before the rest of the country had TV stations – ZeVan was acting on a New York TV station. As a high-schooler, he acted in “Mr. Peepers” and danced on the Philadelphia-based “Teen Club,” featuring Dick Clark as its announcer.
ZeVan signed his first union card at 16. In fact, he joined three unions – the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Actors Equity Association – in the span of a month.
“It meant I got more professional work,” ZeVan said. “If you’re not a member of those unions, you don’t get professional work – or professional pay.”
Not only is ZeVan a longtime union member, he’s a longtime union activist as well.
He serves as a vice president of SAG-AFTRA’s Twin Cities local and on the advisory board of the Minnesota State Retiree Council, AFL-CIO. Last summer he used his acting skills in an advocacy role, addressing a Democratic National Committee meeting on retiree issues in the character of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“We need unions today more than we ever did,” ZeVan said.
That’s why he’s donating 20 percent of proceeds from “My Life Among the Giants” to two union-sponsored charities, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and The Actors Fund. Both help workers in the industry who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I’ve been there,” said ZeVan, who recalls picking up shifts as a taxi driver when work was scarce, just to make an extra $10 a week. “I know how it hurts to be struggling. It’s no fun.
“And thank God for that union pension. That helps a lot of us in the business keep bread on the table every month.”