Beutel graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire after a stint in the Army and studied law at the University of Michigan Law School, though he left Michigan without obtaining his law degree. While Beutel was in law school, he wrote Edward R. Murrow a letter saying, “I very much wanted to be a radio journalist.” Beutel received a letter back advising him to go to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His first radio job was in Cleveland before moving to CBS Radio in New York City in 1957.
Beutel moved to ABC on October 22, 1962 as a reporter with ABC News and as anchor at the network’s New York flagship, WABC-TV. The station had just opened up its first newsroom and created a one-hour 6:00 p.m. newscast called The Big News. WABC-TV was considered late to the game behind WNBC-TV and WCBS-TV. Among the hundreds of famous personages who were interviewed by Beutel was the African American Muslim and black nationalist leader Malcolm X.2 Beutel left his WABC duties for two years in April 1968 to join ABC News full-time as their London bureau chief. In 1970, he got a call from Al Primo, who had taken over as news director at WABC after Beutel left. Primo had brought the Eyewitness News format, in which the reporters directly presented their stories, along with him from KYW-TV in Philadelphia. He wanted Beutel to return to New York as co-anchor alongside Roger Grimsby, whom Primo hired away from KGO-TV to serve as WABC-TV’s main anchor. Primo remembered Beutel’s solo anchor run in the early 1960s. Since Grimsby had already established a powerful presence after just two years in New York, Primo wanted a co-anchor “who could be his own man.” Beutel assured Primo he could be.
Beutel rejoined WABC-TV on September 28, 1970 as Grimsby’s co-anchor on Eyewitness News. The two worked together for 16 years, most of which was spent going back and forth with WCBS-TV for first place in the New York ratings. On January 6, 1975, Beutel was reassigned by ABC News and became the co-host (along with Stephanie Edwards) of a new morning show called AM America. This show, ABC’s first attempt at a morning news program to compete with NBC’s Today and CBS’s combination of network news and Captain Kangaroo, lasted only eleven months on the air. AM America was replaced on November 3, 1975 by Good Morning America, originally anchored by David Hartman and Nancy Dussault. Beutel returned to WABC-TV and Eyewitness News, though he maintained a presence on the network as the anchor of its 15-minute late newscasts on Saturday and Sunday nights through the late 1970s.
The reformed Grimsby-Beutel team kept Eyewitness News on top of the ratings through the middle 1980s, when it briefly fell to last place. Though the ratings drop was mostly associated with ABC-TV’s poor primetime performance during that time, it led to Grimsby’s firing in 1986. However, within a year, WABC-TV had shot back to first place and has been the ratings leader in New York ever since. After Grimsby’s firing, Beutel was joined at 6:00 p.m. by Kaity Tong and John Johnson in a rotating anchor arrangement and was permanently joined by Johnson beginning in 1988. In 1990 Beutel began a long stint anchoring the 6 p.m. news alone, which ended when his 11 p.m. co-anchor Diana Williams joined him in 1998. Beutel returned to the 11 p.m. Eyewitness News in 1989 after Ernie Anastos left to join WCBS and was originally paired with then-longtime co-anchor Kaity Tong. After Tong left WABC in 1991 Beutel anchored with Susan Roesgen for one year, but the pairing was unsuccessful and in 1992 Roesgen was replaced by Diana Williams.
Beutel left the 11:00 p.m. newscast in 1999 and was replaced by ABC News correspondent Bill Ritter. In 2001 Ritter also replaced Beutel as the 6 p.m. anchor, and after that Beutel spent the final two years of his career serving as a senior correspondent and occasional commentator. In the latter role he was given a segment called “Final Thought”, which aired at the end of the 6 p.m. Eyewitness News where Beutel gave a brief commentary on an issue of the day, usually a brief summary of the top stories/headlines of the newscast in one minute or less. Beutel retired from television in February 2003, having served as an anchor at WABC-TV for a total of 37 years—giving him the longest run in New York television history until he was surpassed by Rafael Pineda, who has been anchor at Spanish-language station WXTV since 1972. Beutel remained the longest-serving anchor at an English-language station in New York City until April 2011, when he was surpassed by WNBC’s Chuck Scarborough. His trademark sign off was “Good luck, be well.”
Beutel was married four times. His first marriage was to Gail Wilder, which lasted twenty years and gave Beutel his four children, son Peter and daughters Robin, Colby, and Heather. He married actress Lynn Deerfield, twenty years his junior, in 1975 but the marriage was brief, as was Beutel’s third marriage in 1977 which only lasted four months. In 1980 Beutel married Adair Atwell, a former tobacco industry lobbyist. Beutel developed a degenerative brain disease following his retirement and on March 18, 2006, he succumbed to the disease at his home in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It was revealed after his death (though not immediately) that Beutel had Lewy body dementia. Beutel was survived by his wife Adair, as well as his former wives, and his four children from his first marriage; he has since been joined in death by his son Peter, a businessman and energy sector analyst who died of a heart attack in March 2012, and his second wife Lynn Deerfield, who died in 2011.
- December, 12, 1930
- Cleveland, Ohio
- March, 18, 2006
- Pinehurst, North Carolina